Recently, GM's press-fleet reps asked us to get behind the wheel and experience the thrill of the substantially revised '08 Corvette. All we could say was, "430-plus horses in an entry-level Vette? Where do we sign up?"
Our Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat coupe came to us equipped with the standard LS3 powerplant, advertising 436 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque. It featured new heads and a block similar to those found on the top-of-the-line LS7 (505 hp), but in a mass-production-friendly package. This engine was mated to the brand-new T6060 six-speed manual transmission, which permanently replaces the venerable T56 in all stick-shift Corvettes, including the Z06.
Our test car was equipped with the heavy-duty MZ6 variant of this trans, which is only installed in cars ordered with the Z51 performance package. It housed a unique gear set optimized for performance use; wider gears to increase torque-handling capability (to 428 lb-ft); a stronger, one-piece countershaft; a strengthened housing to minimize flex; and a double-cone reverse-gear synchronizer.
With the new transmission also came a revised shifter assembly, which delivered on its promise of shorter throws and a quicker gate response than last year's model. Chevy says this newfound slickness is attributable to a redesign of the shifter, revised gate-to-gate locations, and less 12 percent rail travel than the old unit. We found it a breeze to accelerate through the six forward gears; it was nearly impossible to miss a shift.
The Z51 option brought larger (13.4/13.0-inch), cross-drilled brake rotors; performance-tuned P245/40ZR18 and P285/35ZR19 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar EMT tires; 30.7 and 25.2mm stabilizer bars; 86 N/mm and 135 N/mm-rate springs; passive shocks that offer increased damping over the stock units; and a 3.42 gear ratio. Allied with the potent LS3 engine, the Z51 gear helped our test Corvette feel as close to a Z06 as its 50-something price tag would allow.
We were also pleased with the 3LT Preferred Equipment Group, which returns this year with an upgraded six-disc CD changer, a Bose premium seven speaker system, heads-up display, a power telescoping wheel, heated seats, a memory package, a universal home remote, and a host of other luxuries.
Also new in '08 (and included on our test car) is a polycarbonate version of the optional transparent roof panel, replacing the glass roof used on previous models. In addition to offering a weight savings over its predecessor, the new top is designed to be virtually unbreakable under typical-use conditions. On the downside, it had a much cheaper feel than the old glass unit.
As you may have deduced from the output figures cited earlier, our test car was equipped with the new-for-'08 dual-mode performance exhaust system. According to Chevrolet, this 2.5-inch exhaust is similar in design and function to the 3.0-inch system used on the Z06. It features vacuum-actuated outlet valves that remain shut to control engine noise during low-load operation, then pivot open for maximum performance during high-load operation.
Our test of the '08 Corvette in a variety of conditions yielded a significant thumbs-up as compared with the '07 model. We were especially pleased with the LS3 and the performance it produces for a standard engine. We were equally impressed with the handling characteristics of the Z51 suspension, which makes the car fully track-capable without any tinkering. At a base price of $45,170 ($56,185 as tested), the '08 Corvette continues the marque's longstanding tradition of delivering world-class performance in a relatively affordable package.
Power to the People
Dyno-Testing The Fastest Base Vette Yet Although our test drive provided plenty of subjective evidence of the new Vette's brawn, we wanted to know exactly how the output of the '08 model stacked up against that of its LS2-powered predecessor. As we have so often in the past, we headed over to AntiVenom in nearby Seffner, Florida, to perform a series of pulls on the shop's chassis dyno. While there, we also took a closer look at some of the mechanical features that set the new car apart from last year's model.
With the 400 rwhp mark in sight, AntiVenom's Greg Lovell decided to do a little high-performance experimentation. First, he removed the stock intake tract in an attempt to roughly simulate the effects of an aftermarket induction system. Output jumped to 392.60/377.70, or 461.88/444.35 at the crank. His second tweak involved removing the LS3's accessory belt to approximate the benefits of an electric water pump. The results were stunning: 404.03/391.4 at the wheels, or 475.32/460.47 at the flywheel! Add a set of long-tube headers and a more aggressive PCM tune, and LS7-quality output seems well within reach.