We have driven many, many Corvettes over the years, from bone-stock automatics to the absurdly endowed ZR1 to Ron Fellows' C5-R GT1 racecar, and it occurs to us that rarely have we ever pined for more power in Chevrolet's plastic fantastic.
On several occasions, though, we have wanted more grip — sometimes, in fact, that desire was, er, urgent. Take a look here for an example of one such occasion.
All this occurred to us as we were driving the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport Coupe on GM's road course at its Milford proving grounds in southeastern Michigan. And, you know, despite the endless flood of headlines about the hairy-beast Z06 and the stupid-fast ZR1, the standard Vette's 436-horsepower LS3 V8 still gets the job done.
This is because 436 hp is still a big mess o' horsepower (or 430 hp without the trick, two-mode exhaust flaps that are optional), and also because the Corvette remains trim in an increasingly obese world, since the Grand Sport coupe weighs in at 3,311 pounds.
With a little help from its fatter-than-standard tires (275/35R18s up front and 325/30R19s out back), a Grand Sport will scamper to 60 mph about a tenth of a second or so quicker than the last standard Corvette we tested — a coupe which got to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). And we reckon the tires will also help us pick up a little in max lateral grip compared to the last '09 we tested with its standard 245/40R18 front and 285/35R19 rear items — figure around 0.98g. We'd also expect the fat tires to chop at least a few feet off of that car's 60-0 braking distance of 110 feet.
And you could live with this performance, couldn't you?
We've yet to meet the human who can feel the difference between 3.9 seconds and 4.0 seconds to 60 mph. It's an academic exercise, really. But the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, which goes on sale this fall alongside the rest of the 2010 Corvettes, represents more than just a miniscule improvement in acceleration. After all, even the nuttiest Corvette nut might have a hard time swallowing the $5,840 premium the Grand Sport coupe commands over the standard coupe for a tenth-of-a-second here and a hundredth-of-a-g there.
The Grand Sport represents a bridge between the $49,880 standard Corvette and the Corvette Z06, which starts at $75,235. The Grand Sport coupe's price, which starts at $55,720, is nearer that of the standard car since it is constructed with steel frame rails instead of the Z06's pricier aluminum and also makes do with conventional fiberglass body panels instead of the carbon-fiber front fenders of the Z06. And let's not forget that the Z06's 505-hp 7.0-liter V8 is a very pricey hand-built thing.
In years past, the only bridge vehicle between the standard Vette and the serious nut-ball performance version has been the Z51-code car, which the Grand Sport replaces. And the current C6 version of the Z51 came with not just a stiffer suspension as in years past but also slightly larger brakes with drilled rotors, as well as shorter gearing for the first three slots of the six-speed manual transmission. But, let's face it; the Z51 still looked the same to all but the most Corvette-obsessed eyes.
With its Z06-style, wide-body fender flares and Z06-style front fascia and rear brake cooling ducts and the little mail-slot air inlet just forward of the hood, the Grand Sport is easily identified as something else. You might mistake it for a Z06, or a standard Corvette owned by a guy who added some Z06-style parts to the bodywork, but you won't mistake it for the run-of-the-mill coupe. Corvette people have been trained to identify models and model years by the trim on the front fender gills, and so the Grand Sport adds a new gill style for their inventory: two vertical body-color pieces connected at the top by a horizontal chrome strip with "Grand Sport" script molded in.
Let's deal with the name right now. Grand Sport is simply one of those monikers that sits around in the Corvette history books. But the now-three vehicles that have carried the name have so little in common, the name is almost meaningless. The original Grand Sport was Zora Arkus-Duntov's factory-engineered 1963 Corvette Sting Ray racer. It might have been just about the meanest and therefore coolest-looking road racer of the day, but ultimately the program never really took off as planned. The second Grand Sport was a special-edition 1996 Vette C4 with an LT4 motor, big wheels and tires and two silly red hash marks on the front fender.
For 2010 you can still ask for a dual-stripe sticker to be applied to the front fender of your Grand Sport. It comes as part of an optional package that also includes some other window dressing like embroidered seats for $1,195. Otherwise, this Grand Sport has nothing at all to do with either of the old cars.
How Do I Look?
So, the Grand Sport makes standard-car horsepower, but has the look of the specialized, hyper-fast hard-core model? Sounds like a poseur car, right?
But the high-performance look of the Grand Sport has brought with it some genuine performance benefits, if not exactly in the same league as the Z06. First there's the increased footprint represented by the wider tires. Then tucked inside the new, wider wheels are Z06-size brakes (14 inches across up front carrying six-piston calipers and 13.4 inches in the rear squeezed by four-piston calipers). These stoppers should help combat the bit of brake fade we noted in our test of the '09 coupe, especially since the generous Z06-style cooling ducts in the bodywork should make a difference. The Grand Sport also uses the Z06's stiff antiroll bars, and the damping and springs have been revised (though they are not the same spec as the Z06).
As with last year's Z51-spec Corvette, the ratios of the first three gears in the Grand Sport's six-speed manual are shorter for more immediate throttle response and fractionally improved acceleration. The Grand Sport is also available with the same six-speed automatic as the standard car, but it has a shorter final-drive ratio for improved acceleration.
Every 2010 Corvette equipped with a manual transmission, including Grand Sport models, comes standard with a nearly foolproof launch-control program. Put the traction and stability control system in Competitive mode, depress the clutch, put the right pedal on the floor mat, and sidestep the clutch. Chevy says it has no worries about the durability of its driveline while using launch control, a little needle-poke to the folks at Nissan. A guy whose job it is to track-test cars can squeeze a slightly better acceleration figure than the launch control can. But he can't be as consistent. And while using it, even the lamest Corvette driver never need worry about performance anxiety and/or clumsiness resulting in stoplight humiliation.
Also, we hasten to point out our earlier comments about the still ass-thwacking thrust of a 436-hp Corvette and the fact that more grip ain't necessarily a bad thing if you're not as competent behind the wheel as a Corvette ride-and-handling engineer. And neither you nor we are.
Meanwhile, a 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport convertible with the $1,995 chrome wheels and the six-speed automatic with its flappy steering-wheel paddles is, well, not for us.
The most compelling iteration of the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is the coupe with a manual transmission and painted aluminum wheels. This is not simply because it doesn't look cheesy, but also because it is the only Grand Sport variation with a version of the LS3 V8 that is equipped with a racing-style dry-sump oiling system.
It's the same oiling system used in the Z06 and ZR1 hyper-Vettes and necessitates that the LS3 in your Grand Sport is hand-built alongside those monster motors at GM's performance build center in Wixom, Michigan. Chevy charges nothing extra for this, although surely it costs more for the company to supply. So you have a total of 436 hp at 5,900 rpm and 428 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm at your disposal.
That makes the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Coupe with the manual a good candidate for track-day duty. Or even just a handy thing to have around.