2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible First Drive
It's All About Attitude
In fairness, I almost always pick a convertible over its hardtop counterpart, and in the history of cars there is only one vehicle for which I found the hardtop better than the convertible: the Nissan Murano.
But let me assure you, the 2014 Corvette Convertible is no Murano. It is a completely incredible machine. Sure-footed, high-performing, and simply cool-looking, the topless Corvette provides everything a sports car person could want or need. During a recent test drive in Palm Springs, the Corvette Convertible fit right in with the much higher-priced drop-tops cruising along Palm Canyon Drive.
While the Corvette Stingray looks fine with its cloth top up -- and remains remarkably quiet in part because of the thick fabric and glass rear window -- the magic only needs 21 seconds to start. That's how much time it takes the top to come down and at up to speeds of 30 mph. That allows you to put the top up as you cruise up to the valet or open it as you leave home. Who has an extra 20 seconds to sit and just open the top? In the Stingray, you've gotta move. The top can also be lowered electronically via the key fob, so as you're walking up to the car in the parking lot, the top can be dropping.
While most of the exterior is identical to the hardtop, complete with that distinctive low profile, long hood, and tiny rear deck. The look of the drop-top Corvette is distinctive and very modern. Even in Palm Springs, a city filled with Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, the Stingray continually turned heads.
Another thing I appreciate about the exterior is that all of the vents, openings, and slashes cut into the sheetmetal serve a purpose, such as releasing engine heat or directing air to differential and transmission coolers found on the Z51 sports package. (On the convertible, the vents for the diff and transmission are actually located under the body and not on the fenders.) There's a function to the form, and the form is beautiful.
There are lots of lightweight materials on the convertible that are also on the coupe, such as the aluminum hood. Chevrolet used an all-new aluminum frame on the couple that is so strong that no additional reinforcements were needed on the convertible. A change was made to the convertible chassis were to accommodate the folding top, and the seatbelt mounts were changed.
The convertible adds a "waterfall" design that brings the exterior into the interior by adding a body-colored piece down the back between the seats. There's a smooth elegance to the piece and the way the tonneau cover neatly hides the top in that mechanical showmanship of whirring pieces and parts working in synchronized elegance as the top opens or closes.
As for the interior, it's just as nice as the coupe's, mixing luxurious features with performance high notes such as a slightly smaller steering wheel that provides precise feedback on the road. All of the materials are high-grade and include leather, micro-suede, aluminum, and carbon fiber.
Perhaps the only downside is getting into and out of the Corvette, convertible or otherwise. The car is so low that you tend to fall into the driver's seat and then climb out of the cockpit the same way a gunner might exit a foxhole -- with little grace.
But none of that matters when you're cruising. During two days of driving, I was able to sample both the base model and the Z51 Performance Package. In both cases, the LT1 6.2-liter V-8 is pure pleasure. Depending on whether it includes the performance exhaust, the V-8 produces 455 or 460 horsepower and 460 or 465 lb-ft of torque.
All that power rumbles in an engine note that can purr while cruising or scream under heavy acceleration. That guttural sound will make the hair on your arm stand up with satisfaction and then toss your head against the optional Recaro headrest.
While driving the Z51, the seven-speed manual transmission provided quick, smooth shifts, though I often forgot to use seventh gear. The Corvette adds rev matching as an option if you want more performance. The paddle shifters on the six-speed automatic were also fast. There's been debate that the Corvette needs a some sort of dual-clutch automatic to match those of Porsche and Audi. However, Corvette remains adamant that its automatic is just as quick. Honestly, the six-speed performed extremely well on the twisty roads around Palm Springs.
Better yet, both Corvettes ride on Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires that provide excellent grip. Between the tires and wide body, the Corvette is always nicely planted. The variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering with electric power assist is firm through any corner, with great feedback and a nicely weighted feel. It snaps back to center and lets you hold the car through any corner. This car instills confidence. The last mile will always be faster than the first.
The Z51 offers an improved, selectable, magnetic ride control that reacts 40 percent faster than the outgoing system. There's also a Driver Mode Selector that allows the driver to select one of four different settings: Weather, Eco, Tour and Sport, and Track. By turning the selector knob you can adjust 12 different settings including the instrument cluster, throttle, transmission, and traction. Changing the settings from Eco to Sport and Track was quite noticeable, though I never left the setting in Eco very long. GM was paying for the gas.
And to me, convertibles never really need to blister the track -- though this particular Corvette certainly will, no matter the configuration. Convertibles are about enjoying the open road al fresco. The wind plays with your hair, and there's that mechanical music Rush sings about.
The Corvette Convertible is about attitude. Sure, it can launch off the line and blow most hardtops off the road. It can carve up a mountain road like an X Games skier. But it is just as impressive when you gently take every curve with one arm on the door as the sun bounces off your sunglasses.
Enjoy the ride. This convertible is a keeper.