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Our Verdict

Chevrolet Corvette

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

  • First Drive

    Corvette Grand Sport Convertible

    Full of charisma but too lacking, dynamically and elsewhere, to justify its £70k-plus price
  • First Drive

    Corvette ZR1

    Fastest Corvette is dominated by its engine and phenomenal pace
10 August 2004

You've already had a chance to drool over Chevrolet’s new Corvette C6 coupé, now we continue the salivation with a drive of the new C6 Convertible. Same 6.0-litre 400bhp V8 power as the coupe, same pounding 400lb ft torque, too. But instead of a six-on-the-floor manual, here we’re letting the new four-speed auto do the shifting.

This new Vette has evolved nicely. Fifty more horsepower than the last generation, standstill to 62mph in 4.3sec and a 186mph top speed. There’s also a stiffer, lighter platform and a body that’s 140mm shorter than before.

GM’s designers did a fine job of slicing the top off the coupe, and the reduced length and shorter rear overhang make the convertible look better balanced and proportioned than before.

Lessons learned in developing the Cadillac XLR roadster, which is built alongside the Vette, helped to ensure the new Chevy’s structural rigidity. Front to rear hydroformed chassis-frame rails, a structural backbone tunnel and a balsa wood and composite sandwich floor keep the roadster’s structure stiff, and more or less banishes scuttle shake.

Unlike the Caddy, however, the Corvette sticks with its traditional folding cloth roof instead of the XLR’s metal folding top. The reason? Less weight, more boot space and lower cost.

Not that living with the C6’s canvas top is a hardship. It’s made of five-ply fabric and was shaped in the wind tunnel to reduce drag and wind noise. But going topless means stepping out of the car. A single release handle on the windscreen header rail replaces the previous two latches. Twist, push up, step out, raise a rear-hinged tonneau panel, fold the hood back and close the panel. Maybe 15 seconds max.

But between 20 and 50 per cent of Corvette Convertible buyers aren’t keen to partake in the ‘step-out-of-the-car’ part. Instead, they’re likely to go for the $2000 (£1100) optional power folding roof – the first to be offered on a Corvette – which lowers, at the push of a button, in 18 seconds.

Inside, the interior is light years ahead of the previous C5’s, thanks to trim that no longer looks and feels as if it came out of an ’80s Lada and simpler controls on the centre console. But no prizes for the cheap-looking brushed alloy-look plastic on the console itself.

The new LS2 motor is a gem. It’s vocal, supremely flexible and bellowy in a true Yankee muscle-car way, exhaling through its new quad-pipe exhaust. The four-speed auto doesn’t match the engine’s ability, sadly. It swaps gears with a harsh ‘thunk’ and gets confused as to which gear to pick when asked to change down. The manual is vastly better.

Road manners are in line with the coupe’s and include massive grip, an impressive ride, but rather lifeless steering. And, although the car’s overall length is now Porsche 911-sized, it still feels painfully wide and bulky driving down a country lane. The brakes, however, are sensational.

But all this is slightly academic, at least for UK buyers, because GM chose not to develop a Corvette (a) with right-hand drive, or (b) the ability to make it right-hand drive. Dave Hill, the C6 Corvette’s chief engineer, talked about wanting to make the car ‘more international’ in its character. He could have started with the location of the steering wheel.

Howard Walker

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