Vette plays the numbers game

The night before the Corvette’s European launch, give or take the odd sweaty doze and wriggle, I slept for one hour. That afternoon’s root-filling procedure was causing me considerable grief, and despite a Nurofen Plus overdose the best I could do was just lie in bed whimpering like a child.

I had one thought on my mind: if my tooth throbbed like a bag of stubbed toes right then, what on earth was going to happen tomorrow afternoon in a Corvette on run-flat tyres over busted Spanish bitumen?Uncomfortable. Nope, make that persistent agony. Me and the old Corvette didn’t get along too swell. Too big, too sloppy, too rubbishy inside. But this car is much better. Even using nothing more than 3000rpm and not troubling the tyres, it’s clear that the Corvette has much to offer – most of it wedged under the bonnet.

How a company can still be allowed to apply the moniker ‘small block’ to a 6.0-litre V8 nudging out a steady 400bhp at 6000rpm is best left to American sociologists to explain. Torque is a hefty 400lb ft at 4400rpm. But both seem irrelevant – as does the fact that Chevrolet claims the Vette will hit 60mph in a staggering 4.1sec and won’t stop until 186mph. This is big performance, the kind that will deal with just about anything else on the road at a squirt of gas and pummel great holes in the surrounding airspace if you dare to push the long-travel throttle any further.

What impresses most is just how endearing the Corvette has become. Because the basic hardware has now been sorted to a more than acceptable level, you’re free to enjoy a car that has no obvious rival in Europe. Point is the Vette can no longer be palmed off as irrelevant anywhere apart from in America. Prices in the UK have yet to be fixed, but it’ll be about £41,000 in Germany, so what we’re looking at is a Porsche Boxster/BMW M3 rival.

Don’t laugh or turn the page. Okay, the car is a long way from perfect. For overall chassis response and composure the Boxster gobbles it alive. The Vette works nicely up to a point but then its over-stiff springs and dampers just have it skipping about. It’s not a huge problem, though – to reach that point you’ll have to be tanking on at ludicrous speed. The steering’s accurate but comatosed, the limited-slip differential isn’t the most reassuring of its type. And the ride… well, the ride’s better than before but our concrete motorway sections will expose it as way short of the European best. Its inherent choppiness and inability to cope with persistent small intrusions are cruelly amplified by the run-flat tyres’ lack of compliance.

However, you can enjoy the car without being terrified, and that frees you up to enjoy the whole package.

The Corvette is now significantly smaller than before. We’ll forgive Chevrolet’s explanation of its new-found wieldiness (they call it tossable, presumably in reference to a crisp green salad) and settle on more threadable. This is a Porsche 911-sized vehicle that weighs about the same and has an extra 40bhp.

It wouldn’t be a Vette without some interior cheapness, but it’s harder to spot than before. The column stalks contain too many controls and the plastics aren’t up to the European norm, but the ergonomics are good, even if the seats disappoint (too short in the squab) and the driving position isn’t quite adjustable enough.

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The test car was fitted with the heavily revised Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox. While still not anything like as slick as a Porsche 911’s change, it’s a big stride on from the previous effort and the lever can now be hustled with real conviction. It isn’t really necessary, though. From 2000rpm the Vette has so much thump you can just leave it in fourth gear and wind it out to 5500rpm – after which point there’s not much more to come, despite the optimistic 6500rpm red line.

Match this casual slugging ability to an induction hammer cut from a Top Fuel dragster and you don’t just have a car with near-supercar levels of performance, but one that is eminently usable and reasonably refined. Tyre and wind noise suppression are miles better than before, and with sixth gear pulling just over 50mph per 1000rpm it’ll shuffle along at 70mph at a claimed 28mpg.

Later in the day – pain-killers acting properly – there was time to let rip on some delicious Spanish roads. Big fourth-gear sweepers suit the Vette perfectly as it can settle and pick up a surprisingly good rhythm. Traction is excellent and the stability control can be disengaged to allow some slip out of second-gear bends. But be warned: once drifting it isn’t the easiest car to catch. The dimensions are critical, though: you no longer wince on narrower A-roads when you spot approaching traffic and that opens up a whole new world of possibilities in the UK.

Could you really have a Corvette over the German establishment? Absolutely. There is a point at which performance and looks become so compelling that the supposed burdens of left-hand drive, crude plastics and a spec sheet showing the phrase ‘leaf spring suspension’ count for nothing. Think of it as a cut-price Ford GT. If it was my cash, I’d order one in black and spend whatever’s left on getting my teeth into a condition that wouldn’t ruin the experience.

Chris Harris

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