Back when the Corvette was first earning its reputation as a race-hardened American sports car that sold for a reasonable price, enthusiasts accepted that such a proposition involved certain compromises. Like engineering students who get high marks if they can attain any two of the "better, faster, cheaper" trinity, sports-car drivers understood that getting lots of bang for relatively few bucks often meant putting up with the ride harshness of a Roman chariot, the styling elegance of a plastic sex toy, the build quality of a polyester leisure suit, and an interior suitable for Charles V, the Hapsburg emperor who liked to rehearse for his death by sleeping in his coffin.Cars in general have gotten a lot better in the half-century since, owing both to technological improvements and to the fact that Americans and western Europeans, having socked away more than $10 trillion in additional personal wealth over the years, are willing to pay more for them. The Corvette marque evolved through five "generations" (from C1, the original 1953-62 Vette, and C2, the first Sting Ray, to the C5, which bows out with the 2004 model year), improving more or less consistently while holding the line on price and sticking to its original conception: a lusty engine stirred by a robust shifter at cocktail height, teamed with a crude but effective suspension capable of blood-draining cornering grip. While the cost of a Corvette in constant dollars has roughly doubled in the past fifty years, that of a Porsche has tripled; and Ferraris, which used to trade for a couple of Corvettes, today cost three to five of them.
Now the C6 is upon us, and although it does not look startlingly different from its immediate predecessors-the overall effect is of a sprightlier, more modern machine with its wheels closer to its corners-in many respects, it's a very different automobile. Said to retain only fifteen percent (by mass) of the C5's parts, the C6 is five inches shorter and an inch narrower than the C5 yet has a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase and puts its larger wheels (eighteen-inch front, nineteen-inch rear) even closer to its sides. Weighing about the same as the model it replaces, it delivers comparable fuel economy (an estimated 23 mpg, combined city and highway) while cranking out 50 more horsepower. It boasts improved materials and build quality and offers an all-new, somewhat less humdrum interior and an array of creature comforts-xenon headlamps, keyless ignition, and cabin air filtration are standard-for about the same price as the C5.
In short, it's a better car. But is it good enough to hold up its head in a world where-we're happy to note-good, fast cars have become almost as commonplace as autumn leaves?