The Corvette is all about context - always has been. It is one of the worst automotive tourists in that it travels about as well as cheap Provencale wine. In the US, on smooth sunshine state roads, with cheap gasoline and a bargain sticker price, it's sometimes hard to imagine what more Chevrolet could offer for the money. On a wet, bumpy UK B-road, with a price adjusted for import, the 'vette has always been the preserve of the committed few. Or the few that need committing, depending on your viewpoint.
So I took the precaution of driving the new C7 Corvette in California. I made sure the weather was sunny. I suppressed any preconceived notions of inferiority I may have held about leaf springs and plastic panels and left my mind open to new possibilities.
This did at least give me the chance to confirm that you should only order an automatic Corvette if you cannot operate a clutch pedal.
What a fascinating amalgam of technology and antiquarianism this car is. On the one hand the new 6.2-litre V8 boasts direct injection and cylinder shut-down for a frugal cruise. On the other it still uses pushrods to keep the motor lower for that sexy bonnet line.
The shell is now aluminium - stronger, stiffer and 45kg lighter than before although overall weight is pretty similar to before at 1,495kg. The bodywork is composite and the suspension still has those transverse leaf springs at the rear, but I'm told that the damper rates have been softened.
The steering is light-ish and quite fast, you sit low and feel very special, and the motor dominates. I think we've become accustomed to the smooth, revvy V8s of Affalterbach and Ingolstadt, because this lump is so much more rowdy and bustling. Throttle response isn't quite as good and it won't rev out like the best Europeans, but it counters by rumbling like a proper muscle car and with the exhaust set to noisy it sounds quite silly when you push it. Anyone else thing the four-in-a-row exhaust bundle looks a bit ridiculous?
And this is base Corvette, a car with 455hp and 460lb ft in standard US spec. Even with the silly slushbox, it's very, very fast on the road. The brakes are a touch over-sensitive and perfectly good for road use, but as we'll discuss in a minute, they weren't so good on track.
There's quite a bit of road and suspension noise, but again, this is a 'vette, right? It's so much better than the last C6 version I drove you can't really compare them.
On the track this base version with its blipping auto 'box didn't show quite as well. The brakes couldn't handle much sustained lapping, and whereas I'd been happy with the electronic dampers set to Touring on the road, the Track setting was too stiff even for the flat turns of Chuckwalla circuit. In Sport matters were better.
GM will soon sell you a 'vette with all the fancy chassis extras, the Z51 pack, bigger wheels and stick in the UK. The problem is, it'll be £61,495. That's still a whole lot of performance for the money, the looks are really growing on me, and a 991 to similar spec would be nearly £100K.
For now, the C7 is such good value in the US, it kind of has no competition. For the money, sports car buyers have never had it so good. I'd want to try one on a troublesome English B-road before writing a cheque, but the extra chassis sophistication should make an even bigger difference over here. As ever, it's just a very likeable car.
And just as well too. Moving forward, I implore the Chevy engineers to do a similarly good job on the Z06 and ZR1 versions. Means I can say nice things and thereby avoid any more death threats.
CORVETTE STINGRAY (C7)
Engine: 6,162cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed manual/6-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 455@6,000rpm*
Torque (lb ft): 460@4,600rpm*
0-60mph: 3.9sec (manual coupe w/Z51 pack)*
Top speed: Not disclosed
MPG: 29 (US Highway)
Price: from $51,995 (US market, basic), £61,495 (UK, including Z51 pack as standard)
*Figures for US market cars; quoted power figures for European cars with Z51 pack 460hp/465lb ft