The stock C6 convertible was a lot more pleasant. Cheerful with the top down and less claustrophobia-inspiring than its predecessors with the top up, it sports an interior that, while still undistinguished, is less oppressive than the C5's. And look at the numbers: With 400 horsepower and a curb weight of 3270 pounds, the C6 coupe delivers a horsepower-to-weight ratio only five percent inferior to the Z06's. A convertible with the Z51 package offers a performance envelope very close to that of the Z06, for a lot less money and without having to fret that you're wimping out if you don't whip it into a lather every time you drive it over to the convenience store. If you care only about having the fastest possible street Vette, a C6 Z06 is in the works, allegedly with 500 horsepower under the hood, but my preference would be to go with the Z51 ragtop. Not only is it cheaper and more likely to leave your fillings in your teeth where they belong, but in the real world, a civilized suspension is often faster anyway. The humble stock convertible glided up the undulating elevated roads with so little fuss that I checked the rearviews to make sure they hadn't been repaved overnight.
The C6 developers say they have worked hard to eliminate what they call the "imperfections" and "dissatisfiers" that have occasioned grumbles in the past, but in the best GM tradition, they have enjoyed only mixed success. The clunky popup headlights, which went from futuristic to obsolescent one night a decade or two ago, have been replaced by Plexiglas-enclosed lamps that won't be mistaken for a Ferrari's but do put a lively face on the car. The oft-criticized yellow running lamps are still there, but now you can program them off.
The $1400 DVD navigation system is a nice option, despite having to activate it by pressing an "Agree" button on its touch-sensitive screen at every start-up, as if a wrist-slapping little attorney were along for the ride. Another wrist slapper-the program that reaches in and pushes the stick from first gear directly to fourth if you try to shift at low speed-has been retained, alas, but it minds its own business so long as you keep a heavy foot on the throttle.
The interior is friendlier, if still resolutely unopulent, and can be tricked out with a $3000 fat-cat package that includes Bose audio, a CD changer, head-up display, heated seats, HomeLink, seat and mirror memory, auto-dimming mirrors, and a power telescoping steering wheel. (Memo to GM: Why not offer a lavish interior option, akin to the Mercedes Designo package, for those of us foppish enough to pay for it?) The gauges are gorgeous-cleaner and more legible than an SL500's-and the head-up display works well, although it would be nice to offer a big, bar-graph g-force meter in the head-up menu for those who have trouble reading small-font numbers while pulling a 0.9-g turn.
Most important, the Corvette's fit and finish have improved to the point that its designers courageously put a dolphin-gray Porsche Carrera coupe smack in the middle of the Vette lineup trackside at VIR. The Porsche is still the more elegant machine, of course, especially when loaded with options, but in that case, you're looking at nearly twice the Corvette's purchase price. If we were running for pink slips, I'd probably pick the Porsche, but a slightly better driver-and you could have found one of those at VIR by throwing a pebble into the crowd-piloting a Z51 probably would come out on top. Otherwise, it boils down to a matter of taste. Comparing a Porsche and a Corvette is like comparing Richard Wagner and Aaron Copeland-when the Copeland CDs are on sale at 40 percent off.
The Corvette team, in short, once again has done what it does best and has done it better than ever. It has crafted a fun, tough sports car that, although it neglects to swaddle you in unborn calfskin or yodel lieder in your ear, will run with all but the very best of them, from the Rockies to the Alps, at a sticker price and cost-over-ownership that won't leave you hating yourself in the morning. Good old American know-how is alive and well and about to thunder down a street near you.