Sorry Z06, the 2017 Grand Sport Is the Best Corvette You Can Buy
The Corvette is a strangely complex thing. On the one hand, it’s “AMERICA’S SPORTS CAR,” the unimpeachable icon that will never be unseated, whether you like it or not. On the other hand, it’s a warts and all core sample of the U.S. auto industry. Want to get an idea of what constituted a sports car in 1965, ’75, ’85, or ’95? Look at the Corvette. Experience may vary depending on your definition of things like “power,” “handling,” or “build quality.” Turns out there’s a lot of baggage that goes along with being a legend for 60-plus years.
Then there are the Corvette Guys — or Corvette Guys and Corvette Guys, really. Noted Corvette Guys (“guys” being relative, of course) include virtually every Apollo astronaut, Joan Didion, Bruce Springsteen, and Michael Jordan. Corvette Guys include your step uncle with a wheezy “all original” ’76 C3 and your neighbor who’s keeping that ’99 C5 covered in his garage because it’s going to skyrocket in value any day now. Corvette Guys are iconoclasts who add to the car’s mystique. Corvette Guys wear nylon ‘Vette jackets and likely keep a matching model kit of their car to display on the dash at auto shows. Corvette fan or not, deep down there’s a chance all gearheads want to be the former. No one, not even Corvette Guys, want to be the latter.
But since 2014, the C7 Corvette has done the impossible: It’s closed the door on the past and elevated America’s Sports Car to the point where it can run with the world’s best again. Porsche, Mercedes, and Jaguar owners can no longer scoff at America’s favorite plastic tub attached to a pushrod V8. There’s very little baggage to be found here — the C7 is just great. Full stop, no apologies great. This is a ‘Vette that anyone with a pulse would want to drive.
And for 2017, the C7 has become even better, because a new Grand Sport is here, and simply put, it’s the Corvette you want. Because you can get it in the iconic blue/white livery with the red hashmarks over the fenders just like the ’96 car. And its bodywork is bulging and muscular like the 1963 racers its named after. On paper, the formula is simple: Take the standard Stingray and add the Z06’s bodywork, brakes, and suspension. But in practice, the Grand Sport is so much more than the sum of its parts. The last car to wear the GS badge, the 2010-’13 model, quickly became the best-selling car in the Corvette lineup. That car feels like ancient history now. If the new Grand Sport can follow suit in the sales department, our roads will be a better place because of it.
The standard Stingray is arguably the best looking ‘Vette since the C3 ditched its chrome after ’72. It finally looks comfortable without its pop-up headlights, and — sorry purists — we love the angry, angular taillights. The Grand Sport wears the Z06’s wide bodywork, which amounts to a 3.5 inch increase in width. That may not sound like much, but in traffic and parking spots, the 6.425 foot wide car begins to feel very, very wide.
But who cares? From certain angles, the Grand Sport looks like a GT3 racer, with its bulging flares, available Stage 2 body kit (the Z06 wears the more aggressive Stage 3), and functional vents on nearly every surface. Altogether, it looks more like a legitimate exotic. That’s a good thing, because it is — even if it’s built in Kentucky.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The Grand Sport wears its added aero flawlessly. This is one mean looking car.
+ In (relatively) low-key Arctic White, our Grand Sport had an almost sleeper vibe to it …
+ … but details like subtle matte black flares up front and staggered, red-ringed Grand Sport Wheels telegraph that this car is something special.
– The Grand Sport is a seriously wide car. Remember that every time you park or squeeze through traffic.
– Low ride height and front spoiler alludes to the car’s performance potential, but go very slowly over speed bumps and into driveways.
The 2017 Corvette Grand Sport is powered by a 6.2 liter naturally-aspirated pushrod LT1 V8. In theory, this mill can trace its roots back through the introduction of the LS engine back in 1997 all the way to the original Small Block Chevy of 1955. Think about that for a minute: In an age when we have electric cars that can run sub-three second zero to 60 times, hybrid hypercars, computer programming, turbos, and a whole host of technologies making horsepower cheaper than ever, the Corvette still relies on a big lug of a V8 nestled between the front wheels and the firewall.
