2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport
– Unique, aggressive styling
– Powerful V8 n/a engine
– Great handling, decent ride
– Too docile at lesser speeds
– Few cost-cut cabin bits remain
– Ultra-low ground clearance
There was a time in the 1960s when all NASA astronauts drove a Corvette. To everyone else, it looked like the men whose jobs involved blasting off into space in rockets exclusively preferred the sleek Chevy as their off-duty rides because it was the only car able to satisfy their need for speed. While the details were less glamorous — they were given generous “astronaut” lease deals by the local Chevy dealer — it cemented the Corvette as America’s official sports car. Decades later, the Corvette does battle with all sorts of European contenders, and with the C7 generation, the closest it has ever come to winning it. Saddled with a poor 5-speed automatic, the first year of the C7 Stingray wasn’t as good as all the hype claimed it to be back in 2014, but General Motors has raised its game since then, and this is the result — the Corvette Grand Sport.
To the casual eye, the Grand Sport looks like any other Corvette Stingray, but somehow more aggressive. That’s because it comes with a whole host of aerodynamic add-ons, such as a ground-effects kit all around the bottom of the car, split-design front fender vents, wider rear fenders, partial covers over the rear fender intakes, and a massive upright boot lip spoiler that’s so tall it has a transparent section in the middle to retain some semblance of rearward visibility. The C7 Corvette’s overall design is edgier and busier than the C6, which isn’t to everyone’s liking, but it’s very cool in person, with its functional vents on the bonnet and the taillights, as well as its staggered wheels and quad exhaust tips. The add-ons feel a bit fragile though, so letting car-wash guys manhandle it is a definite no-no.
Getting inside involves opening the door via the electronic pressure pad instead of a regular door handle, and stepping over the side skirt that juts out quite a bit. Once you literally fall into the low-slung seat, you are greeted with a driver-centric cockpit that’s a far cry from the old C6 Corvette’s cheap-looking interior. The dash and door panels are padded and wrapped in leatherette, while the roof lining is alcantara, and the shifter has a proper metal knob. However, some cost-cutting is evident as some of the panels and trim feel flimsy, while the paint on the metal shifter had chipped off already in our test car, probably due to someone’s ring.
There’s good space for just two of course, with hideaway cup-holders and a couple of small storage areas. There is even a cubby behind the LCD touchscreen, accessed by pressing a button to make the screen electrically slide downwards. The cabin can be made even more airy by unlatching the targa-top roof panel and putting it in the boot. Without the roof taking up space, the shallow boot has enough space for a week’s groceries and not much more. A piece of cloth is the only thing separating the cargo from the passenger compartment. A net pocket on the boot wall is useful for storing smaller items.
Tech features include heated/ventilated power seats, heads-up display, standard 8-inch touchscreen with rear and even front “curb-view” cameras, MyLink multimedia system, navigation and Apple CarPlay capability (with Android Auto still missing-in-action for our region). There are 2 USB ports in centre armrest compartment and one in the aforementioned secret cubby. Other features include front and side airbags, ABS, adjustable ESP, adaptive cruise control, bi-xenon headlights and LED running lights as well as tails.
Powered by a 6.2-litre V8 making 460 hp at 6000 rpm and 630 Nm of torque at 4600 rpm, it is a potent motor, but does not feel like it all the time. Mated to an 8-speed automatic (a 7-speed manual is optional), our test car mostly likes to sit in the higher gears in the interests of fuel economy (as confirmed by our decent 15.6 litres/100 km consumption). That, and the presence of an uninspiring, tinny exhaust note below 3000 rpm, makes for a rather dull drive around town compared to, say, loud and raucous cars like the Jaguar F-Type R or the Dodge Challenger SRT 392. Maybe the idea is to make for a more comfortable daily driver, but it doesn’t suit the character of something with a Grand Sport tag.
However, put the pedal to the metal and the car becomes alive, with wheelspin and mild tail-swinging drama even with the ESP on. You need to keep the motor above 4000 rpm to experience the power of that old-school high-displacement eight-banger. You finally get the sense of speed, and you can experience a 0-100 kph time of 5.0 seconds like we did on a hot September night. Oddly enough, that is identical to a rental 2017 Camaro SS automatic we tested earlier, which is more than 100 kilos heavier but likely has better gearing. The Camaro won’t reach this Corvette’s 297 kph top speed though.
The Corvette Grand Sport is armed with 285/30ZR19 front and 335/25ZR20 rear semi-slicks that amount to a tremendous amount of grip, although they can still be overwhelmed when they’re still cold and you pound on the throttle. The car will respond with a wiggle of the tail if you do so, but it is easy enough to control if you’re alert.
The car handles superbly flat and with minimal drama if driven sensibly and always be ready to catch oversteer if you overdo it. The ESP catches any slides, but allows enough of it to keep things exciting. Cornering limits are as high as any number of rivals from Germany, with immense grip and unnoticeable body roll. The paddle-shifters are reasonably quick at swapping gears as well, and recommended over the eco-minded automatic mode.
We spent most of our time in “Touring” mode, exactly because it turns the car into a reasonably comfortable cruiser on city streets and highway runs, aside from some minor high-frequency vibrations. The steering becomes a bit lighter, while the “magnetic ride control” suspension becomes fairly compliant, although rough surfaces such as the shoddy roads around under-construction areas can feel harsh. The ambient noise is mostly drowned out by road noise and constant engine hum, as the exhaust burble is seemingly subdued too. Rear visibility and ground clearance are horrendous, but there are now cameras both front and back to avoid curb damage.
In the intermediate “Sport” mode, the suspension stiffens up and the steering becomes firmer as well as gains some feedback, while the gearbox keeps the revs a bit higher, all commendable for being such a pronounced difference. The exhaust becomes noticeably louder at idle due to its adjustable valves.
The optional ceramic brakes are massive and squeal-free, making for eye-popping stopping power while behaving just fine in regular city-driving. The steering is sharp, but only offer middling feedback in the sportier driving modes. The aggressive “Track” mode doesn’t sharpen up the controls in any noticeable measure, other than overly firming up the steering and loosening up the stability control a bit more.
All in all, the Corvette Grand Sport offers up the best compromise between the slightly-unfocused Stingray and the overly-powerful supercharged Z06. The GS tightens up the handling and control characteristics of the C7 Corvette appreciably, while looking as aggressive as the Z06 without a huge price premium. It has more than enough power and style for the street and the track.
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