The finely tuned exhausts sent a tingle up my spine as the tach headed toward 6,500 rpm. Into Third gear the convertible just kept pulling harder, never breaking a sweat as the trees blurred by. Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill sat to my right. "See how it settles into the corners," he said. Sweeping through a somewhat rough turn, the new Corvette kept gripping better with each bump and dip, in contrast to its predecessors.
With all the speculation about the new C6, no one knew quite what to expect. Recent magazine comments described Chevrolet's new '05 model as everything from a freshened C5 to a blasphemous design with no pop-up headlamps. Anyone thinking the C6, or sixth-generation Corvette, is a re-skinned C5 better slip behind the wheel.
Unveiled at General Motors' new Milford Road Course at the GM Proving Grounds in Michigan, the new Corvette had a familiar look. And while the C5 heritage certainly comes through, this two-seater is definitely new. It has all-new body panels, a new interior, and amazing luggage space in the convertible.
Dave Hill and his team worked side by side from the beginning of the project, which started in 1998, just after the C5 began production. Their goal was to create a Corvette that "does more things well than any performance car," according to Hill. He said they systematically searched out and destroyed every imperfection they could find. In the early development of the C5, the engine team was off testing at a track with a substandard chassis while the suspension team was at another track testing with a less than optimal engine. The different teams soon realized they could move much faster by going to the same track at the same time, and working on their systems in unison. The process continued during C6 development with the teams working even closer.
Comparing the new Corvette to the C5 model is interesting. The C6 is a full 5 inches shorter while the wheelbase is an inch longer. The wheels have been moved to the outer corners of the body. Overall width is an inch narrower. The body design on the new model reveals subtle breaks and lines that suggest a stealth aircraft shape, much more so than any previous Corvette.
The most obvious external design change is the addition of fixed headlamps. Chief Corvette Designer Tom Peters said they spent a lot of time making the decision to change, knowing some Corvette purists would disagree. But the team finally decided if the C6 was to be an ultimate sports car based on top-drawer performance, they had to give it every advantage. That would include best-in-class aerodynamics and shedding weight, and the new lamps contributed to both. "You don't see Corvettes at Daytona with pop-up lamps," said Peters, also chief designer on the Cadillac XLR. This will be Chevrolet's first Corvette since 1962 without pop-up headlamps.
PowerAnyone who knows how important power-to-weight ratio is to a performance car would be impressed with the new models. At 3,179 pounds, the curb weight is down by 67 pounds. This was done while adding larger wheels (18-inch front, 19-inch rear), new generation run-flat Goodyear performance tires, and a sturdier platform to provide the firm, nimble feel on winding roads.
Then the team went to work on power. The LS2 base engine, now a 6.0-liter, is the Chevy small-block V-8 we all know and love. It's been taken to another level: 400 lb-ft of torque at 400 hp, to be exact. This brings the standard power within 5 horses of the current Z06, and the C6 chassis and suspension do a commendable job of transferring it all to the ground. Interestingly, the LS2 gets better mileage by more than one mile per gallon than the current 350hp version. With an estimated 22.6 mpg (combined highway/city) the C6 pays no gas-guzzler tax and beats the Porsche Turbo, Dodge Viper, and Ferrari Modena substantially in fuel efficiency. The LS2 can hit 0-100 kilometers-or 62 mph-in 4.1 seconds with the Z51 performance package, and will run a 12.6-second quarter-mile, flying through the traps at 114 mph.
The Driver SeatAs I slipped into one of the roadsters, the interior improvements were obvious immediately. First, it was completely new-no carryover items. The instrument panel has a series of well-placed, easy-to-read gauges with white digits on a black background. The speedometer does a slight overlap with the tachometer, and a nicely placed heads-up display manages to keep you informed without taking your eyes off the apex, showing a tach reading, speed, and in certain modes, oil and water readings.
The Tremec six-speed manual shifter is molded to fit neatly into the palm, and the shorter shifter height and improved synchronizers bring the shift travel down by 10 percent, according to Chevrolet. Running through the gears is easy and intuitive. You have to leave it in Reverse to kill the engine.