As well it should; the LT1 is an all-aluminum mill, cranking out 460 horses and 465 pound-feet of torque. Yes, the supercharged Z06 puts out 650 horses and as many pound-feet, and can keep company with a Porsche 911 Turbo and Tesla P90D in sub-three second zero to 60 times. But that car rarely leaves dealerships at under $100K, and unless your favorite day of the week is track day and you have a five-figure annual tire budget (lucky bastard), the trusty LT1 is likely good for all the power you’ll ever need.
Power goes to the rear wheels via a seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. Our car had the latter, which results in a slightly quicker zero to 60 time — 3.6 versus 3.7 seconds. Along with the aggressive aero, Z06-based suspension (which also includes Magnetic Ride Control, slotted rotors, and electronic limited-slip differential), and Michelin Pilot Super Sports, the car stays incredibly planted to the road — Chevy claims an astonishing 1.05 g of grip in the standard Grand Sport. Combined with the roar of the quad exhausts, it gives you the confidence to keep your foot planted every time you come across an open straightaway.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ With its naturally aspirated V8, the Corvette still kicks ass the only way it knows how. We love it for that.
+ Five distinctly different driving modes allow the Grand Sport to go from mild-mannered in traffic to all-out brutal on the open roads. The differences between the modes are no less than shocking.
+ Thanks to said modes, exhaust tuning and cylinder deactiviation actually make for an economical driving experience. On our best behavior in traffic, we saw fuel economy in the mid-20s.
– Don’t expect that kind of mileage all the time; the ‘Vette can still be mighty thirsty. Think between 14 and 18 miles per gallon.
– The eight-speed auto is a gem, and it is quicker, but with a car this visceral, we still missed rowing our own gears.
Since the C5 was introduced in 1997, Corvettes have gotten faster, more powerful, and more competitive with each successive generation. But until the C7, the interior was still its Achilles’ heel. That isn’t the case anymore. Yes, there’s still some cheap-feeling plastic and switchgear here and there. But overall, the Grand Sport’s interior delivers everything you’d expect from a world-class performance car.
The eight-way power bucket seats are comfortable and offer plenty of bolster to keep you supported, and the leather-stitched dash and microfiber surfaces feel appropriately high-end. And unlike ‘Vettes of yore, the metal-like surfaces inside are actually real metal. Together with the carbon fiber dash accents, almost-retro loop carpeting, driver-centric layout, and iconic body-colored cascade between the seats, the Grand Sport is a seriously comfortable place to spend time.
Interior pros and cons
+ Comfortable seats, fantastic ergonomics, and great fit and finish — as if we needed another reason to never get out from behind the wheel.
+ We loved the glovebox mounted behind the center screen. Our passengers loved the dual-zone climate control with second control panel mounted below the far right vent.
+ Console-mounted Grand Sport badge with a stylized version of the original ’63 GS is a great little Easter egg.
– The bulk of that flimsy plastic is right on the center console, where you’re most likely to notice it.
– Even with the top down, the cabin gets pretty hot after a few hours of spirited driving.
– Unsurprisingly, there’s a pretty big blind spot with the top up. Going top down takes about 20 seconds, and you need to hold the dash-mounted button down the whole time.
Tech and safety
If the eight-way power seats were any indication, the Grand Sport doesn’t make you suffer for the sake of performance. There’s the aforementioned dual-zone HVAC, 8 inch touchscreen with Bose stereo system, Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, head-up display, and OnStar. We love that the C7 has a built-in lap timer and Performance Data Recorder, but remember: Use it for track duty only. Tempting as it may be, we’re pretty sure that kind of video evidence is admissible in court.
The digital/analog instrument panel features the tech front-and-center (like any performance car worth its salt should), and its needles do the familiar kabuki dance on startup that most other GM performance cars do. But the bulk of the ‘Vette’s tech lies in its powertrain and suspension: the Magnetic Ride Control, cylinder deactivation, and electronic LSD. That’s where it should be, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Tech and safety pros and cons
+ Chevy MyLink is easy to use and touchscreen is easy to read, even with the top down on a sunny day.
