Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Autance writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible.
There's a big problem in America today: Not enough people are buying Corvettes.
It's a minor issue, all things considered. But like a coal fire quietly burning away beneath the ground of a small Pennsylvania town, it's a slow-moving menace that could, given time, cause a beloved thing to disappear. If people aren't buying Corvettes, the Corvette itself could be in danger. We already know that General Motors is planning an all-new, mid-engined 'Vette for the car's eighth generation, presumably so it can better battle the supercars of the world; while the company hasn't stated how much the mid-engined Corvette will sell for, it's hard to imagine that GM will drop, rather than significantly raise, the price for such a revolutionary product. (Indeed, The Drive's own Lawrence Ulrich has stated his opposition to the project for just such financial reasons.)
It's especially vexing considering how remarkable a sports car The Plastic Fantastic has become—a combination of performance, style, and comfort that can seem like a bargain. (Emphasis on can; more on that later.) And the Grand Sport, introduced last year, is the Goldilocks' Choice of the three-car 'Vette family: it wears the same wide body and aerodynamic alterations as the Z06 but keeps the naturally-aspirated, 460-horsepower 6.2-liter LT1 V8 instead of the supercharged LT4 version found in the mack-daddy Corvette.
Of course, while car nerds will geek out over details like 1.1-plus Gs of lateral grip and adaptive magnetorhelogical suspension dampers, the average Corvette buyer is likely more concerned with looking cool on the drive to an Eagles concert. As such, my press car was configured more along the lines of a Woodward Dream Cruise special than a weekend autocross star: in automatic transmission, convertible-topped form, loaded up with appearance options like carbon fiber ground effects and microsuede-coated A-pillars.
As it turns out, though, even saddled with that less-than-ideal spec sheet, the Corvette Grand Sport is every bit the sports car it ought to be.
- There may be no sports car on Earth that better balances performance and real-world fun than the Corvette Grand Sport. Sure, it's down almost 200 horsepower compared to the 650-horsepower Z06, and as such, it loses some thrust by comparison; the Grand Sport is nearly a full second slower to 60 mph, and the accelerative gap just grows from there. But unless your driveway backs up onto the Nürburgring, those extra horses are, dare I say, unnecessary. The LT1 strikes a near-perfect balance for a road car engine: it packs enough power to slaughter most comers, yet unlike many supercars out there, it doesn’t make hauling ass so effortless that it drains the fun of making the car work. You’ll lose every drag race you run against a Tesla, but you’ll have far more fun every time. Especially with the windows (and top) down, so you can hear that smallblock sing.
- Putting Z06-spec track-ready rubber on a 460-hp car means that traction seems omnipresent. In most cars packing this sort of power, flooring the gas at, say, three miles per hour with traction control off would prompt a smokeshow par excellence. In the Grand Sport, the car just blasts forward with nary a chirp. If these tires were any stickier, this Corvette could chase Spider-Man up walls.
- Considering this car's handling prowess—again, the Grand Sport pulls 1.13 g on the skidpad even without the Z07 package—it might seem like you'd have to be a masochist to drive this car down a rough country road. Yet GM's chassis tuning team has pulled off a minor miracle: the Corvette's ride comports itself with dignity, insulating the occupants' butts from the worst of the road without sacrificing an iota of grip.
- The cockpit may only seat two, but it snuggles itself around the occupants like a blanket—a blanket upholstered in cheap leather, perhaps, but the C7's interior is still leaps and bounds above previous generations of 'Vette, most of which felt like they'd been crafted from the same materials used to make carnival prizes. Even tall drivers will find plenty of legroom; the controls all lie within easy reach from the driver's seat; and the infotainment is shockingly usable for a car of this performance caliber, from the eight-inch touchscreen to the three USB ports. (Yes, there are more USB jacks than potential occupants. I don't know why.)
