2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Test Drive – Z06 Attributes without the Z06 Price

Knowledgeable enthusiasts agree that Chevy’s current C6 Corvette is the best ever, and few question that the racer-like limited-production 505-horsepower $75,000 Z06 and the faster-still, and surprisingly refined supercharged 638-horse $108K ZR1 models are the best high-performance sports-car values on the market. But until now, there has been a substantial price gap between the roughly $50K base Corvette and that Z06.

The new 2010 Chevy Grand Sports fill the gap (for just $5-6K premiums above base MSRP) between the most Spartan Vettes and the Z06 and even more expensive ZRI. Chevrolet expects them to account for nearly half of 2010 Corvette sales, and—given their forceful good looks and outstanding performance value—we;see no reason to doubt that prediction.

Purists complain that Corvette V-8s (like Chrysler’s HEMI V-8s), with their single camshaft nestled deep in the center of their blocks driving overhead valves through pushrods and rockers, are inefficient “old tech” compared to other modern engines with camshafts mounted atop their heads. Yet the many advantages of cam-in-block construction—including lower cost and complexity, lower weight and center of gravity, easier build and serviceability and smaller overall size for a given displacement—provide truly notable performance for the money. Few complain about this 6.2-liter non-turbo LS3 V-8’s prodigious power and torque and surprising fuel efficiency (16/26 EPA city/highway mpg) at the Corvette’s fairly affordable price. And if the standard 430 horsepower and 424 lb.-ft. of torque are not sufficient, an optional two-mode exhaust system bumps those impressive numbers to 436 and 428.

Amazingly (at the price), the LS3 engines in six-speed-manual Grand Sports are hand built alongside Z06 and ZR1 V-8s at GM’s Wixom, MI special engine build facility and boast racer-like dry sump lubrication with a remote oil reservoir to prevent oil starvation during extended hard cornering, plus a differential cooler and a rear-mounted battery. Also standard with the six-speed manual is a terrific launch control system that modulates full-throttle torque 100 times per second to maximize available traction. The driver can just stand on the gas and side step the clutch for consistent four-second 0-60 launches.

Grand Sport Corvettes roll on large (275/35ZR18 front, 325/30ZR19 rear) high-performance tires on unique alloy wheels with Z06-size brakes: front 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers and rear 13.4-inch rotors with four-piston calipers. A step above standard Corvettes in performance (thanks to more insistent gearing) and especially in dynamics, they are civilized on the road yet fiercely capable on a track. You could comfortably pilot one to work each day and pound it around a racetrack every weekend.

We tested manual and automatic coupes and convertibles on local roads and freeways, then brutalized manual-shift coupes on GM’s Milford, MI high-speed development track, and found much to love and little not to like. On climate-cratered Michigan roads, their ride was controlled but comfortable and compliant. On the track, their handling and stability were near-Z06 awesome. Acceleration was strong from any speed, braking was consistently powerful and stable and steering was crisp and precise. Uphill and down, through hairpins, fast sweepers and tight, tricky esses (with standard stability control on), they took a slight tail-out set powering out of each turn then dug in and rocketed toward the next one.

There is now a well-defined hierarchy within Chevy’s 2010 Corvette line-up, beginning with the base coupe at $49,880 MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) and climbing through the standard convertible at $54,530, the Grand Sport coupe at $55,720 and Grand Sport convertible at $59,530 before jumping to the $75K Z06. Standard on all 2010 Corvettes are keyless access, stability control, side air bags, OnStar with Turn-by-Turn navigation, AM/FM/CD radio with steering wheel controls, launch control (with manual transmission) and steering wheel paddle shifters with optional automatic.

Two available interior packages fill the gap between the standard trim and the posh leather-wrapped cabin, and a Heritage Package adds those front fender stripes and two-tone seats with Grand Sport embroidery. Additional major options include DVD navigation with voice recognition, Bose premium audio with XM Satellite Radio and a six-disc CD changer.