The leather seats, developed under C6 team guidance by Lear Corporation, are immediately comfortable, and still sit easy after three hours of hard driving. Power controls are used for lumbar comfort level, and seating position and lateral support is excellent. Handles and buttons were carefully studied for placement during development, making it easy to find and operate most of the controls. During development, a magnetized passenger interior door handle was attached to a metal plate on the inside door panel, allowing each passenger to move it to the most comfortable position. Gradually, the interior team found the optimal position, as it did with other controls in the interior. Even the material used for the instrument panel was chosen for a leather-like feel and look. It also was designed to reduce glare.
Another Corvette first is the new Keyless Access system allowing you to open doors and the luggage cover as you walk up to the vehicle. The vehicle senses when the driver and key fob are close and allows access. Once seated, just apply your foot to the brake, press the start button to the right of the wheel, and in about a second the big V-8 gurgles to life as the key fob is again recognized, even in your pocket.
Rolling away in First gear, the clutch was relatively smooth to operate considering the horsepower it handles. Easing out on the open road, the gears were easy to find and there was enough torque to lug along at almost any speed; but the LS2 revs freely and feels at home in the 4-grand range, especially if you like dusting off the occasional Carrera at the drop of a hat.
Once on the road, the steering proved to be precise and any minor corrections translated directly to movement on the road. If you enjoy performance driving, you'll enjoy this chassis. While the platform is shared with Cadillac's XLR, they are totally different animals developed for two different markets. There was no compromise. Combined with excellent suspension, tires, and electronic controls, the C6's platform can make even an average Joe look good on the track.
Speed: 300 kph; 186 mphThree hundred kilometers per hour is a magic number, sort of like gaining membership to the 200-mph club at Bonneville. When the team drove their production spec C6 to GM's Arizona Proving Grounds, they knew they should be able to just make it to the 300-kph mark, bragging rights they intended to own.
According to Corvette Test Driver Mike Neal, "We went as a team; we all had to be there." GM's 5-mile, Arizona-desert test track is plenty big, but is basically a circle. "We got it up to 184 mph or 298 kph," said Neal. But driving in a constant corner, he was always scrubbing off speed and they couldn't get it to the 300-kph mark. The team knew they needed to go someplace with a straight long enough to get to the true top speed. So they rented the high-bank test track now owned by Nissan, just 45 minutes away, knowing it was longer, had 36-degree banking, and 1.7-mile straights. They had one day to get the job done.
Brake Engineer Tony Rifici looked on from the pits as Neal came up to speed. "You could see this car going down the straightaway at about 186 mph and it looked like it was parked." There was almost no lift to the front end.
Neal said, "When I drive at top speed in the C5, you can see the front of the car lift. The steering gets very light and I just say, 'We're going to be very careful here.' " He calls it "in full rebound." But Neal says the C6 feels exceptionally stable and comfortable approaching the upper limits.
Once the car was warmed up and some practice laps taken, it took more than a full lap at the track to get up to speed. Powertrain Integration Engineer Luke Sewell watched from the sidelines as Neal brought it full tilt into the first turn. He noted, "That was the only time I ever heard Mike say, 'That was pretty scary!' " According to Neal, the middle of the turn is a no-brainer, but approaching the turn, the track goes into a bank first, still in a straight line, then into the turn. "So," he said, "you have to correct to the left slightly just before you get into the turn, then bring it gently back to into the banking." But it didn't take long at that point to settle in and take it to 186 mph. The team had their record by running at 300 kph in both directions on the course.
Then, just ahead at 186 mph...
Later in the day after the record was secure, the team decided just for fun to pull in the outside mirrors and add a little duct tape to the car for another run. If you can touch 186 mph; well, you can certainly make 190. Right?
Approaching the almost vertical banking, Neal had it flat out and spotted a roadrunner (a bird, not a Plymouth) coming up the banking. "I'm in the middle of the corner," said Neal who was totally committed to his line at that point. "Well, I was pointed where he was going." We all sat on the edge of our seats, knowing you don't dodge something at that speed. What happened? "Well, did you ever see how smoke looks in wind-tunnel testing?" After all those years, all Wile E. Coyote needed to catch the roadrunner was a C6.
While certainly not happy about hitting anything, Neal stayed the course with his right foot buried. With folded mirrors and duct tape, they hit 190 mph, topped off the tank, and drove it home.