DAWSONVILLE, Georgia — This looks like a fun place, I thought to myself. The truth is, all I could see while standing close to the pit wall was a slice of racetrack disappearing quickly over the hills to grandma’s house. I wasn’t quite sure at this point if the track was a lefty or a righty, but I did know I was going to learn this circuit in the new 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport.
I should mention that I’ve raced General Motors products for more than two decades, a highlight of which was co-driving alongside the late Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. in a Corvette C5-R in 2001. But while many race fans associate me with GM, I have also raced numerous other cars for numerous other manufacturers. This year, for instance, I run select races in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Black Swan Racing in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.
I mention a little about my racing history because it’s understandable if some of you may think I’m biased in favor of GM products. I want to be clear that my work for AUTOMOBILE is open, honest, and direct—regardless of manufacturer—as I share my observations and experiences. Frankly, I owe it to you, the reader, and nobody else. I will also throw some humor around because, well, testing cars puts a smile on my face.
Now, back to the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport. Despite any pretense about being race cars, even the meanest street cars do not behave like true race cars, and they spend 99 percent of their time on public roads. But to begin the Grand Sport experience, Chevy brought us to Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. Testing at a racetrack has its advantages, like being able to drive a car far harder than you ever could on the street. It also means we can exercise very capable sports cars to their maximum potential without fear of jail time or having an unscheduled meeting with a dump truck. Then again, I do remember meeting a maintenance truck coming from the opposite direction while flat-out at Road Atlanta a few years ago, so there are never any guarantees. But I digress.
Our drive actually began much earlier in the day at our hotel. The test cars were lined up, providing a good, instant picture of the 10 exterior colors and four interior-trim options available. I like the Grand Sport’s mean, athletic look. The standard Cup wheels can also be ordered in five finishes/colors, and you can add red seatbelts if you desire. How many total choices you get depends on whether you go for the 1LT, 2LT, or 3LT package. This is the most highly optioned Corvette that Chevy has ever offered.
Interested early buyers can order a 3LT Grand Sport with a collector’s edition option (only 1,000 will be made). This includes Tension Blue accents inside and out, a tribute to the blue accents/stripes on the original Corvette Grand Sports. Grand Sport heritage goes back to 1963 and Zora Arkus-Duntov, when five Grand Sport race cars were built. As Corvette aficionados know, those five original versions are now coveted, priceless jewels.
The latest Grand Sport coupe’s base price is $66,445 (convertible $70,445). The wider, Corvette Z06 body on the car allows the massive 19-by-10-inch front and 20-by-12-inch rear wheels to fit. There are two tire choices to wrap around those wheels: Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flats are standard, and super-grippy Pilot Cup 2s are offered as an option. Sizes for both sets of tires are P285/30R-19 front and P335/25R-20 rear. The term “run-flat tire” used to send shivers down my spine, but those days are long gone. Michelin’s Super Sport run-flats work quite well. They can provide a claimed 1 g-plus lateral grip, which is enough to sling false teeth flying, so that’s fun. Opting for the $7,995 Z07 pack adds carbon-ceramic brakes, the Michelin Pilot Cup 2s, and the carbon-fiber ground effects package seen on current Z06s. For the drive out to the track, I grabbed a manual-transmission coupe with the 2LT trim package (automatic transmission is a $1,725 option).
I am not the largest person in the world at 5 feet 10 inches and 156 pounds, so bear this in mind as I talk about vehicle ergonomics. I found the Grand Sport seats supportive and far superior to earlier generation Corvette seats. However, I would like the seat-base side bolsters to be taller; the sides of my legs ended up on top of them. I would go with the sport-seat option as they also have larger, adjustable side bolsters that held me steady when cornering hard.
The Grand Sport’s suede-covered steering wheel is a nice piece, while seat and steering-wheel adjustment put me in exactly the driving position I needed, with clear gauge visibility. I sit relatively close to the steering wheel/pedals and did notice my legs were quite close to the underside of the dash. I’m not sure if this could be an issue for some larger/taller people if they also like to sit closer to the pedals.
A minimalist at heart, I found too many buttons and switches on the wheel, but this seems to be what people want these days. I used all the infotainment switches/push buttons on the way to the track with the help of my passenger, and everything worked as advertised, but I would be first in line for any option on any car that deletes everything but the climate control and a radio button. While I never do the whole phone-syncing thing, we were parked near other people in Grand Sports before we left the hotel and picked up someone else’s phone call in our car. It was not the first time I’ve seen this happen.
On our way to the track, we encountered freeway- and medium-speed winding country roads. I drove the car the way I believe the majority of owners will drive it: not like a madman. Road noise is average for a sports car with wide, low-profile tires, meaning we could carrying on a conversation at 70 mph at normal “inside voice” levels. Heel-toe downshifting is not an issue, but I used the rev-matching function most of the time. It worked well as long as I was decelerating but would occasionally miss the rev match a little if I downshifted in order to accelerate. The exhaust note inside the car is a low rumble when cruising and “ready to play” aggressive when you get on it.
What’s under the hood, then? The Grand Sport comes with the LT1 V-8 rated at 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque; Chevy says the car will do 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and the quarter-mile in 11.8.
