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Driven: 2012 Chevrolet Corvette

Joe Loriowriter

The Corvette's legend was made during the period from the mid Fifties, when it got its mojo working, right on through the Sixties. Soon thereafter, the Corvette went into a period of decline along with the rest of the American auto industry. As the whole idea of performance came under assault, the Corvette drifted into self-parody. More recently, of course, the Corvette has come back, regaining and then eclipsing the performance of its halcyon days.

One need not know the Corvette's history to know that today's 'Vette is a badass sports car. It's not hard to get a sense of this car's seriousness. The car looks the part. It sounds the part. It acts the part.

As such, it has certain powers. Pull into the parking lot at your kid's martial arts class and the bark of that exhaust will have every head turning. His day instantly takes a turn for the better as the instructor says, "Your dad's car is awesome." All traces of the characteristic pre-teen surliness disappear. The Chevy Corvette: it turns ordinary dads into heroes.

The Grand Sport

And that's not even the Z06 or the ZR1 -- it's just the Corvette Grand Sport. As a reminder, the Grand Sport is essentially a base car with the wattage turned up a bit. It uses the same 430-hp, 6.2-liter, LS3 V-8 -- 436 hp with the optional dual-mode exhaust -- and 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The Grand Sport does take the Z06's larger brakes and calipers (the latter available in red, yellow, or silver). It also gets the Z06's wider fenders, which house ultrawide tires and wheels -- 9.5-inch fronts and 12-inch rears. It also features the Z06 front splitter, which scrapes on even very shallow inclines, and a taller rear spoiler.

We have lift-off

It was a warm spring day when I collected the Corvette from a parking garage in Manhattan, so I couldn't resist removing the lift-off roof panel. This is a simple operation: unlatch two convertible-style handles at the windshield header and flip one more at the center rear, and the top section pops rights out. It's not heavy to lift and it stows neatly under the glass rear hatch. Removing it is an easy, one-man operation. Corvettes have featured the removable roof for years; it's standard even with the base coupe. Taking it off makes a warm-weather drive in a Corvette that much more of an occasion, and when the top is in place it's as secure as a hardtop, so there's really no downside.

Loud, proud, and easily provoked

Although the base engine's output would seem to pale in comparison with the 505 hp proffered by the Corvette Z06, or the ZR1's monumental, 638 hp from its supercharged 6.2-liter, in actual driving the Grand Sport feels plenty overpowered. It threatens to light up its monster-fat rear tires at the slightest provocation. One need not floor the throttle to provoke this beast -- merely getting a little aggressive on a freeway on-ramp is enough to get the "Traction Active" message and wiggle the rear end. Even with stability control fully engaged, power oversteer is available, but a longer electronic leash can be had by switching to the system's competition mode or it can be turned off altogether.

Equipped with the dual-mode performance exhaust system, the engine in my test car had a ferocious snarl on start-up -- and, naturally, whenever the loud pedal was pushed. It's just another aspect of the 'Vette's seriousness, along with the heavy steering and the meaty steering wheel; and the manual shifter with its robust efforts; and the firm ride (the optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control offers a choice of Tour or Sport modes, but they're really Stiff or Stiffer).

Outdated inside

"Serious" isn't quite the adjective that comes to mind when you slip inside -- the better descriptor for the cabin is "dated." My test example was optioned up with the custom leather-wrapped interior, but it really amounts to fancy wrapping on a rather plain package. The same goes for the two-tone color scheme, the red stitching, and the optional logo seat headrest embroidery. Beyond the materials and the design, the interior functionality is seriously behind the times. The optional touch-screen navigation system has the look and feel of an aftermarket unit; it's embarrassingly outdated and annoying to use.

There is, however, one bit of technology that works great and is most welcome: the head-up display. It's standard on all but the base trim level, and is critical for monitoring one's speed in a high-powered, high-profile car like this.

Some requests for the C7

It's no secret that Chevrolet engineers are working on the next-generation (C7) Corvette, which is due out next year. After my week in the current car, I have a few suggestions for the new model:
- Sure, styling is all-important, but better visibility would really boost driver confidence.
- In that same vein, a back-up camera is much needed, and a blind-spot warning system would be a worthwhile option.
- It's time for a modern radio/navigation interface. That does not, however, mean a big flat panel and capacitive-touch switches. Even more so than other cars, piloting a Corvette demands a driver's full attention, so simpler steps and physical controls (knobs, et cetera) are important.
- A full power driver's seat (rather than a manual recline) doesn't seem like too much to ask at this price.
- Whether it's manual or power, the steering column's tilt and telescope functions should be incorporated into a single adjustment, rather than the clunky manual tilt and separate (optional) power telescope we have now.
- Cornering grip is a big deal, obviously, but it would be nice to have a suspension that is less upset by bumps in corners, as well as steering that isn't so keen to follow grooves in the pavement.
- Lose the skip-shift already.

Build those changes into the next-generation car, and you'll have a Corvette that's not only a performance kingpin but also one that's more agreeable to drive every day. Because some of us can use all the chances we can get to be a hero.

Base price (with destination): $56,900
Price as tested: $71,980

Standard Equipment:
6.2-liter V-8 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Speed-sensitive, variable-ratio power steering
Active handling
Run-flat tires
Power windows
Power door locks w/remote and passive entry
Push-button start
Power mirrors
6-way power driver's seat
Leather-trimmed seats
Removable roof panel
OnStar w/6 mos. Directions + connections, automatic crash response, and turn-by-turn navigation
Theft-deterrent system
AM/FM/XM/CD audio system w/input jack and 7 speakers
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Tilt steering wheel
HID headlamps
Cruise control
Carpeted floor mats
Grand Sport silver painted aluminum wheels
Fog lamps
Functional brake ducts
18 x 9.5" front, 19 x 12" rear wheels
Z06-style front splitter and rear spoiler
14" front brake rotors w/6-piston calipers, 13.4" rear rotors w/4-piston calipers

Options on this vehicle:
4LT premium equipment group - $9495
Memory package
Sport seats, power bolster + power lumbar
Luggage shade and parcel net
Custom leather-wrapped interior package
Heated front seats
Telescoping steering column
Navigation system
Bose premium audio system w/9 speakers
Additional 9 months of XM radio
Universal home remote
Bluetooth for phone
Head-up display
Grand Sport heritage package - $1195
Logo seat headrest embroidery
Fender stripe hash mark design
Magnetic selective ride control - $1695
Dual-mode exhaust - $1195
Performance brake calipers, red - $595
Competition gray aluminum wheels - $395
Custom leather stitching, red - $395
Battery protection package - $100
Front license plate bracket - $15

Key options not on vehicle:

Fuel economy:
16 / 26 / 19 mpg

6.2L V-8
Horsepower: 436 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 428 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm


6-speed manual

Curb weight: 3311 lb

18 x 9.5, 19 x 12 (f,r) inch aluminum alloy
275/35ZR18, 325/30ZR19 (f,r) Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires

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