- The second eight-inch screen serving as the heart of the instrument panel is so good, it renders the analog speedometer—tipped on its side and exiled to the lefthand-corner of the dashboard—utterly redundant. Toggle through the car's drive modes, and it shifts from one digital tachometer-and-speedometer simulacrum to another; Track Mode features a swoosh that widens as the revs rise, Sport Mode boats a minimalist, monochromatic gauge, and the lesser modes (Tour, Eco, and Wet) use a multicolored cartoon version with space to show radio or nav info.
- The doors are asymmetrical from the inside. Which is only a "pro" because of the reason behind it: The passenger's door is structured with a vertical post below the door release for the sole reason of giving the passenger an "Oh shit!" grab handle for each hand.
- The frameless rear-view mirror that looks so cool by day turns into an irritant by night. Only the central portion dims automatically; the border stays as reflective as ever, which means any headlights that hit it blast you in the eyes will the force of a billion hydrogen bombs at point-blank range. And whomever at GM thought it was a good idea to put an illuminated red SOS button next to a similarly-glowing blue OnStar button, in the same spot your eyes scan for cops every 30 seconds, should be socked in the mouth.
- The convertible isn't as handsome as the coupe. It's not bad-looking by any stretch, and the soft roof does an admirable job keeping noise out when erected, but it lacks the fighter-jet poise of the hardtop. (And since the cheaper model comes with a pop-off targa top, coupe buyers can still experience wind-in-the-hair thrills without sacrificing style.)
- Going for the roadster also means losing out on storage space. The convertible Corvette has to make do with 10 square feet of trunk space—two-thirds of the coupe's commodious cargo bay, which offers nearly as much room as a Malibu's aft compartment.
- The eight-speed slushbox does a fine job in automatic mode, opting for smart shift strategies that extract every drop of either speed or efficiency from the engine, depending on your aims; in manual, however, it still feels a beat or two slower than the dual-clutch transmissions found between the wheels and the crank of Porsches, Ferraris, and Volkswagens. Besides, it's a Corvette. It deserves a manual.
The Chevy Corvette Grand Sport Convertible, Ranked:
Hauling people: 2/5
Hauling stuff: 2/5
Curb appeal: 5/5
“Wow” factor: 5/5
The Bottom Line:
If there was one problem with the particular Corvette I spent the weekend with, however, it was this: This sucker was expensive. My droptop Grand Sport test car bore an MSRP of $94,050 on its window sticker—a full $37,560 more than an entry-level Corvette Stingray, which packs the same smallblock engine and goes just as fast in a straight line. More to the point, it's roughly $25K more than a basic Grand Sport convertible.
In an odd way, this silver Corvette serves as a lesson in just how little you really need to spend on a 'Vette in order to have one hell of a car. With the exception of the carbon-ceramic brakes, every option slapped on this tester added exactly zip to the car's performance—and while those giant heatproof stoppers are impressive, the regular brakes work well enough that only hardcore track rats need even think about dropping the cash on the ceramics. Besides, you'd be better off buying the Z07 package, which includes the carbon-ceramic brakes as well as other competition-minded bits, like hardcore aerodynamic add-ons and a more aggressive suspension, yet costs almost the same as the brakes do alone.
But you don't need to, and that's the point. Even in regular form, the Grand Sport is the sort of sports car that reminds you just what a great automaker can do when it sets its mind to it. It's capable of whipping cars that cost three times as much on a race track but is be equally at home on a 3,000-mile cross-country road trip. It's a wonder.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to figure out the quickest way to earn 75 grand.
2018 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible, By the Numbers:
Price (as tested): $70,490 ($94,045)
Powertrain: 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8, 460 horsepower, 465 pound-feet; eight-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: EPA-rated at 15 city / 25 highway, but you'll do better
0-60 MPH: 3.6 seconds (manufacturer estimate)
Road-holding: 1.11 g (Car and Driver testing, coupe)
Number of times you'll regret opting for the Visible Carbon Fiber Ground Effects Package because it scrapes on the ground or you step on the fragile door sills: At least once per day