Independence Day: Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Review

 

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We with interests in automobiles can rarely unilaterally agree on general statements, but one thing we can all concede is that sports cars make no practical sense. This is immediately followed with the conceit “but we don’t care, we still love them.”

Style, power, and performance are the things that cause the fuzzy bubbles of joy and excitement to effervesce inside you, so the exercise of shopping for a sports car based on these attributes must feel a bit silly when the real-world considerations of price and practicality come into play. You ultimately find yourself asking “which impractical car purchase is the smartest?”

Powerful, sleeker than ever, and well under $100k, the next generation Corvette Stingray Convertible makes a compelling case for itself.

The 2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible brings a drop top to Chevrolet’s latest iteration of their legendary performance vehicle. The car sports the same 6.2l LT1 V8 found in the coupe, powers up to 455 hp, and 460 lb. ft. of torque.

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I’ll start with a little back story: The timing was almost comically fortuitous as 4th of July was around the corner and I had one of the most celebrated American muscle cars on deck for the weekend. Immediately, my brain conjured up the most audacious demonstrations of patriotism and spectacle that would make for the most memorable photo shoot AK had ever seen. I imagined riding with the top down on Independence Day, standing in the open-topped sports car like Washington crossing the Delaware. I’d hold a flag in my hand as we coasted parade-style down the road with Hulk Hogan’s finest contribution to music “ I am a real American” bellowing from the speakers. At the end, a buxom lass clad in a star-spangled bikini sponged down the ‘Vette while sparklers shone in it’s metallic reflection, fireworks popping in the sky, just in time for the barbecue.

When the phone rang on the preceding Monday, I knew all that would go out the window. An issue within the press fleet meant that my Corvette loan was on an indefinite hold. What I got instead was the most accurate opposite possible: My American Independence Day treat of an American built  stylish 2 seater performance sports car was replaced by the Mini Cooper, a stubby, British-themed, 4 seater hatch with a tiny engine built by Germans. Someone, up there somewhere, was having a good chuckle at my expense.

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Angriest photo shoot ever.

The reason I bring this up is that the previous incarnations of the Corvette were indisputably “American” looking. What I mean by that is the lines of the iconic sports car lack a certain nuance and fluidity that European-styled vehicles seemed to convey. This time around, the ‘Vette was given a very sleek and sexy makeover that would catch the eye of the most euro-centric auto aficionado. Whether this is beneficial or to its detriment is up to debate: Some adored the distinctly U.S. looking styling while others feel this change gives the car the chance to be as competitive in the looks department as it has been in its global motorsport history. “It doesn’t look like a Corvette” is something I’ve heard since the vehicle’s reveal. Is that true? And if so, is it a bad thing?

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It certainly retains Corvette lines, to be sure. The long front end culminating into the distinctive rounded facia, made different only by a sharp fine tuning of the designs to be more angular. Going around the back and hunkering down gives you a great sense of just how planted and slippery the ‘Vette is as the entirety of the lean convertible is lost behind the very distinctive rear end, LED lamps redesigned to a more contemporary arrangement.

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As ubiquitous as Corvettes seem to be, they don’t usually cause passers-by to do double takes unless it’s a reaction to the thunderous exhaust note. The Stingray, on the other hand, stops (and sometimes causes) traffic. If you’re stuck in rush hour with the top down, prepare to have every detail of the car memorized as pedestrians, other drivers, and motorcyclists will ask you every question under the sun about the car until you’ve got some open road ahead of you. This more than anything is indicative of the positive changes in the design of the new styling cues.

The interior retains more of a familiar layout to Corvette fans. Driver command is the focus of the two-seater, with the dashboard controls angled towards the driver seating position, including a thankfully upgraded infotainment screen.

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The new Stingray makes racers of us all, regardless of your skill level. With a driver select mode, you can stick to “Tour,” the default setting, or ratchet thing up to “Sport” or “Track.” I don’t imagine its a coincidence that these settings are so directly analogous to “easy, medium, and hard.” The 455hp that fires out the barrels of the Stingray’s 6.2-liter V8 is very encouraging, and controlling it all takes very little effort, regardless if whichever driver mode you happen to select. Chevrolet claims a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds, and that seems to be a fair estimate. It’s also as planted as it looks, taking turns with the fluidity and precision you’d expect from a sports car; adhering to the tarmac with little threat of the rear end making a break for it without your consent.

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It’s this wildly forgiving nature of the car that’s so appealing to most and, outside of its appearance, the best selling point of the vehicle. If you’re in “track,” the ‘Vette is as hardcore as you want it to be, but even in all available modes, you can activate the rev matching feature for the 7-speed manual transmission. This automatically blips the engine so the revs match the lower gear the same way a paddle-shift transmission does. If you’re driving stick, the old “heel-toe” method of doing this action is one of those skills you’re always honing but never perfect. While this is a sort of training-wheels-type function makes driving at speed a lot easier, seasoned driver or not, it does send you down the road of bad habits.

