Tuesday, May 22, 2012

sexless Corvette needs hot makeover: Four things General Motors must do to improve this muscle car

May 22, 2012 Tuesday

Jason H Harper
Bloomberg News

I pull my buddy's Ferrari 458 Italia off the racetrack and into the pit lane, brake dust showering the tyre rims like fairy powder.

We've been hurtling down the straightaway at Monticello Motor Club at 240 kilometres per hour and the tyres are hot to the touch.

The Ferrari is blood red and brand new. It set my friend back almost $300,000 (Bt9.4 million). I step out of its butter-cream leather interior and slip behind the wheel of the car that I drove in รข€“ a Chevy.

A $72,000 Corvette Grand Sport, to be exact. Some might consider that a downgrade as deep as the Mariana Trench. Armani to Levi's, Wassily Kandinsky to Thomas Kinkaid. Right, but wrong.

The Corvette isn't a third as sexy, the leather is iffy, and its technology is kilometres away from the Formula 1 racing tricks of the Ferrari.

Yet on the race track, it's a through-and-through purebred. The Corvette exists to dominate. It's a Ferrari for the 99 per cent.

The calendar says spring, but it's so cold in New York's Catskills that we've seen snow flurries. No wonder nobody else is on the private racetrack today. I've got Monticello's stupendous 6.5 kilometres all to myself.

With the traction control in competition mode, the Corvette steamrolls down the straightaways, touching 230 kilometres per hour, and slithers onto the curbing like an anaconda swallowing a caiman. Its massive brakes haul me down from high speeds as if I've rammed the car into a tyre wall.

The Ferrari flicks through hairpins like an afterthought and steers as if it reads your mind telepathically. The Corvette, meanwhile, demands discipline. Stay off the gas in turns or you'll induce a power slide. Turning the wheel really works the biceps.

It is fast! A far bigger kick than the BMW M3, and more heavy metal than its muscle-car cousin, the Chevy Camaro.

The Grand Sport, which starts at $56,000 and gets 430 horsepower out of a 6.2-litre V-8, isn't even the top-of-the-line model. There are both the more hair-raising Z06 (505hp) and the top tier, 638hp ZR1, which costs upwards of $112,000 and has carbon-ceramic brakes, just like the Ferrari.

The 2013 Corvette will be this generation's last gasp. Right now, somewhere deep inside of General Motors headquarters, engineers and designers are working on the all-new 2014 model, the C7. Consider this a mash note, and a plea. The Corvette is America's supercar and it deserves respect. If only we can fix some things.

what needs to be fixed

Number one: Take a page from Porsche.

Only Apple and Ferrari can match it when it comes to whetting consumer appetites with products doled out on a strict schedule. The new generation of the Porsche 911 was recently released, and right now customers can buy models like the base or S model in the new body style.

Yet we know that ever-more powerful models will be released at regular intervals. We'll get all-wheel drive and Targa models, then the rapacious Turbo and eventually the race-worthy GT2 and GT3.

Chevy has intermittently offered powerful ZR1 models through #124the years, but its efforts seem offhand. Can we expect one in the C7 generation? Who knows? Instead, we should get a steady feed of #124special Corvettes on a staggered timeline. Then customers can #124budget accordingly, and it'll bring a whiff of anticipation and lust.

Second: Kill the plastic. If sexiness needed a place to crawl into and die, it would choose the Corvette's interior. Everybody knows it, so why is it taking GM so long to fix the problem?

Buttons to unlock the doors and trunk seem like they were torn off a kid's toy. The rest is painfully ugly. The seats are hard to adjust, aren't that comfortable and don't keep you in place while cornering. A terrible trifecta.

While we're at it, take a look at the Ferrari 458's navigation and information systems. The Italians used to be terrible at this kind of thing, but the 458's digital speedometer and information screens are easy to read and use.

The exterior isn't as unfortunate as some previous generations, #124like the unsightly bulges on those 1970s models. Still, the hood and#124 side vents, blunt edges and blank grill could use a serious update.

The SRT Viper concept car, recently shown at the New York auto show, was a successful mix of aggressive swagger and smart refinement. So take a design cue from Chrysler. (Did I really just say that?)

And lastly: Leave it alone. The great things, I mean. Don't quell its untamable spirit. Everyone from BMW to Bentley is offering downsized motors. Yet the bellow from the Corvette's V-8 should be federally protected like a national monument.

Be sure you offer us a manual transmission. Ferrari and Lamborghini aren't even doing them anymore. Working through the Corvette's stick and clutch is a good measure of the fun.

Power should be outrageous. It should be just this side of scary and a bit rough.

Keep on doing what you're doing, Corvette. Just do it a bit better.