Often referred to as America's only true sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette is one of the world's best known and longest-running nameplates. Oddly, it had a rather humble beginning, starting life back in 1953 with a straight-6 engine and a two-speed automatic transmission. The first few years saw the fiberglass-bodied two-seater from Chevrolet earn praise for its handling but criticism for its relatively tame performance. (At the time, it was soundly outgunned by a variety of European sports cars in terms of performance.)
2008 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible
Thankfully, a V8 engine option debuted in 1955, and by the late '50s, the Chevy Corvette could hit 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. The intervening decades have seen the Corvette pass through multiple generations. Each decade has brought its own Corvette theme, including the muscle-bound '60s, the highly stylized '70s and the electronically aided '80s. More recently, the Corvette has improved enough in the refinement department that many finally consider it worthy to compete against the world's best.
Highlights of the Corvette's timeline include the '57 Fuelie (the nickname for the optional fuel-injected 283 V8), the '63 Sting Ray split-window coupe, the '65-'67 big blocks (427-cubic-inch V8s), the high-revving LT-1s of the early '70s, the ultra-high-performance ZR-1s of the early '90s and the fast yet user-friendly C5s (fifth generation) of the late '90s. Of course today's Corvette, an outright bargain when compared to sports cars from Europe, should be acknowledged as well. The current Corvette offers the performance of an all-out exotic at a third to a quarter of the price.
Current Chevrolet Corvette
Debuting in 2005, the current Chevrolet Corvette (known as the C6) is by far the best yet. As with past Vettes, a coupe and convertible are offered. Performance is exceptional, with the 0-60-mph sprint taking less than 5 seconds, the quarter-mile taking less than 13 and top speed in excess of 180 mph. That's for the standard Corvette. The Z06 version is even more thrilling, hitting 60 in the low 4s, the quarter in the low 12s and running on up to a top end approaching 200 mph. The standard Corvette comes with a 6.0-liter, 400-horsepower V8 coupled to either a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic. The Z06 comes with a 7.0-liter V8 with 505 hp mated to a six-speed manual.
The newest Chevrolet Corvette is equally impressive in terms of its improved build quality and increased daily driver usability. The cockpit boasts friendly ergonomics, supportive seats and excellent fit and finish. As before, the car's hatchback body style provides massive cargo capacity, which stands at 22 cubic feet in the coupe. A choice of three suspensions (standard, optional Magnetic Ride Control with Sport and Touring modes and track-ready Z51) for the regular Corvette mean there's a setup for everyone, from casual enthusiasts to hard-core apex clippers -- and all provide a fairly smooth ride. The Z06, in spite of its immense capabilities, is still docile enough to handle the daily commute without making the driver grit his teeth every time he faces stop-and-go traffic or a rough section of pavement.
In reviews from our editors and posted consumer commentary, the C6 garnered high marks and universal praise for its combination of strong performance, razor-sharp handling, comfortable ride, eye-catching style, affordability and relatively impressive fuel economy. Complaints were minor in comparison, centering on the manual transmission's clunky gearchanges, along with the cabin's mediocre cupholder and storage provisions, ho-hum interior materials and underwhelming Bose audio system.
Past Chevrolet Corvette Models
The previous Corvette (the C5) was built from 1997-2004 and marked the Corvette's transition from a capable but flawed (in terms of comfort and ergonomics) to world-class sports car. Easier to get in and out of than the C4, the C5 also boasted a new chassis that had nearly 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear axles, a more compliant suspension, a much roomier cockpit with more supportive seats and a new "LS1" 5.7-liter V8 that made 345 hp. The transmission choices were a six-speed manual and four-speed automatic.
With a 0-60-mph time of fewer than 5 seconds and a top speed of around 175, there wasn't much that could touch this Vette short of a few big-dollar exotics from Europe. That first year saw just the hatchback body, whose styling drew barbs for its rather large hindquarters. But the benefit of the big butt was more than 20 cubic feet of cargo capacity under the rear hatch. A convertible joined the lineup for '98 and the following year brought a fixed-roof coupe. For 2001, the mighty Z06, a reincarnation of an earlier "Z06" performance package from the '60s, debuted, bringing 385 hp to an already impressive chassis. As if that weren't enough, the Z06 gained 20 hp the very next year.
Enthusiasts looking for a sports car they can live with day in and day out would be well advised to seriously consider a Chevy Corvette from this generation. Pros and cons are mostly similar to the current generation, and although the C5 has been criticized for spotty build quality, this Corvette still offers the most bang for the buck in the used sports car marketplace.
The fourth-generation Chevrolet Corvette, or C4, is the other model that non car-collectors will likely be interested in. It was available for the 1984-'96 model years. The flamboyant style of the previous generation was replaced with a leaner look, and a racetrack-ready suspension featuring lightweight alloy components debuted as well. First-year cars should be avoided, as the 5.7-liter V8 made just 205 hp with its troublesome "Crossfire Injection" setup, while the suspension was much too stiff for daily driver duty. Subsequent years saw the debut of a convertible, more power and suspension refinements. By 1990, the Corvette was a well-sorted sports car with precise handling and respectable performance from its 250-hp engine. That year also saw the debut of the ZR-1 supercar, which could run the quarter-mile in the low 13s and hit a top speed of around 175 mph, thanks to its 375-hp, 5.7-liter V8. For '92, the standard Corvette gained more power via the 300-hp LT1 V8. The ZR-1's output shot up to 405 hp for '93. The last year of this Corvette's generation saw the availability of a 330-hp version of the LT1 V8.
Although the C4 is regarded as desirable in terms of performance for the price, its awkward ingress/egress, cramped cockpit and stiff ride make it a weekend toy for all but the most ardent enthusiasts.