Driving the Grand Sport convertible recalls what we love about this sports car, as the mid-engine next generation waits in the wings
The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette C7 is the last of the breed, and driving a Grand Sport convertible is a fitting farewell for the fiberglass sports car that we’ve loved since 1953, through seven generations, now becoming a mid-engine supercar for 2020 in the style of European exotics.
I feel blessed to have experienced one of the final run of traditional front-engine Corvettes, and it drives with all the poise and performance one would expect. I have driven many Corvettes since 1990 when I started reviewing vehicles, always enjoying them, and have witnessed the progression of improvements over the years that made a great sports car better.
Undoubtedly, the 2020 C8 will be substantially improved, more up to date and all that. But there has been a collective sigh from the Corvette community over the loss of their favorite sports car’s distinctive style and character. But something lost, something gained as Corvette is transformed into a fitting competitor for the international supercars.
Being a Chevy, the new mid-engine model should be considerably more affordable than the Ferraris and Lamborghinis and such, with which it will compete. And as shown in the past, the capabilities of Corvette nearly always have been comparable with the high-priced exotics, especially in recent years. Just look at the latest 755-horsepower ZR-1 and all that represents.
The C7 has the styling hallmarks of Corvette – the long, sloping hood with prominent wheel bulges, high rear deck, hunkered-down seating position – so everyone’s waiting to see how the Chevrolet designers will keep it looking like a Corvette while radically changing its DNA for 2020.
Hopefully, the new car will manage to look different from the other mid-engine sports cars, which tend to blend together despite all the scoops, wings and jutting contours designed to make them stand out from the rest. Hopefully, the pulse beat of Corvette will continue to carry through the C8 generation as it has up to now.
The test car was a 2019 Grand Sport convertible, the middle child between the base Corvette Stingray and the hyper Z06, with its 650-horsepower V8 and other track-worthy mods. The GS is essentially a toned-down Z06, with mostly the same suspension, steering and technology of the top dog but with a less-aggressive V8 under its contoured hood.
The Grand Sport is certainly no slouch, though, blasting out of the hole with a 6.2-liter V8 that musters 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. There is gusto to spare, and fast getaways are just a throttle push away, letting loose with a muscular roar. Highly illegal speeds come rushing up before you know it, and tooling along at three digits is shamefully relaxed.
Yet in normal driving around town or on the highway, the GS is docile and laid back, an easy car to drive judiciously. Other than being slouched down in the cockpit and peering over the long hood, you could imagine you were piloting any “normal” car. Power delivery is smooth and quiet, and the automatic transmission fitted to the test car shifts with calm assurance.
But still, it’s difficult keeping a low profile in traffic with the attention-grabbing style of the GS, occupants of nearby vehicles either shooting you the thumbs up or shaking their heads in disapproval. There’s really is no middle ground.
With the Grand Sport, the wildly distinctive styling of the G7 is accentuated with widened fenders to accommodate the foot-wide tires, splitters, inserts, spoilers, etc., as well as optional front-fender graphics in a contrasting color.
On the test Corvette, those wide, parallel slashes were bright red, contrasting with the Blade Silver Metallic paint. The simple stripes really set off the GS, making it more eye-catching and special looking. So there’s no hiding out in this swaggering rogue, especially with the top down. Just smile and wave back.
While the Grand Sport comes standard with 7-speed manual transmission, the test car came with an 8-speed automatic. I would have preferred stick, but the automatic proved very effective, dialed in nicely with the engine, and shifting crisply and appropriately. Paddle shifters react very well for those times when you just want to choose your own gear. Downshifts are accompanied by gurgling and popping from the exhaust, which is quite satisfying.
The Brembo brakes are intensely effective.
The Grand Sport is equipped with a performance suspension augmented by GM’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control, which continuously adjusts the shocks for road conditions. The model comes standard with a Driver Mode Selector, each of five settings accessed by a large rotating knob in the center console: Tour, Sport, Track, Eco and Weather.
Since I didn’t encounter any inclement weather and wasn’t trying to save gas, I toggled through the first three modes, which adjust the suspension, throttle response and traction/stability control for the desired effect. While I sampled Track mode, I found Sport was most to my liking, with a firm ride and solid responsiveness. Tour was OK on the freeway, but in other driving felt kind of mushy. I know, mushy in a Corvette would be strictly relative.
While the interior is not designed to fit too-tall drivers like me, I was able to get fairly comfortable behind the wheel. The seat bolsters adjusted for a variety of body types, part of the 3LT package of premium features that was onboard the test Vette.
The dashboard was fully equipped with gizmos, much of it accessed via an 8-inch touchscreen. But happily, the Corvette dash was laden knobs and buttons for most of the common functions. I really liked the look and functionality of the gauge cluster.
One clinker, at least for me, was the location of the button that pops the trunk, stuck under the main dash array on the left – I kept hitting it with my knee while getting in or out, inadvertently opening the lid.
While the starting price for the Corvette Grand Sport is already a solid $70,400, the 3LT group added $9,745 to the total, with the automatic transmission adding $1,995 to the bill, and the Grand Sport Heritage Package, which included the red fender graphic, adding another $795. With shipping, the bottom line came to a serious $84,030.
So fare-thee-well front-engine Corvette, and as much as I enjoyed having the latest Grand Sport around, I am certainly looking forward to testing out the 2020 mid-engine Vette. It’s grand unveiling, by the way, is set for July 18.
2019 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport convertible
Vehicle type: two-passenger, two-door sports car, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $70,400 Price as tested: $84,030
Engine: 6.2-liter V8, 460 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 465 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 106.7 inches Overall length/width: 176.9 inches / 77.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,487 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 15 city / 25 highway / 18 combined
Assembled in: Bowling Green, Kentucky