Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- There comes a point in any not-so-young man’s life when he must ask: Am I a Corvette guy?
Over their lifetimes, many car lovers will dabble with rocket-like Japanese tuners, pricy European imports and old-school American muscle. But as horsepower and prestige increase, so do the prices of those sleek, sexy playthings.
At some point speed-demons will realize that the most sports-car bang for buck is a Chevy Corvette.
The base 2011 coupe costs less than $50,000, has a wow-worthy 430 horsepower and reaches 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds. That’s as fast as many Ferraris.
You can pick up a nice, used Corvette from the early 2000s for less than $20,000.
While a Corvette’s horsepower and handling prowess are high, its prestige level doesn’t necessarily match up. The 1963 Sting Ray coupe was the height of cool, but the phallus-shaped models of the 1970s were total camp.
As a teen in the late 1980s, it was clear to me that Corvette guys sported mullets, majored in Shop and smoked weed under the bleachers. Jeff Spicoli from the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High?” Total Corvette guy.
In 2002 I drove a Z06, the brand’s most ferocious and unhinged model. It’s a wild beast which doesn’t care what you think about it. At the end of the loan, I felt a little unhinged myself. Such power!
In the last six months I’ve driven all of the new model ’Vettes, trying to get a feel not only for the cars, but how I feel about them. Like the current owners, the vehicles have grown up.
Choices range from the base coupe, upgraded Grand Sport ($54,790, also 430-hp), carnivorous Z06 ($74,305, 505-hp), and top-of-the-range ZR1 ($111,100, 638-hp). Convertibles are available on the base and Grand Sport for an extra $4,650 and $3,810. Destination charges are $950.
While the modern Corvette is not quite beautiful, it is elegant in the way that a wild wolf can be: Feral yet purposeful.
They are massively fun to drive. The quintessential rear-wheel-drive car, the Corvette is like a sled with rockets on the rear. Slap on the gas and the back wheels spin furiously, bucking the nose skyward.
The brakes are able to snap you back from suicidal speeds in the span of a single breath. You haven’t experienced a hard stop until you’ve screeched to a halt at the behest of the ZR1’s carbon-ceramic brakes, which are standard. The same type was found on the Ferrari Enzo.
Most roads have turns and modern Corvettes are equipped to handle them. Chevy engineers have tuned and finessed the suspension to the point where you can fearlessly streak around corners.
Yet you can easily tool around town thanks to the available magnetically controlled suspension, which transforms from spine-shattering hard to post-hip-surgery gentle. Notably, the base coupe gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway, better than a Honda Element.
Not that I don’t have quibbles. The six-speed manual gear box is vague enough that you occasionally put it into the wrong gear.
Nor are the interiors particularly sophisticated, with sports seats that are big, clumsy and poorly bolstered. You’ll find bits of cheap plastic around. Embarrassingly, the passenger’s dash is embossed with an oversized Corvette logo. As if we didn’t know.
At least you can also get adult-minded goodies like Bose speakers, navigation systems and Bluetooth connectivity.
So, are ‘Vettes cheesy? Sometimes. At one point I found myself in an electric-blue, convertible Grand Sport with dorky stripes running up the front fenders.
Yet I’d be happy to own a base coupe in metallic silver with optional five-spoke aluminum wheels. Even with lots of options, it’s about $56,000 and almost understated.
Then there’s the ZR1. At $111,100, it’s expensive, but it is also a world-class supercar. Refined and easy to drive, the coupe is the fastest GM production car of all time, with a top speed of 205 mph.
When I asked experts which modern cars would become classics, most mentioned the ZR1.
Interestingly, the Corvette’s stiffest competition doesn’t come from the Nissan GT-R or a German super-coupe. Rather the ‘Vette has to watch its back from the latest Ford Mustang GT ($33,695) and its beefed-up cousin, the $49,495 Shelby GT500. They handle beautifully, look nice and offer excellent interiors.
Am I One?
Nonetheless, the Corvette is a great car by any matrix. While there surely are Corvette gals, the model seems terribly male-centric. I’ve seen more women who have owned Mustangs and even Camaros. So, back to the question. Could I be a Corvette guy?
By the time I got out of the special edition Z06 Carbon, I’d come to a decision. The 505-hp monster was festooned with a carbon-fiber hood, and it looked mean. The 7.0-liter engine sounded even meaner.
It was so full of attitude, you simply couldn’t miss it. When I stepped out, I wasn’t at all embarrassed.
It’s time for a confession. Those last years of high school? I too sported a mullet. Maybe I’ve always been a Corvette guy and just didn’t know it.
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Carbon at a Glance
Engine: 7.0-liter V-8 with 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in about 3.7 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 15 city, 24 highway.
Price as tested: $98,010.
Best features: Crazy attitude and high-speed hijinks.
Worst features: Rougher riding, and louder, than most road cars.
Target buyer: The ‘Vette-head who wants the brashest Corvette out there.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
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