Palm Springs, California -- As surely as darkness falls, as mountains have avalanches, as the North Star is fixed in the empyrean, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray will have a convertible top. Long before it was ever revealed, the 2014 Stingray's convertible top was fixed in the minds of Corvette engineers. Now that we have lowered it and driven the Stingray convertible through the fresh air of mountainous places in Riverside and San Diego counties, we can say that they got it right.
We used the key fob to remotely lower a white convertible's fabric top, which at 48.6 inches reaches the exact same height as the Stingray coupe. The first benefit was beholding the beautiful interior. We had been so accustomed to the flea-market aura of past Corvettes that our initial sight of all the brown leather and suede trim inside the car nearly resulted in a head-first tumble. Rawlings, MacGregor, Wilson, and all the other old-time makers of baseball gloves would doff their hats in salute. Owners of older Vettes, particularly the previous two generations, will gnash their teeth.
Choosing between automatic and manual transmissions
Our choice for a test drive came from the lineup of red, white, and blue cars in front of the breezeblocks of the Parker Palm Springs hotel, which opened in 1959 as California's first Holiday Inn and has been owned by Gene Autry and Merv Griffin. More recently, designer Jonathan Adler bestowed it with an interior worthy of 1963, when Autry's Los Angeles Angels baseball team lodged here for spring training and every one of them probably wanted to buy the first Sting Ray.
Back then, Angels pitcher Dean Chance made $18,000 and the four-on-the-floor was a pricey $188 option. Today's 2014 Stingray convertible is equipped with a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Inserting two fingers through the gap under the door seam, we squeezed the soft-touch door opener and took our places in the bucket seats, reaching way back over the shoulder for the harness. At a touch of the dashboard's starter button, the 460-hp V-8 eagerly barked; then it began to prattle dismissively about the new Ford Mustang.
And so we set off, staying in the Tour driving mode (over Eco, Sport, Weather, and Track), which paid off as soon as we traversed patchy, fractured asphalt on Routey 111 in Cathedral City. Yes, magnetic ride control makes a positive difference.
Older Vette owners feel other envies
"Hey, trade you!" the driver of a yellow C6 coupe with British Columbia plates said at an intersection. If he only knew the level of content, he would have started adding loonies and toonies into the bargain. The $4210 2LT options package includes heated and ventilated seats and the supercool head-up display.
Heading up the mountainside, we switched to Sport mode, which adds a rev-counter and gear indicator to the projected speed display. What's more, Sport activates the electronically controlled valves of the optional $1195 sport exhaust, and our entrancement grew.
Nevertheless, despite the rising and falling soundtrack that would put any ballpark organist to shame, we could always converse, and no hat ever blew off a head. As rock walls scrolled past, we remarked on the well-weighted steering and the perfect line the 73.9-inch-wide (but only 177-inch-long) Stingray would hold through bends that offered no margin for error.
After this ascent and some frolicking in the highlands, we were wondering why anyone would bother with the seven-speed manual. Returning to Palm Springs, we decided to sample the manual box in a red-on-red Stingray convertible. The clutch pedal, we found, has just the right taffy consistency, and shoving the gear lever around proves to be as much of a sure thing as assembling an IKEA kit.
The preference for azure sky and clustered cogs
We stayed in third and fourth while ascending the mountains, and when the road leveled out and crossed an interior valley, we could redline the engine at 6600 rpm in third and upshift at 105 mph, which made some cows wonder what was going on while also making our driving partner, a neophyte from a gear website, squeal with glee and demand a repeat for the sake of video.
Whereas our partner had depended on the automatic rev-matching for his own downshifts -- an excellent feature for the young buyers Chevy expects to attract -- we did it the old-fashioned way, with our feet, ultimately deciding the seven-speed manual gearbox is in fact our preferred transmission.
And, of course, the convertible will be preferred by many over the coupe. In performance, it gives up nothing one would ever miss. (The coupe weighs 64 pounds less.) Chevy says the new aluminum space frame is 99 pounds lighter and 57 percent stiffer than the previous car's, and no additional reinforcement is required for toplessness. The chassis never once became discomposed, the windshield never rattled, and the cowl was Gibraltar.
With the fully automatic and well-lined top in place, the cockpit is serene, and you can actually make use of the ten-speaker Bose audio system. Even with 33 percent less cargo room than the coupe, there remains enough trunk space for two carry-on roller bags and a couple of satchels. The Stingray convertible is a practical, usable car. The only other sacrifice is limited vision through the small, heated-glass rear window.
Casting eyes ahead, we noticed a few things on our driving route that had nothing to do with the car. There were the fast-fanning wings of the Costa's hummingbird; the self-assertion of a crested vermilion flycatcher perched on a stop sign; and, implausibly for early December, the orange-blossoming plant where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses Route 74, some 4906 feet above sea level.
Along with the deep blue sky, everything was perfect -- matching the impressive sports car Chevy has created, an astonishing value at a base price of $56,995. It almost seemed logical to assume that the cascade of natural wonders we observed before twilight's rapid descent must somehow have been Chevy's doing as well.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible
|Price as Tested:||$71,775|
|Engine:||6.2-liter V-8 with direct injection|
|Power:||455 hp @ 6000 rpm (460 hp w/performance exhaust)|
|Torque:||460 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm (465 lb-ft w/performance exhaust)|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic or seven-speed manual|
|Steering:||Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Suspension, Front:||Double-wishbone, transverse-mounted composite spring, monotube shock|
|Suspension, Rear:||Double-wishbone, transverse-mounted composite spring, monotube shock|
|Brakes:||Four-wheel disc, ABS|
|Tires:|| Michelin Pilot Super Sport |
P245/40R18 front, P285/35R19 rear
P245/35R19 front, P285/30R20 rear
|L x W x H:||176.9 x 73.9 x 48.6 in|
|Track (F/R):||63.0/61.7 in|
|Cargo volume:||10.0 cu ft|
|Track (F/R):||3.8 seconds|
|EPA Mileage:||17/29 mpg|