I performed several stops and evasive maneuvers just to test stability and braking in possible real-world emergency situations. In full ABS-engaged, evasive/hard left-to-right complete stops, stability was excellent. If you slam on these brakes, you better know what’s behind you before they introduce themselves through your trunk, as this Corvette stops with the best. On-center steering is precise and not “searching” over pavement imperfections. Steering effort is light in Touring mode, which I was fine with, and stiffer in the sportier modes, never feeling numb or disconnected.
The magnetic-ride shocks just plain work, period. I was in the softest setting for most of the drive, and they soak up expansion joints, undulations, and worn-road rash as well as any luxury sedan. If in doubt, changing the setting to Sport will convince you. Magnetic ride is a must-have street option in my mind.
I arrived at Atlanta Motorsports Park fresh and ready to attack a new circuit. New tracks are something of a treat for me these days, and I still get excited at the prospect. The Grand Sports for track driving all had the Z07 package and racetrack-based adjustments made to ride height and wheel alignments. I initially had a couple of orientation laps with a GM engineer as a passenger. I knew some of the engineers there, and they asked me to set a lap time in a manual-transmission car for data purposes only. (Yeah. Sure, guys.)
Atlanta Motorsports Park is a challenging little track. It is a patience track thanks to some long corners; keeping maximum grip in a long corner without getting throttle- or steering-greedy takes patience. I especially like the long left-hander that begins in second gear and ends up in fourth gear leading back toward the start/finish line; it seems to go on for weeks. I was impressed with how much grip the Michelin Cup 2 tires offered and easily pulled a sustained 1.25g several times per lap. The ceramic brakes showed no signs of fade during my laps.
As a track weapon, the Grand Sport is for real. At 3,428 pounds (3,487 for the convertible), the Grand Sport is 100 pounds lighter than today’s Z06, but the way it changes direction makes me think it could easily be 200 pounds lighter. This car will run lap times right up there with cars pushing significantly more horsepower, especially on twisty tracks. To me this is Chevrolet’s equivalent of the Porsche 911 GT3 in that it’s another giant killer with less than 500 horsepower and does silly-quick lap times. Unlike the GT3, a Grand Sport loaded for track use (Z07 package) comes in at less than $80,000.
I did only one timed lap in the automatic-transmission Grand Sport—and almost matched my fastest lap in the manual-equipped car. I’m pretty sure the automatic would ultimately do a bit quicker lap time, but only a stopwatch would know the difference. I did not turn off all the driving-aid nannies; I ran in Track/Race mode, which is the very least amount of “insurance” from a mistake, if you like. This mode allowed me to rotate the car on entry and slide the rear a little on exit with no interference from the systems.
I found that the Grand Sport’s at-the-limit handling is predictable. Several corners at AMP have off-camber, falling-away entries that make them good candidates to cause an entry spin if you’re not careful. I was able to use aggressive trail braking to rotate the car and control the rate of rotation with brake modulation, even in the tricky turns. In a production car, you normally see understeer first as it’s easier to control, especially on the street, and this is true with the Grand Sport. In order to set quick laps, I had to use trail braking to load the front tire more in order to counteract the understeer.
Trail braking effectively pushes the front tires into the ground, which pretty much acts like aerodynamic downforce. But unlike aero downforce, as soon as you get off the brake the extra force is gone and understeer can return. To combat this, I must rotate the car as much as I need to before my trail braking is all finished, otherwise I will not be able to immediately mat the gas and exit. If you look at the video of my laps, you’ll see that I fit the entire sequence of off-throttle/initial braking/trail brake/rotation/off-brake/back to gas into the shortest possible distance. It’s a tricky balance. The way the Grand Sport allowed me to do exactly what I needed to do and extract my quickest lap was impressive.
As far as street handling, it’s quite a bit different. Driving the Corvette Grand Sport on any road with this much power, grip, and chassis balance means it probably views us with disdain, rolling its eyes at our feeble attempts to explore its limits. Basically, you see a corner, approach it as fast as you are comfortable, steer, and the Grand Sport rips you through to the other side. It’s certainly efficient, but never boring. It makes me smile to drive this kind of four-wheeled scalpel. The Grand Sport’s street handling is very neutral; I found no slide from either end of the car until approaching over 1g, and around that point it let me know with a slight understeer. Yes, you can turn off all the nannies; yes, you can lay rubber; and yes, you might only take out four mailboxes and 100 feet of picket fence if you’re lucky. I ran the Grand Sport in both Touring and Sport mode on the street and had no traction- or stability-control intrusion issues.
The 2017 Corvette Grand Sport works very well on the road and is an animal on the track. Corvette faithful will love this car, but I feel GM might be looking beyond that. Will it bring in new buyers? Will it move those independent voters? Forget the $66,445 base price for a minute. Let’s say you’re a performance-car buyer who drives your car to work every day and enjoys driving country roads on a Sunday morning. You might also run the occasional track day and quite like the idea of embarrassing friends who own cars costing four times as much. Plus, you want to be able to throw a couple of golf bags in the back every now and then. If you are indeed that person, the Grand Sport deserves a long look.
2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Specifications
|Engine:||6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/460 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 465 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||16/25 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H:||176.9 x 77.4 x 48.6 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.6 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||185 mph (est)|