In an explosive scene in the movie Fast Five, Vin Diesel drives a 1963 Corvette Stingray out of a moving train. For anyone familiar with the car, you know the scene is not only impossible (the car is at the wrong angle) but you probably winced about the landing that breaks the front grille.
Driving the 2011 Chevy Grand Sport Convertible 4LT is a bit like that. The car is just a beauty to behold, a testament to smart American engineering, and an acceleration champ. It also makes you think about how you’re driving, because the front grille is so extremely low that it gives you a serious aversion to speed bumps, ruts in the road, and even random tree branches. That said, on the open road there are no worries about minor road annoyances — the Grand Sport drives with feather-touch accuracy.
Power and precision
It’s interesting to compare the Corvette GS to the Camaro SS, which we just drove a few weeks ago. Both emit a wonderful growl, although the Camaro SS gets the nod for the “scare small children” effect. Well, and that depends on how you drive. Cruising around town with the Corvette GS, the engine makes a low hum but it’s not something people notice right away. (With the Camaro, people saw us from a block away and gave the thumbs-up sign long before we even passed them by.)
Yet, any time you wind up the engine, the GS goes into a unique gear-tuning mode that pumps out a bit more power for fast acceleration – your head snaps back to the seat cushion, and the exhaust sounds like an artillery salute. In fact, every model in the Corvette line, including the Z06 we drove about a year ago in Detroit, makes this blistering sound and the occasional gun-shot backfire.
The Camaro SS and Corvette GS could not be more different, however. While they share a similar engine – the GS has a 430-horsepower V8 engine and goes 0 to 60mph in just 3.95 seconds – the Camaro is really a muscle car with a chunky exterior meant for pounding the pavement, not smoothing it over. The GS is all about sleek styling. The angular lines make more than a passing hint at a Porsche 911. From the starting block, you feel a tremendous punch in first gear and can usually stay in that gear much longer. The aerodynamics make cornering smooth and push fuel economy up to about 26mpg highway.
Interestingly, there is one primary difference between the GS model and the Z06, other than a stark price difference. (The GS costs $59,045 and the Z06 fully loaded version we drove was a hair over $102,000.) Both are powerhouse cars for tearing up the roads. Yet, the Z06, with its 505-horsepower engine, runs up to about 7500RPM before you need to shift. The GS we drove revs to about 6600 RPM before you need to shift. An automatic fuel shut-off prevents engine problems if you push it too far. That’s a fairly minor difference in most driving conditions, but helps explain the difference.
Keeping it under control
The GS is also more of a touring car, meaning it has a smoother ride and a forgiving suspension. There’s a selector for Touring or Sport. Apart from the technical explanations that Chevy provides about adaptive suspensions and a chunkier feel in Sport mode, the reality is that both are smooth. In Sport mode, the GS seems to hug the road a bit more, especially around very tight corners. No vehicle we’ve tested quite matched the Audi A8 in terms of making corners feel like you are driving straight (there is just no strain to the driver), but the Corvette GS matched our perception on the Audi A7 that the car makes you want to take corners even faster just for a little extra thrill.
(For those who care how the suspension actually works: it uses a special hydraulic fluid that changes viscosity when an electromagnetic field is applied – thicker for performance, looser for comfort.)
Chevy added some extra engineering to hit home the point that the Corvette is meant for people who like to drive. Without going into all of the technical terms they use, here’s what the experience is like. For braking, the GS eases you to a standstill rather than making the vehicle feel like it will jerk to a stop. That’s important for spirited driving because the brakes are not touchy at all, yet they respond when you need them to. The brakes never got hot either, even after driving for several hours on curvy roads at fairly high speeds.
The GS has launch control, which is designed not so much as driving in a blizzard as keeping all four tires on the road evenly and adding extra power when you make jack-rabbit starts. Okay, we know that works now. The GS actually did a better job of keeping the vehicle straight and sure on the road from a starting position when we floored the accelerator. With the Z06, all of that power meant we slid out a few times.
More than just a fast ride
In terms of tech features, the Corvette has an impressive array of accoutrements: a large touchscreen for controlling music and with built-in navigation; OnStar for both getting routes from an Advisor and for post-collision support; and Bluetooth for hands-free calling using your own smartphone. There are a few missing ingredients, though: The GS does not have a back-up camera, so you have to watch out for that teenager driving too fast at Walmart a bit more closely. There are few luxury amenities like adaptive cruise control or blind spot detection, but most drivers will be having too much fun to care.
However, there are a few minor grievances on the GS model. One is that the automatic convertible top takes a while to go up and down – we counted about 15 seconds. There’s a brief pause as the rear compartment folds open and closed. Novice drivers might have a hard time finding the button for controlling the top, since it is positioned to the left of the steering column. Another slight oddity is that the parking brake actually still looks like it is engaged even when you have pushed it all the way forward. That’s something you get used to, but new drivers might keep taking second glances at it. Also, the trunk on the GS tends to not shut all the way – you have to give it an extra push. None of these issues are deal breakers by any means.
The ultimate question is this: is the 2011 Chevy Grand Sport Convertible worth the price? Yes – every penny. The vehicle has an amazingly sleek styling that rivals many European models. It is an American icon of the roadway. Sure, there are muscle cars, and Ford makes the GT500 that is in a similar vein. You’ll spend several tens of thousands more for an actual Porsche 911 (e.g., around $90,000). This is the vehicle you want for fun on the road. Just watch that grille when you go to Walmart.
Photos courtesy of Jamie Allen Larson