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April 2002: C5 Owners Speak Out!


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Sep 16, 2000
New Hampshire
1990 Corvette ZR-1
April 2002 - C5 Owners Speak Out!

[size=+3]T[/size]he British poet, Abraham Crowley, once said "the generous wine with age grows strong, not sour". After nearly 50 years of production, can we say the same thing about the Corvette? As the Corvette approaches its 50th year in production, it has undergone many changes in styling and engineering. It has persevered through some pretty severe storms as seen in the form of budget cuts and government safety and emissions regulations. At other times, it's been on top of the automotive world as seen in the Corvette Endurance Racing series in the late 1980s and the introduction of the ZR-1 Corvette in 1990.

After 12 years of C4 (1984-1996) production, the public was ready for a fresh, new and exciting Corvette to step up to the plate. On January 7, 1997, automotive enthusiasts were not disappointed as the new C5 Corvette was unveiled. At first, the public was quick to point out that the front-end had a slight resemblance to other high performance sports cars such as the now defunct Mazda RX7. The rear-end design was also not one of the more favorable features of the car, but the ride quality, handling, stability and overall build quality were head and shoulders above the previous generation. Due to new engineering methods and quality control, the C5 Corvette quickly gained favor in the eyes of the automotive press.

In 1998, the C5 received Motor Trend's coveted "Car of the Year" award, and in 2001, the C5 ranked highest in the premium sports car category in J.D. Power Associates' Initial Quality Study. (Related Press Release )

Even though automotive journalists have bestowed plenty of awards and kudos upon the C5, it's the owners who drive them on a regular basis that are capable of making the best assessment of just how good the C5 really is. It's their opinion we wanted to get through our online C5 Owners' Survey that we ran here from August 2001 to February 2002. After 6 months of polling, the results are in.

Road and Track magazine conducted a similiar survey and published the results in their June, 1989 issue. They surveyed owners of 1984 to 1988 Corvettes to get an idea of how owners felt about their Corvettes and to determine just how well the Corvette had progressed over the years. We'll compare the results of our survey with those from the Road and Track survey to see how the C5 has progressed from the previous generation.

Our survey consisted of 14 questions that were designed to evaluate the owners' experiences with their C5s. A couple of the questions were designed to determine their experiences with dealerships that supply parts and service. A few owners contacted us and felt that we should have asked what model year C5 they owned. We should clarify here that the survey was established to evaluate the entire C5 generation without a high degree of specificity on each model year. Based upon our own personal experiences, the Corvette Development group has done a fantastic job at addressing issues and improving the overall quality of each successive model year. Whether new features are added or quality issues and performance numbers are addressed, each model year of Corvette usually improves a great deal over the previous one. Rather than addressing issues that may have been model year specific, we chose to look at the entire generation as a whole in comparison to past generations of Corvette.

High Expectations?

So what do owners expect from their C5s? This was the first question we asked in the survey. The first question of the survey was designed to determine what C5 owners expected from their Corvettes. Of course we all know what Corvette owners want without even asking. If you ask a Corvette owner what they love about their Corvette, chances are, they'll tell you they love the performance. And as the results of our survey show, performance as seen in acceleration and handling are tied at the top of the most expected attributes.

On the other end of the spectrum, it's interesting to note that the top 3 least expected attributes are quietness, cargo capacity and insurance rating. So what are owners saying here? It's quite obvious that insurance rating would be rated the lowest, but the fact that "quietness" (or quiet for the "literary-correct"!) was rated so low, indicates to us that C5 owners expect their Corvettes to be loud or noisy. Cargo capacity also received a low score indicating that C5 owners don't expect their Corvettes to have much cargo room.

Does the C5 Deliver?

