Thumbs Up: Unbeatable performance for the price.
Thumbs Down: The seats are as bad as everyone says.
Buy This Car If: You have a craving for speed and a modest bank account.
Corvettes, like Mazda Miatas, have gotten a bum rap over the years. While the Corvette may not have the whole “chick car” stigma to overcome, it’s still saddled with the image of being the world’s premier midlife crisis car. Take a look at the Corvettes you see around you on the road, and it’s easy to see how this stereotype came about.
That aside, the current C6 Corvette is a remarkably capable sports car, even in base trim. The least powerful engine, a 6.2-liter LS3 V-8, still puts out 430 horsepower and 424 lb.-ft. of torque. If that’s not enough to satisfy your need for speed, the Corvette Z06 offers up a 7.0-liter V-8 that cranks out 505 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque. Want more? Opt for the Corvette ZR1, and you’ll get 638 hp and 604 lb.-ft. of torque, which should be enough to satisfy anyone without a serious death wish.
Each Corvette has a slightly different focus and a radically different personality. The Z06 may be one of the the best track-day terrors, but it’s awfully hard to live with in the real world of bumper-to-bumper traffic, speed bumps and potholes. A base model Corvette is a better choice here, but if you develop a craving for track days, you’ll soon wish for a suspension better suited for the kind of speeds you’ll see on a race track.
Enter the Corvette Grand Sport, a model that serves to bridge the gap between the base Corvette and the Corvette Z06. Grand Sport models come with the same 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 as base models, but offer up a stiffer suspension that offers just enough compliance for (reasonable) comfort, with the benefit of improved handling for days at the track. Stiffer springs, stronger dampers, larger brakes (cross-drilled for ventilation), bigger stabilizer bars and unique wheels are all included in the Grand Sport package, as are a dry-sump oil system and a differential cooler on manual-transmission cars.
If you’re willing to spend a few more dollars, you can now build base model or GS model Corvettes with GM’s superb Magnetic Ride Control suspension, previously offered only on ZR1 and Z06 models. You can opt for a dual-stage exhaust, too, and trust me on this one – you’ll want to check that particular option box. The exhaust only adds 6 hp and 4 lb.-ft. of torque, but the sound it emits above 4,000 rpm is worth the price of admission.
The Grand Sport gets a few styling touches not found on base model cars, such as the two-slit gills on the front fenders and fender stripes, which come as part of the Grand Sport Heritage Package. Since the Grand Sport is wider (by nearly two inches) and lower (by 4/10 of an inch), it has a more dramatic stance than a base Corvette, too.
My press fleet tester just happened to be a Centennial Edition car, which comes with the carbon flash metallic paint, satin black wheels, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, red accent stitching and commemorative Centennial Edition badging. Since the best part of the package is the upgraded suspension, which is available as a $1,695 option, I’d have a hard time justifying the Centennial package’s $4,950 price of admission, but there’s no denying that Centennial Edition cars will (eventually) be worth more money to collectors.
The Grand Sport is a low car, so you don’t climb behind the wheel as much as fall into it. The main weak point that I found during my tenure with the car was the seats; while mine came with the upgraded Sport Seats (which feature an inflatable lumbar support and inflatable bolsters), they’re still out of place in a car that starts above the $50,000 price point. They’re simply not comfortable, the seat backs feel flimsy and the seat cushion offers no lateral support for spirited driving. For ventilated seats, they don’t breathe particularly well, either, so let’s hope that GM addresses these weak points on the C7 Corvette. The seats wouldn’t be enough to make me cross the Corvette off my shopping list, but I’d seriously consider investing in decent quality aftermarket seating.
Some have complained about the Corvette’s plastic dash, but I personally don’t see anything wrong with it. The Corvette is a price-point driven car, and I’d rather see GM sink money into the driveline and suspension than into making an interior to compete with Porsche and Audi. Maybe that’s a politically correct way of saying that I’ve seen better interiors, but then again I’ve seen worse, too.
The Corvette’s instrumentation works well, and I’ll admit to being a fan of the optional heads-up display. On the track, at speed, it’s a lot easier to glance through the windshield at your engine speed, vehicle speed and coolant temp than it is to scan the gauges. For normal street driving, the car’s over-sized tachometer and speedometer are easy to see, and it’s nice to drive a car that still includes a coolant temperature gauge, an oil pressure gauge, a volt meter and a fuel gauge.
The Grand Sport’s 6.2-liter V-8 cranks out the aforementioned 430 horsepower, which is enough to propel the 3,311 pound Grand Sport from 0 to 60 in under 4.5 seconds. On the track, the Corvette doesn’t begin to run out of steam until you top 6,000 rpm, and the sound from the two-stage exhaust is magical above 4,000 rpm. The six-speed manual lacks precision compared to other cars, but remember that you’re working with long linkages and a transaxle, not a conventionally located transmission. Spend enough time behind the wheel, and you’ll soon master the art of coaxing the car into the desired gear. While no one buys a Corvette for it’s fuel economy, it isn’t bad if you drive the car in a more sedate manner. The manual transmission still includes a skip-shift feature that encourages 1-4 upshifts to save fuel, and sixth gear is particularly tall for highway cruising. The EPA says to expect 16 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, and I was able to achieve 17.3 mpg in city driving.
Since the Grand Sport has the same ride height as the Z06, around-town driving must be done with consideration to speed bumps and steep driveways. In fact, even my own all-but-perfectly-flat driveway was enough to brush the car’s air dam; if your house has a steep driveway, be sure the Corvette will clear it before signing the paperwork to buy one. Around town, the Corvette has a Dr. Jeckyll / Mr. Hyde personality: shift below 4,000 rpm, and the neighbors won’t even know you’re driving a Corvette. On the other hand, punch up the “Competition Mode” from the stability control system and wind the car out to redline in each gear, and you’ll be racking up tickets and insurance points faster than the Detroit Lions’ Ndomukong Suh racks up penalties and fines.
On the track, the Corvette Grand Sport really comes into its element. Handling is utterly predictable, grip is impressive and acceleration is sufficient enough to make the car entertaining. Even with the stability control in normal mode, the car permits just a hint of tail-out cornering, which makes it fun for passengers without being too intimidating. The Corvette is built like a tank, too: I ran the car for two continuous hours in the morning and two continuous hours in the afternoon at this year’s Rides n’ Smiles event, and never experienced a single issue with coolant temperature, brakes or tires. I did, however, win over dozens of new Corvette fans, all of whom were impressed by the car’s ability and handling. I’d include myself in that list, too.
GM supplied the 2012 Corvette Grand Sport for my evaluation. The base price of my press fleet tester was $56,900, including a destination charge of $975. Options on the car included the $5,995 3LT Preferred Equipment Package (sport seats with memory, luggage shade & parcel net, heated seats, tilt & telescoping steering column, DVD navigation system, Bose audio system, universal home remote, Bluetooth phone integration, heads-up display), the $4,950 Centennial Edition Package (carbon flash metallic paint, Magnetic Ride Control suspension, satin black wheels, commemorative badging, satin black exterior graphics, red accent stitching), the $1,195 Dual-Mode Exhaust, the $750 Transparent Roof Panel, the $295 Pedal Covers and the $100 Battery Protection Package for a total sticker price of $70,185.00.