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This smaller, lighter, faster Chevrolet Corvette continues to fly the flag for the old-fashioned, all-American sports car

For more than 40 years the Corvette has flown the flag for the old-fashioned, all-American sports car. And for more than 40 years it has defined the way we Europeans have tended to think about American cars. Which, if we're being brutally honest, has never been with all that much respect.

During that time, the Corvette has been many things to many men and women; fast, powerful, on occasions breathtakingly beautiful and, compared with its European opposition, often exceptionally good value. But at the same time it has also been thirsty, overweight, underachieving in terms of suspension composure and decidedly non-cutting-edge technically compared with its Euro rivals.

This Corvette is lighter and smaller than the model it replaces

Worse still, it has only ever been available in wrong-hand drive, and this more than any other factor has curtailed its appeal to just a handful of enthusiasts prepared to import their Corvettes to the UK.

Demand at home for the car (still made in Bowling Green, Kentucky, by the way) far outweighs any desire to spend money tooling up to make it in right-hand drive. As ever, then, the Corvette is still a left-hand-drive-only experience.

Except this time there are several compelling reasons to sustain your interest in the latest, sixth-generation (C6) Corvette, even if you are a UK-based sports car enthusiast with a hefty five-figure piggy bank to splash on a new toy.

For starters, GM claims genuinely to have gone to town on the car's underpinnings, having reasoned finally that to keep its legend alive it has to enable it compete head on with the very best the Europeans can offer. Hence this Corvette is lighter, smaller and significantly faster than the model it replaces, not to mention better made, more economical and a great deal more sophisticated beneath the skin.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Chevrolet Corvette C6 roofline

There’s no mistaking the Corvette for any other sports car. It is as much an automotive icon as a 2CV, 911 or original Land Rover. The quartet of circular rear lights hark back to the original C1 'Vette from 1953. The current model’s long bonnet and low, sleek roofline are clearly traceable back to the C3 of 1968.

The entire design has focused on making the current 'Vette smaller, lighter, more agile and just plain faster across the ground, which is why its wheelbase has increased by 30mm despite the overall length and width shrinking by 125mm and 25mm respectively. The C6 is also around 100kg lighter than before at just 1517kg, despite bigger 18in wheels at the front and 19in at the rear.

The Corvette's wheelbase has grown by 30mm

There’s little to distinguish the standard C6 from the more powerful Z06, save for a few vents and a Gurney flap on the rear deck. The more focused Grand Sport adds a more elaborate vent treatment behind the rear wheels and some gloriously in-your-face graphics.

Backing up its supercar-baiting performance, the ZR-1 features bespoke wheels and badging, and black bumper and sill extensions. A clear cover in the carbonfibre bonnet allows and unobstructed view of the engine, which looks only a step away from the ‘shaker scoops’ fitted to a range of iconic muscle cars.

INTERIOR

Chevrolet Corvette C6 interior

The sixth-generation Corvette’s cabin has had a full makeover, although it retains the characteristic dual-cockpit design theme into which passengers literally have to insert themselves having opened one of the huge, long doors.

The choice of materials inside is claimed to be far better than before (you get full leather as standard), the quality of finish superior, all the surfaces “softer and richer”. But the sat-nav looks outmoded and the trip computer equally antique.

Luggage in the boot can slide forward under heavy braking

Coupé models have a fabric and plastic cover arrangement, rather than a proper tonneau, and the boot area is open to the cabin, which means luggage can slide forward under heavy braking. The boot’s big, though, measuring 634 litres. This is far larger than the convertible’s 144 litres, although the drop-top does have a more conventional enclosed boot.

Convertible models also have a proper electric hood this time, although having said that, you still have to unclip or reclip the roof in place on the header rail manually, whereas with most rivals (Porsche and BMW included) the entire operation occurs automatically.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Chevrolet Corvette C6 V8 engine

As ever, the Corvette uses a small-block V8 for propulsion, in this instance GM’s LS3 6.2-litre V8 for the C6 and Grand Sport models. It produces 431bhp at 5900rpm and 424lb ft of torque at 4600rpm, which is good for a 4.8sec 0-62mph time in the C6.

Thanks, in part, to the improved aerodynamics, the Grand Sport cuts this time to 4.5sec. Both models will achieve an 186mph maximum, which strikes straight into the heart of Porsche 911 territory.

The ZR-1 produces a monstrous 638bhp from its 6.2-litre V8

The hotter Z06 uses GM’s LS7 7.0-litre V8, which produces 505bhp at 6300rpm and 470lb ft at 4800rpm. This makes the Z06 good for 0-62mph in 4.1sec with a top speed of 198mph. If ever there was something offering cut-price supercar performance, this is it.

