The rumble from the 6.2-liter, 436 horsepower LS3 motor reached my ears a few seconds before the ‘arrest-me-red’ Corvette arrived in my driveway, its sexy curves almost too hard to look at with the sun glinting off the clear coat finish. My first thought was that my 41-year perfect driving record just might be in jeopardy with this baby at my disposal for a week. My second thought was to drop everything - it’s time to go for a ride.
1. The new Grand Sport gets the base engine, but much of the Z06’s performance characteristics, thanks to a wide body with bigger wheels and tires, upgraded Z06 brakes and new transmission ratios.
2. Expect a 0-60 mph time of 4.0 seconds.
3. Pricing for the Grand Sport Coupe starts at $55,740 - almost $20,000 less than the Z06.
The first Corvette arrived on the scene in 1953, the same year I did, so I’m old enough to have seen every model of Corvette actually driving on the road, even if those early year models were few and far between sightings. But every American boy of a certain age grew up with the Corvette being a magical nameplate and the iconic American sports car. Those early ‘Vettes have become highly desirable, and much sought after. I, on the other hand, well – not so much.
I have never owned a Corvette, but I’ve driven every generation of the car. And while I’ve enjoyed some more than others, every minute spent in a Corvette has been special. And after a week with the 2011 Grand Sport Coupe, I can say that this is still an extra-ordinary automobile.
The Grand Sport name was first introduced in 1962, when Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette, took a handful of cars and specially prepared them to beat the Shelby Cobra on the racetrack. It again appeared in 1996, when 1,000 specially-badged cars were sold to commemorate the final production of the 4th generation model. This year, instead of the Grand Sport being a low volume model, Chevy has decided to slot it in between the base car and the Z06, and expect it to account for half of the total production of coupe models and up to 70 percent of convertible models.
The Grand Sport replaces last year’s Z51 mechanical package. With the GS, you get stiffer springs and dampers, larger brakes and anti-roll bars, unique wheels with larger tires (275/35/18s in front and 325/30/19s in back) and body styling add-ons such as a front air inlet, bulging fenders with hash mark stripes, and rear brake-cooling ducts, which are more than just eye candy - as they reduce aerodynamic lift by 50 percent.
Despite all these Z06-syle add-ons, power comes from the base 430-hp LS3 V8 and can be routed through either an automatic or manual six-speed transmission. An optional dual-mode exhaust system (which my test car came equipped with) raises the output to 436-hp and sounds absolutely phenomenal during quick acceleration, and has a nice low burbling grumble at idle.
The test car was equipped with a slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission, and to help the driver control those 436 horses and pavement ripping 434 ft-lbs of torque, the Grand Sport comes with electronic launch control. Just cycle to the appropriate stability control mode, shift to first gear, floor the throttle, and wait for the revs to settle. Then drop the clutch as fast as you can, and you get a smooth launch every time.
And that controlled launch will get you to 60 mph in a heartbeat, and pin your shoulders back against the two-toned perforated heated seats until you mind cries uncle and you let off the accelerator. It’s an experience you’ll never tire of.
Should you happen to spot a squad car up ahead on the side of the road while you’ve got the boil on, those huge vented brakes will chop your speed in half before you can pucker your lips to whistle as you gently slide by Officer Friendly. And all that explosive power will still get you a rather green 16-mpg city, 26-mpg highway mileage rating.
When the road gets twisty, all those tire and suspension upgrades shine (not that the base ‘Vette has anything to be ashamed of) and you can pick up the pace with confidence. The car is capable of pulling over 1g on a skidpad, with only slight body lean, and there is a handy little electronic g-meter on the heads-up display that shows the g-force you are pulling at any given moment. I managed a .80, with one hand on the wheel, and my heartbeat at just above resting rate, so given the opportunity, the Grand Sport will easily meet your corner carving needs.
Weighing in at 3,300 lbs it’s very well balanced and steers quickly and predictably in all driving conditions. And with that stiffer suspension, side-to-side transitions are easily handled. With all the electronics working, the Grand Sport makes you feel like a much better driver than you really are, and will help you get out of some tough situations if you bite off more than you can chew while you are in full F-1 pilot mindset.
The wider track and new tires doesn’t just make for a better cornering car, but a faster one too. Thanks to all that extra grip the GS can hit 60 mph in roughly 4.0 seconds.
What is really impressive, however, is how comfortable and docile the Grand Sport can be driven. Sure, it’s stiffer than the base model, and the ride is always firm, but it’s never jarring or harsh. And the whole chassis feels solid and taut, with nary a squeak or rattle to mar the experience.
Arguably the only thing lacking in the drive characteristics of this Corvette is the soft throttle, which really requires that you get on the gas hard if you really want to move.
One area that begs for more improvement is the interior. It has definitely improved with this generation, and it looks good to the eye, especially with the two-tone leather seats as part of the Heritage Package (an $1,195 option), but it doesn’t feel as good as it should. There is still too much hard plastic, and it doesn’t fit with a car in this price range. Another $1,500 or so allocated to the interior appointments would go a long way, and that amount added to the sticker price wouldn’t dampen sales.
Still, the interior has a full complement of amenities, such as an auto dimming rear view mirror with compass, heads-up display, 6-way power seat, radio data system, On Star, leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, etc.
Chevrolet offers the Grand Sport in both coupe and convertible body styles. The coupe has a removable Targa top for more of an open air driving experience, but the top section is heavy and it’s cumbersome for one person to remove and replace. The base coupe starts at 49,900 and the base Grand Sport Coupe begins at $55,740. A Grand Sport Convertible starts at $59,550, which is $5,000 more than the base convertible. By comparison the Z06 starts at $75,255 and the ZR1 sets you back $112,050.
My test car had the $7,705 4LT Premium Equipment Group option package, the $1,195 Heritage Package, Chrome Aluminum Wheels for $1,995, a Navigation System for $1,795, and that Dual-Mode Performance Exhaust for $1,195, plus the dealer installed Pedal Covers for $295. With destination charges, the sticker showed $69,920. That’s a lot of dough, but not when you consider how much performance you’re buying for that price.
But you also get something special for your 70 large, that you can’t put a price on. It’s the way you feel when you’re going down the road in a Corvette. It’s different from almost any other car you can think of and is arguably the ultimate expression of “good ole American Iron.”