+ Bose stereo sounds great and is a great stand-in in situations when you can’t listen to the LT1 do its thing.
+ Enough tech to make the cabin comfortable; the rest keeps you planted to the road.
– We love the analog controls, but the switchgear is where the ‘Vette feels flimsiest.
On cold mornings, you push the Grand Sport’s start button down and the big starter works hard to wake up the LT1. When it wakes up, your neighbors will too. Hearing the big 6.2 settle down to idle is a little treat, and a harbinger of even better things to come. Pull the heavy shifter into Drive, and you’re rolling low and and still a little loudly into traffic. Depending on how strong your imagination is, it isn’t hard to channel your inner Walter Mitty and feel like you’re rolling down the pits to the starting line, even if you’re just stuck behind a morning school bus.
Naturally, we took the Grand Sport into its natural habitat the first night we had it: Manhattan. It was well past rush hour, and the wide avenues were relatively empty. In anything but Track mode, the ‘Vette handles the bombed-out pavement with ease, shielding you from the worst of the potholes despite sitting mere inches above them. When we did hit traffic, the engine switched seamlessly between four and eight cylinders, preventing us from burning through too much fuel. And while the big slotted brakes can be a little grabby at first, they settle down once they warm up.
Center Drive through Central Park was open late for some reason, and we snaked back and forth a few times, just to hear the quad exhaust reverberate off the tunnels. Then we went full Track mode and listened to it echo down Fifth Avenue, because why not? New York may seem like the last place you’d want a ‘Vette, but for those few crisp hours, we couldn’t have asked for a better cruiser.
The next day we took it out through central New Jersey and through the twisty roads of the Delaware Water Gap. Despite the roads being a little wet, the Grand Sport tore at the pavement. It feels stuck to the ground, and the grip only gets stronger the more you push it, giving you more confidence then you ever thought you’d have in a ‘Vette convertible in the wet. In the thick of it all, you stop wishing for the seven-speed manual, and you wouldn’t trade this thing for a top-dog Z06 or anything else for that matter. The Grand Sport is a pure, visceral driver’s car. It feels like it can do anything, and the more time you spend with it, the more you start to believe it can. Hell, after a full day of driving and a full tank of gas, we headed back to the city and needed to stop off for groceries. A week’s worth fit in the trunk with room to spare. Is it completely insane that we started to fantasize about buying a set of snow tires and using a Grand Sport as our year-round daily driver?
Wrap up and review
Porsche has gotten the tiered model lineup down to a science. For roughly Grand Sport money (the base coupe starts at $65K and the convertible starts at $70K; our tester rang in at $85,910), you could get the base Cayman, the mid-level S, or the upcoming GTS: All distinctly different models at around the same price points. But let’s be honest: You’d only really ever want the top-dog GTS. That isn’t the case with the Corvette at all; here the middle car is just right. It has the civility and drivability of the base Stingray with all the goodies you’d want from the Z06, minus its big supercharger.
The Grand Sport is so good that it doesn’t make sense, and that’s a big part of what makes it so attractive. The chorus that the naturally aspirated internal combustion engine — and especially the V8 — is on death’s door is growing by the month. It’s too inefficient, too inflexible, and almost engineered to its logical conclusion. So if you have a lump like that in a Stingray with some upgraded aero and suspension, it’s bound to be a disappointment against the world’s best, right? Put it up against an Acura NSX, a 911, a Mercedes-AMG GT, or even a Ferrari FF or California, and laugh like hell as they stay firmly in your rearview mirror. This car is a lot more than it looks like on paper, and that’s saying a lot. What is it that makes it so good? Black magic? The Corvette engineering team may disagree with us, but let’s go ahead and say black magic.
The C7 Stingray was already a gem, and if you want a streetable track car, you can’t do much better than the Z06 (plus next to the competition, it’s a relative bargain). But the Grand Sport is the best of both worlds. We expected to be impressed by the latest Corvette, but we didn’t expect to fall head-over-heels for it. Believe the hype, and drive one as soon as you can. Even a few minutes in a Grand Sport is enough to make any agnostic long to become a real, live Corvette Guy.