Chevrolet Corvette C6 First Drive

Ian Dawson
Driver Side Front View

Mechanically, the biggest news is under the front-hinged hood: The OHV V-8 has been bored out to 6.0 liters, for an estimated 400 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. The revamped engine, dubbed LS2, weighs less (by 15 pounds), revs higher (to 6500 rpm rather than 6000), and has a higher compression ratio (10.9:1 versus 10.1:1), while occupying roughly the same space. The LS2's 50 extra ponies came from increased displacement, better breathing, a revised camshaft profile, and less exhaust back pressure. What about variable valve timing or additional valves, you ask? They're being held for the Z06, which follows by a year and is said to achieve 500 horsepower.

The Corvette's rear-located six-speed Tremec manual and the four-speed automatic transmissions both return. (The XLR's five-speed manu-matic couldn't handle the LS2's torque.) The six-speed is still saddled with the annoying first-to-fourth skip shift, but the good news is improved shift quality and lighter clutch efforts. When you choose the Z51 suspension option, you get shorter gears. For now, paddle shifting is not offered, nor is manu-matic-or even gated-shifting for the automatic.

The C6 uses the C5's suspension layout, including composite-plastic mono-leaf springs, but the parts are new. Once again, there are three suspension options: base, Z51, and the magnetic adjustable suspension introduced in 2003. Its two positions, Tour and Sport, have been recalibrated for greater separation. The C6 rolls on larger wheels, eighteen inches up front and nineteen at the rear.

The base C6 upgrades to larger rotors taken from the XLR, while still larger brakes with cross-drilled rotors are part of the Z51 package. With the Corvette again weighing in at roughly 3250 pounds, stopping distances should improve.

A targa top is again standard, and the B-pillar is now angled rearward to manage wind flow better when the top is removed. Although the top is larger, it weighs about the same, and it stows more easily beneath the rear hatch. The hatch itself now has a power closer, so it needn't be slammed shut.

Driver Side Rear View

At last we arrive at the interior, which, along with greater international acceptability, was another major focus of the new car, as even GM vice chairman Bob Lutz conceded that the cabin was "one oft-mentioned weakness of the C5." The interior is all new and includes as standard the starter button ignition and keyless access found in the XLR. The heads-up display has three different modes, including one that shows a tach dial and a cornering-g meter. The stereo and climate control displays remain visible even in bright sunlight, and a DVD-based navigation system is optional. Power seats are standard, but they still have manual recline. The overall cabin design is neater, but we'll reserve judgment on the materials and surfaces, as they're not yet in final form.

The Corvette itself, however, is in final form. The days of wild styling gyrations apparently are over. Chevrolet is satisfied with the C5 and happy just to finesse it. Mechanically, the situation is the same. A pushrod V-8, a rear transaxle, and rear-wheel drive-that's the formula, and it works, so why change it? After all, Porsche gets away with the same thing. The 911 has looked the same forever; it's always used a rear-mounted, flat-six engine (turbocharged for top-spec models). Like the 911, the current Corvette is a blast to drive; the new one should be better. The only sad part about the Corvette settling into a groove is that the words new Corvette won't carry the same sense of wonder and possibility they once did.

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