Of course, once again, the C5 delivers what it was designed to as seen in the acceleration and handling categories which received the highest number of votes. Exterior Styling, Engineering and Design followed behind, each capturing 9% of the vote. Interesting to note here is that Quietness rated low again indicating that C5 owners felt their Corvettes were loud or noisy. This is rather surprising as we would have expected C5 owners to complain that their C5s are too quiet due to the high level of refinement and stability engineered into the C5. Again, insurance rating is rated the lowest, which is to be expected. However, Dealer/Service Quality scored minimal votes indicating that the quality of service received was not to the owners' expectations.

"....as much as I like the C5, I think that once you manage to get in a C4, it's better to sit in. The pedals in the C5 seem to be placed wrong, the gas pedal is too close to you and my leg is always touching the dash. As always, the weather strips suck. I think GM uses the worst weather strips they can find on Corvettes...." - 1999 Fixed Roof Coupe Owner

Another owner commented: "Cabin noise - In my opinion, road and wind noise intrusion is awful. maybe it's just the road around metro-Denver, but the tire/road noise is almost unbearable at times....wind noise intrudes around the top rear corners of both side windows...with either top installed..." - 2001 Coupe Owner

In talking with owners, this was one of the few complaints about the interior of the C5 that we received. Most of the complaints were about the overall quietness and over-refinement in some areas of the C5. This may explain the discrepancy we see between the first two figures and Figure 3 below:


As you can see, Quietness was rated the worst attribute of the C5. So how can owners complain about wind and cabin noise, and complain that the C5 is too quiet as seen in Figure 3?

One of the most common modifications that Corvette owners perform is the addition of an aftermarket exhaust system. They do this for three reasons: To get rid of the anemic looking stock black tail pipes that appear on pre-2002 C5s. To take advantage of whatever horsepower gains can be obtained through a more free-flowing exhaust system and to give the C5 a more verbal presence on the road.

Has anyone listened to the exhaust note of a stock V8-equipped Ford Mustang? It has a deep, throaty, wholesome rumble. The V8-equipped F-body platform (Firebird/Camaro) comes very close but the Mustang is still more pronounced in tone. When a Mustang drives by on the street, before you even see it, you can hear it coming. With the C5, the exhaust note is reserved or "tamed" if you will.

Engine and exhaust sound are two popular attributes of some high performance sports cars. The Dodge Viper has an exhaust note that is unique all its own. Regardless of whether or not you approve of it, it's still unique to the car. A Ferrari V12 engine and exhaust combination produces a glorious sound all it's own that is unique to the marque and almost a signature piece. Same with the LT5 powered ZR-1 Corvette. The engine and exhaust produce a unique sound combination that can't be reproduced with any other automobile. This is a significant attribute that the C5 lacks and quite possibly could be the reason why owners rated it as the worst attribute of the C5 in our survey.

The other interesting factor seen in Figure 3 above is Dealer/Service Quality. It captured 16% of the vote and tied with Insurance Rating. This is an issue Corvette owners have complained about for almost as long as the Corvette has been in production. In Road and Track's survey, one 1987 Corvette owner commented: "The dealer's service department treats me like I have a disease."

In talking with C5 owners, many were able to relate to that comment and feel that it's difficult to find a good Chevrolet dealer with a competent service department that knows how to properly service a Corvette and give it the attention that it should receive. In the Road and Track article, they state:

One-third owners ranked the service and parts availability at the Chevy dealers as one of the car's worst failings. Half of the owners had to take their cars off the road for an average of nearly five days while they waited for their dealers to obtain parts. And more than a few owners documented in detail instances of dealer bumbling and fubmling while their cars underwent repair.

Yet overall, 59 percent of the owners ranked their dealers' service as either "good" or "excellent." that compares to a 58-percent average for all the cars we've surveyed since 1975. But here's the real kicker: the highest-ever combined good/excellent rating went to Mitsubishi dealers (74 percent in 1987), and the lowest went to -- guess who -- Corvette dealers (38 percent in 1983). So Chevrolet can take satisfaction in the great improvement.