The other reason why I brought up the aforementioned 4th of July incident is because I had made a promise to myself, and while I can look back at it with amusement now, I wasn’t laughing at the time because my chance to make good on that promise slipped through my fingers and I didn’t then know when that opportunity would present itself again.

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My promise was that if I could get to test drive the Corvette Stingray, I was going to surprise my dad with it and show up at his house. I’ve certainly always shared with him some of the more exciting cars, but this one was a little different because he’s always had an admiration for ‘Vettes, and particularly coveted this latest one.

I’ve always derived a great deal of pleasure from sharing the experience of the cars I drive with people. I’m happy when people get excited when see me driving around in something they like. I’m more than willing to let people climb in and check out the car for themselves or give them a ride. The arguments and discussions about them with friends and colleagues are endless sources of amusement. The site you read now was born from my desire-cum-dictum to share the automotive experience. I am the most happy when I get to share with my father.

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On a Sunday, with the Corvette work done, I pick up my dad to go for a drive. I’ve since already surprised him earlier in the weekend by showing up unannounced and rousing him from a nap to come outside to “help me with something.” The look on his face was worth the deception.

We are fortunate with the weather and with the top down, I take my dad in for a spin through some local back roads. Over the roaring engine note, I shout to him all the specs and facts about the car, including the price, to which he half listens, impressed by what he hears but more about what he’s experiencing.

At a park, we stop to take some pictures and I play my real surprise. I threw him the keys.

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From supercar to smart car, I’m always in the driver’s seat. Beyond helping stage a photo or maneuvers that happen within a few feet, relinquishing the keys to any of these test vehicles I’m responsible for strongly goes against my instincts, driver skill being completely irrelevant. That being the case, handing the keys to the person who taught me to respect the dangers and responsibilities of driving is sending chills down my spine.

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He climbs into the driver’s seat, and after adjusting the mirrors and whatnot, we roll out. My dad isn’t saying anything at this point. With a stern, concentrated face, I watch him maneuver onto the main road back home. I watch him change gears. I watch him listen. I watch him feel. Keep in mind, this isn’t some backroad thrash, it’s just a simple cruise to feel out the Stingray. The rev matching is also off since I’m afraid of both confusing him with it and insulting him.

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Every so often he mutters something to himself like “yes” or “..beautiful” when the car answers some unspoken question he has posited. The road we’re on opens up for a stretch by the coast, and this is the moment where I watch stoic evaluation turn in to elation. His mouth curls back into a grin and laugher is heard over the wind and the bellowing exhaust note. “I love this car!” he shouts to me, as I suddenly find that the private moment between him and Corvette is over and I now re-exist as participant and not observer. My dad goes on about what he likes; the way it feels through turns, the looks, the responsiveness from the engine. This was a man who grew up in Greece, where cars and American culture were the exotic things that kicked off that schoolboy excitement, and getting to cruise around in the latest one is like going back in time and taking that schoolboy out for a spin.

The realities of the new Stingray convertible are that they start at $56,000 and the one tested, with the 2LT trim, prices out at $66,080. The 2LT trim lists obvious improvements to things you’d expect like heated seats and a superior sound system, but goes on to list minor upgrades to existing standard equipment like seat adjustors and things like “advanced theft deterrent system.” Maybe the horn beeps…louder, I guess. Either way it’s nothing short of a steal when compared to cars in that price range. $60K gets you the Shelby GT500, which has power for ages, but couldn’t deliver the balance and precision of the Corvette. A Porsche 911 would be a very challenging contender, but it’s also double the price. Speaking of money, prepare to liquefy all of those savings into premium fuel. Chevy says 17mpg city/ 29 mpg highway, but even in “eco” and with the most well behaved driving, it would be a hard number to hit. Let’s also face the fact that nobody gets a sports car with the intention to behave.
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All that stuff is mundane white noise to the real important things that go into picking a sports car. Does it give you the fizz? Does it momentarily free you from a life spent making practical decisions? The Corvette Stingray Convertible does indeed do this, both pleasing the impractical inner schoolboy and the responsible outer man.

-Promiscuous Data- 

Curb Appeal: If you’ve got the top down and you’re not moving, prepare to have lots of car conversations.

Notable Rival Of The Test: whatever cosmic force that saddled me with a Mini instead of this for the 4th of July. 

Price and Availability: Available now, MSRP at $56,000. Car tested priced at $66,080

Fuel Eco: Estimated 17mpg City / 29 mpg Highway

Bottom Line: The kind of car that makes your dad smile. Isn’t that worth it alone?

Photos and words by: Alex Kalogiannis

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