July 2, 2014

Top Down, Trip On

Raw muscle and civilized comfort make Chevy’s all-new Corvette Stingray convertible summer’s ultimate ride.

Ah, California’s Pacific Coast Highway on a sun-drenched summer morning, when the cerulean sky stretches into infinity and ocean breezes carry the salty tang of adventurous promise. Closing in on Big Sur, the scenery and the narrow two-lane switchbacks become more intense.

But that’s just fine with you, because you’re driving the new, totally redesigned Corvette Stingray convertible, and it grips the road as if on rails. Perfectly balanced, with endless reserves of power available in an instant, this sleek, sure-footed beast romps through even the tightest turns with aplomb. Yet the wind barely ruffles the Balenciaga scarf of your passenger, and conversations needn’t be shouted.

It’s good to be behind the wheel of “America’s sports car.”

The seventh generation (C7) Corvette Stingray debuted this year, resurrecting the hallowed second generation (1963-1967) Sting Ray name (although with a different spelling). Brushing aside any notion of hubris, the new Corvette wasted no time garnering numerous prestigious awards, including North American Car of the Year, Automobile Magazine’s Automobile of the Year, one of the “10Best” by Car and Driver, Road & Track’s Performance Car of the Year and on and on.

Sum it up in one word: WOW.

The sculpted, athletic exterior turns heads, as does the volcanic roar from the 460 horsepower 6.2 liter LT1 V8, packing 465 lb-ft of torque. In fact, it’s the most powerful standard Corvette engine ever, combining advanced technologies like direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, an advanced combustion system and “Active Fuel Management” (which turns off four of the eight cylinders under light loads) to deliver an estimated 29 mpg. IN A CORVETTE.

Weight savings help achieve that impressive number: a carbon fiber hood, composite fenders, doors and rear quarter panels; carbon-nano composite underbody panels and a new aluminum frame bring the Stingray in at a positively sylphlike 3,362 pounds.

Drivers can choose from five modes (weather, eco, tour, sport, track) covering 12 performance parameters, meaning that the Stingray can cheerfully handle the daily commute as well as romp like a crazed beast, all on command. Mated with a telepathic seven-speed manual that electronically matches revs while shifting, one can reasonably predict that the aroma of smoking rubber will permeate the air around this happy hustler. An optional six-speed paddle-shift automatic is available if you live somewhere with lots of traffic. But really, get the manual.

Does it go? Oh, man. Zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds is an accurate if clinical measurement that fails to convey the sheer muscle packed into this sleek, finely tuned cop magnet of feisty, outlandish, outrageously powerful fun. Even at 100 mph, the Stingray isn’t breathing hard and you feel in total control, idly wondering why everyone else is just puddling along. There’s no rattling or shaking, and gobs and gobs of power wait to be unleashed.

Will it muss your hair? Yes. Buffet your head like a prizefighter? No. The wind, even at ridiculous speeds, passes over the cabin for an amazingly civilized and comfortable ride.

Speaking of comfort, former Corvette interiors were notorious for being bone-crackers. No more. Refinement is the new order of the day. The fighter jet-inspired wraparound cockpits, supportive and supple seats, precise stitching on high-quality materials and intuitive instrumentation placement speak to a supremely welcome return to pride in American craftsmanship.

A dazzling, if somewhat confusing, variety of options abounds on both the base model and Z51 performance versions: trim levels are designated LT1, LT2 and LT3. The base LT1 convertible isn’t the redheaded stepchild loss-leader from days of old — it’s totally, completely and utterly wonderful just as it is at $58,995.

But c’mon, if you’re getting a ’Vette ragtop, do it right. Start with the Z51 LT3 with Napa leather seats and attendant goodies. Then go nuts with the optional premium crystal red paint and matching brake calipers, competition buckets, custom sill plates, performance exhaust, racing stripes — racing stripes! — and 19-inch chrome wheels. You’re only at $83,000, about $13,000 less than a Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet. Might as well live large and spring for the five-piece customized luggage ($920), too.

Incredible as it may seem, there’s an even more powerful Corvette coming by year’s end. When you really, really need to smoke that Ferrari next to you at the red light, the upcoming 2015 Z06 will do the job. The General’s most powerful production vehicle ever, the Z boasts a supercharged LT4 V-8 pumping out 650 horsepower and an equivalent amount of torque. The convertible version? Just a matter of time.

And hopefully just in time for next summer’s road trip.

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