As seen in Figures 4, 5 and 6 below:




At 32-percent, the majority of C5 owners felt that Dealer/Service Quality was good and 23-percent of the owners felt that Dealer/Service Quality was excellent. Basically, just over 50-percent felt that Dealer/Service Quality was either Good or Excellent. As seen in Figures 5 and 6, nearly 75-percent would bring their C5s back to the dealer for service. How can this be?

Chances are, the reason why C5 owners would return to the dealer for service is because the majority of C5s on the road today are still under warranty. So why was this attribute rated as one of the worst in Figure 3 and yet, 50-percent of the owners rated this attribute as Good/Excellent in Figure 4? Although we're not really sure at this point in time, this is an issue that we'll explore in depth here in a future Wheelspin column.

"I can tell you this, if you have to take it to the dealer for repairs, you will pay dearly." - 2000 Coupe Owner

As seen above in Figure 7, another common complaint is the cost of parts and labor to repair C5s. Over the years, the technology and electronics used in Corvettes have become more and more sophisticated over time. Some of this is due in part to the increasing government fuel and emissions requirements and some of this is due to the fact that the Corvette has always been a leader in new technology for other GM platforms. As one 1986 Corvette owner stated in Road and Track's suvey: "The buyer is a test-driver for electronic gadgets."

We also asked owners how many individual problems they experienced (graph not shown) and in what areas. Thirty three percent of owners polled experienced at least 1 problem with their C5. Twenty one percent experienced at least two problems and 17-percent experienced at least 3 problems. The rest of the results dramatically decrease after that. As seen in Figure 8 below:


Interior parts and trim received the highest vote with electrical problems and computer controlled sensors following right behind. This is not surprising. Many of the complaints we received cited poor quality and workmanship on the interior. The majority of owners felt that the overall quality of the interior was not representative of an automobile that cost as much as a new C5 does.

As expected, electrical problems and computer controlled sensors, both receiving 11-percent of the vote, were second from the top followed by the infamous "column-lock" problem. Obviously as the amount of sophisticated onboard diagnostics and electronics grow, so too will the problems and cost to properly diagnose and repair them. Today's Corvette is not like the old '60s Corvettes where you could just take a screwdriver and tweek and tune to your heart's content. Almost everything in a C5 is electronically controlled and the level of electrical integration is mind boggling. In other words, a simple change to an electrical sensor could easily affect several sensors downstream. In servicing today's Corvette, you not only have to be proficient in handling a wrench, but you also have to be proficient in diagnosing and servicing electrical problems. In Road and Track's survey, they found similar results for 1984 to 1988 Corvettes:

Electrical malfunctions head the problem list, especially those involving the onboard computer, according to our respondents. "The entire system is very complex and very sensitive," says a GM insider who wishes to remain nameless. "It can shut off for any reason and leave you stranded even though there is a 'limp-home' mode. Some of the problems involve high-voltage wires that run to the engine computer."

Gary Leonhardt [past president of the Corvette Club of Southern California and owner of a shop in Anaheim, California] offers another view. "I've seen very few computer failures," he says. "Many people confuse the failure of a component integrated by the computer, but not necessarily operated by it, with computer failure itself."

So Who is the C5 Owner?

In last month's column, we speculated that due to the amount of positive press the C5 has received in the last five years, many C5 owners are new to Corvette and the entire "Corvette experience". In fact, we mentioned that we wouldn't be surprised if all of the positive press has led to a small influx of first-time Corvette owners of both new and used Corvettes. To get an idea of just who the average C5 owner is that took our online survey, a few of the questions designed to give us an idea of who they are:





As you can see from figures nine through twelve above, the average C5 owner who participated in our survey is between the ages of 40 and 59 and they have owned between one to three Corvettes. What's interesting here is that in Figure 10, 50-percent responded that this is their first Corvette owned and 51-percent responded that it is not. So based upon our results, it is safe to assume that at least half of all C5 owners are new to Corvette and everything that is associated with the hobby.

