More Vroom For The Buck

At $45,000, the new Corvette can take on plenty of pricier sports cars

Among car buffs, few events are as heralded as the release of an all-new Corvette. The 'Vette gets attention because it's the only true sports car with an American heritage. And at a price of around $45,000, a lot of people can actually afford one.

The sixth-generation Corvette, or C6 for the cognoscenti, is only a modest change from the outgoing car, but it delivers a lot of punch when it comes to the performance-for-the-money pledge. The beefed-up V-8 adds 50 horses to the old car's motor for an even 400 horsepower. That's the power offered by a Ferrari 360 Modena, 60 hp more than a Porsche (PSEPF )911, and only five horses shy of last year's Z06, the 'Vette's superperformance version.

Despite carrying over a significant number of its parts from the last-generation Corvette, the C6 offers a tighter ride than the old one did. The Detroit-area roads were a little slick during the week I tested it, but I was able to throw the car around some tight bends. The newly engineered suspension is stiff, and the steering is as precise as anything I have driven. I floored the gas pedal while making a left turn. It held its traction with minimal skidding and kept its trajectory with precision.

Like the Cadillac XLR -- built alongside the Corvette in Bowling Green, Ky. -- the Corvette has General Motors' (GM ) new magnetic ride control, which changes the stiffness of the suspension by measuring the roughness of the pavement. That means the ride can soften up if you hit a few potholes.

Up close there are notable differences between this Corvette and the C5. Besides the absence of flip-up headlights, the car is five inches shorter, so it doesn't have the long, cartoonish nose hanging out in front. But like the C5, it still has a fat rear end that's nearly as tall as the car itself. Some nice creases in the plastic body -- especially the hood view from the front seat -- make the car look edgier.

So why can GM sell a 400-hp performance coupe for at least $35,000 less than its European rivals? For one thing, a much upgraded interior doesn't have the rich leather feel or artistic panache of the new cars from Old World producers such as Porsche and BMW. There are some flashes of aluminum around the dash, but dark plastic abounds where exclusive cars offer stitched leather and crafted wood. Yet if you're looking for street performance, the C6 can take on a lot of its more expensive competitors.

By David Welch

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