The ZR-1 might be described as many things, but cut-price it is not. It justifies its huge £123k price tag in part because it is the most powerful ‘Vette ever. Its LS9 V8 produces 638bhp at 6500rpm and an eye-watering 604lb ft at 3800rpm. Performance figures are predictably ballistic, with 62mph reached from standstill in 3.9sec. Top speed is 205mph.

In the past, changing gear in a Corvette either happened automatically and rather slowly, or you had to wrestle with a ponderous manual gearbox. The Tremec T56 used in the previous two generations of ‘Vette was replaced during the 2008 model year revisions with a more positive-feeling Tremec T6060 unit.

RIDE & HANDLING

The 431bhp Chevrolet Corvette C6

The moment the engine catches and settles into its purposeful idle, the Corvette's more obvious characteristics start to shine through. And mostly they are characteristics you'll like.

Blip the throttle and you notice two things; how sharp the throttle response is, and how violent the twist action is from the engine, so much so that the whole car reacts with an authentic muscle-car shimmy.

The steering is amazingly accurate but lacks genuine feel

Move away, and again several aspects of the dynamics become instantly apparent; some are welcome, some not. The ride is very hard. It’s also well damped at low speed, quite refined and surprisingly well controlled when you up the pace. But if you expect it to feel like a lazy, softly sprung limo, think again. It's stiffer than an M3 convertible overall, but although it's also less comfortable over more ruptured surfaces, it's better sorted at speed.

The convertible behaves like a true sports car and not like a saloon that's had its roof chopped off. There's little chassis flex to speak of, even when the suspension has to work hard to eradicate interference. Compared with the previous model this is probably the biggest single area of improvement; how taut it feels, and just how well resolved it is in terms of fundamental chassis composure.

That said, its handling is not especially sweet or communicative. The steering, although amazingly accurate, has little in the way of genuine feel, meaning the ‘Vette can be quite a difficult machine to place perfectly on the road. So responsive is the steering immediately off-centre that you can end up rounding corners in awkward bites, applying too much lock, then winding it off, then winding it back on again in minute but clumsy inputs at the wheel.

You get a neurotic reaction from the rear whenever you apply steering lock. You’ll learn to apply lock in very small but smooth amounts, at which point the entire car seems to relax beneath you. It becomes a far more fluid handler.

The ZR-1 is more sophisticated with magnetically controlled dampers on its double-wishbone suspension, which retains carbonfibre leaf springs at the rear. The ride's generally composed, although the 335/25 section rear tyres make a racket.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Chevrolet Corvette

When we tested the older LS2-engined Corvette, we found fuel consumption varied between 16-19.8mpg on test, surprisingly close to the official claim of 21.1mpg over the combined cycle.

At the hottest end of the range, the ZR-1 is claimed to return 18.8mpg on the combined cycle, while the Z06 is claimed to average 19.2mpg. Driven with gusto, its not hard to return single-figure consumption figures.

Lighting up the rear tyres is fun, but replacing them is expensive...

The 'Vette, in any guise will light its tyres with amusingly little effort. Smokey might be fun, but with tyres as wide as a garden roller, replacements are expensive.

Perhaps the biggest cost will be depreciation. It’s more of a niche product than a Porsche 911 or BMW M3, with fewer buyers on the used market. As such, the C6 will retain around 30 percent of its original price after three years/60,000 miles. The Z06 will retain around 27 per cent.

For comparison, M3 owners will enjoy 38 percent of value retained, while a 911 Carrera S will keep 43 percent.

The Corvette’s comparatively basic set-up should keep maintenance costs down, and Chevrolet servicing charges should be lower than from a premium marque.

VERDICT

4 star Chevrolet Corvette C6

It's hard not to like the new Corvette if you're an enthusiast. It's not a perfect sports car by a long chalk, featuring neither the fluidity of the Porsche 911 nor the all-round appeal of an M3. But on a sunny day and on the right road you'd be hard pushed to find a more endearing car to drive.

And compared with its predecessor it's in a different league dynamically. You'd be brave to buy one instead of a Porsche 911, true, but not stupid. Not when the rewards are so obvious, and the driving experience so rich.

The Corvette isn't a perfect sports car, but it is hard not to like it

The ZR-1 offers a storming amount of poke, and on the right road, a vivid and engrossing experience. But not one, perhaps, to seriously challenge Europe and Japan’s best.

Perhaps the biggest draw is the price. Its £63k starting price is tantalising. It’ll turn as many heads as a Ferrari, but for less than half of the cost. This is an enthusiast’s car that provides a rich driving experience, but still not a serious rival to the best you can find from Europe and Japan.

Mark Tisshaw

mark-tisshaw-autocar
Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, autocar.co.uk website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

Chevrolet Corvette C6 2004-2013 First drives