Regardless of some of the problems cited above in our survey, one attribute has consistently reigned loud and clear:

"This car may be unrefined in comparison to many German cars, but man can it haul ass....it's definitely an eye catcher and puts a smile on my face every time I walk into my garage!!!" - 2001 Coupe Owner

"I love the car. The handling is awsome, and the power is great. Yes the fit and finish could be better especially on a $45,000+ car, but you can't get performance like it from any other car in its class." - 1999 Coupe Owner

"My 2002 coupe (pewter of course) has 6550 miles on it since I bought it in August. No oil consumption, but plenty of gasoline consumption. One of the most comfortable and responsive vehicles I have ever driven. The raw power and, to me, refined comfort of the Corvette is hard to match. The only drawback is the seeming inability to keep from grinning like a Cheshire cat every time you drive it. I find myself taking the "long"way everywhere. My wife calls it "driving aimlessly". It ain't aimless if you're having fun." - 2002 Coupe Owner

And of course, owners of 1984 to 1988 Corvettes who participated in Road and Track's survey had similar comments:

"Performance, reliability, relatively good fuel economy and the state autocross champion all in one car." - 1987 Corvette Owner

"Awesome car. Superb handling, terrific acceleration, beautiful. I love it!" - 1988 Corvette Owner

"2000 Nassau Blue 6spd…definitely fun to drive!!! Body lines are very nice…LS1's…nice torque, incredible performer when really pushed!!!!!!!!! Interior is very attractive, gauges are awesome. It is a purpose built machine…you can feel it!!!" - 2000 Coupe Owner

"The power and handling far outweigh the rough ride and rattles. I would buy another." - 1985 Corvette Owner

...as would the majority of C5 owners who took our survey. Eighty six percent responded that they would puchase another Corvette in the future. Twelve percent were undecided.

Those are the results of our C5 Owners' Survey. As we stated earlier, the questions were designed to get a general idea of how C5 owners felt about their Corvettes and just who the typical C5 owner is. In hind sight, some of the questions probably could have been worded a little differently for greater clarification. Regardless, we feel that the survey was successful in determining how owners feel about the C5 Corvette in general.

Overall, it appears that the C5 is a worthy successor to the previous generation of Corvette and C5 owners seem more than pleased. Even though some age old problems may still exist, such as the dealer service quality issue (an issue we'll address in an upcoming Wheelspin column), the Corvette continues to stimulate the senses and provide a level of comfort and driving pleasure that only sports cars two and three times the sticker price of a C5 can provide. This has always been what Corvette is all about and the C5, especially the 2002 Z06 with it's 405 hp, 0-60 mph times of 4.0 seconds and 1.0 g on the skidpad, continues on in this tradition with stars and stripes proudly waving in the breeze. - Rob
Thank you for a wonderful and informative article on the C5. I recently rented a 2002 vert and was blown away by the performance, handling and ride. I had it for three days and didn't stop smiling. Great job in getting out usefull information. It will help alot of people that are considering a purchase of a new or used C5. Keep up the good work.
Nice presentation, Rob :). Thank you for the opportunity to participate!

- Gene :w
Very interesting results..

Interesting demographic profile of the C5 owner. As a 36 year old, I sorta feel like I'm not part of the Corvette's marketing efforts. Does mean I have to sell it? :L

Interesting and enlightening article. Thanks Rob
Looks like this was done a couple of years ago BUT it is very well written, interesting stuff, and full of good information that is somewhat "timeless" !

Nicely done Rob !

Great article! I have had my 2000 C5 for seven months and every moment behind the wheel is a great pleasure. I would be in the "would by again" column.

frelks said:

Great article! I have had my 2000 C5 for seven months and every moment behind the wheel is a great pleasure. I would be in the "would by again" column.

Thanks Frelks! :)
Great article

I found this during one of my searches and felt that this should be rejuvenated for the new folk.


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