The one you want.
– Atlanta, Georgia
Chevrolet describes the base Stingray as its “Essential” Corvette – the one that many people can afford and that will work for many drivers. Then at the other end of the spectrum, Chevy thinks of the Z06 as the “Ultimate” iteration, the one with as much power and go-fast goodies as can possibly be fitted to a road car. But this new 2017 Grand Sport model, that’s the “Purist” version. Like the Grand Sport versions of the C4 and C6 generations before it, this new model is the Corvette that’s the most in tune with what sports-car connoisseurs think matters most.
Perhaps an apt nickname for the Grand Sport is “Z06 Lite.” You get almost all the handling and braking goodies from the Z06, but without the tire-punishing might of its 650-horsepower supercharged engine. Not that 460 hp from the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre LT1 V8 is anything to sniff at: You’ll hit 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds and run through the quarter mile in as little as 11.8 seconds. It’s just that this car prioritizes handling and cornering as much as straight-line shove.
This new model is the Corvette that’s the most in tune with what sports-car connoisseurs think matters most.
The Grand Sport recipe begins with wider bodywork (it’s 89 millimetres wider than a Stingray) that affords room to fit meatier wheels and tires, plus additional cooling vents to keep the engine, brakes, and differential working at their best. Brembo-sourced brakes with six-piston front calipers have 14.6-inch slotted steel discs, while the suspension has been tweaked and the electronic limited-slip differential reprogrammed. Chevy says the car will pull 1.05 Gs of grip through a corner, compared to 1.03 Gs from a regular Corvette Stingray with the Z51 Performance package.
That’s already a solid upgrade, but you shouldn’t stop there. For the first time, this Grand Sport also offers the extreme Z07 package from the Corvette Z06; it adds even grippier tires, 15.5-inch carbon-ceramic front brake discs (“The biggest rotors we can fit inside the wheels,” Corvette executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter smiles), and a new wing and splitter to improve downforce. Cornering grip jumps to 1.2 Gs, an incredible figure even today for a road car.
The only part that doesn’t carry over from the Z06 is its most aggressive aerodynamic pack. The extra drag slows the 460-hp Grand Sport more on straights than it speeds it up in turns. “We’ve not found a track where that’s faster on the Grand Sport,” Juechter says. “It’s more drag than the Grand Sport likes.” But the Grand Sport Z07’s wing and splitter still generate a healthy 84 kilograms of downforce at 241 kilometres per hour.
Chevy says the car will pull 1.05 Gs of grip through a corner, compared to 1.03 Gs from a regular Corvette Stingray with the Z51 Performance package.
Out on public roads, though, the effect of all these upgrades isn’t immediately obvious. As in every other C7 Corvette Stingray, the V8’s explosive power delivery and roaring exhaust dominate the experience. Ultra-quick steering off-center makes the Corvette darty and nimble, even though its width has me triple-checking the front wheel isn’t extending over the double-yellow line. Putting the car into Sport mode tightens up the Magnetic Ride Control suspension just enough to eliminate body roll without beating me up; Track feels just a touch too uncomfortable for this type of use. Yet on the freeways leading out of Atlanta, Tour mode is remarkably compliant and comfortable, with a ride quality that wouldn’t be too out of place for a compact sedan.
Spend a few more kilometres behind the wheel, though, and the Grand Sport’s benefits become clearer. It’s devastatingly fast in rural Georgia, where I can hold immense speed along deserted two-lane roads. The convertible I’m driving is the least sporting Grand Sport – convertible, automatic transmission, no Z07 package – but it’s still a riot. The brakes shed speed instantly, with a firm brake pedal that stays firm time and time again. The Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, mounted to 305 mm (12-inch) wide rear wheels, grip so heroically that you’d have to be a real nutcase to run out of traction on public roads. And nothing upsets the upgraded suspension, which ably dispatches with mid-corner bumps or steering corrections. There’s a tiny bit of tramlining over the worst roads and some bump steer over severe elevation changes, but for the most part the Grand Sport devours roads with ease.
It’s amazing just how early I can dig back into the big V8 without unsettling the car, or how abruptly I can brake and steer into turns over crests or into dips.
I spend the rest of the day at Atlanta Motorsports Park, a 2.94 km (1.83-mile) circuit created by famed Formula One track designer Hermann Tilke. Here, the Grand Sport is truly in its element. I’m in a coupe with the seven-speed manual transmission and the Z07 package, the ultimate configuration for buyers who plan to hit the track regularly. After some lead-follow laps to acclimate us with the course’s many blind turns and crests, I blast out of pit lane with the V8 engine roaring toward its redline.
For the first few laps, I’m clearly underdriving the car, braking earlier than necessary and waiting patiently to lay down power. Each lap, I brake harder and deeper into a corner, get on the throttle sooner, and never once does the car fight back. It’s got huge amounts of grip at both ends, and the aero package keeps the car stable even through the track’s fastest sweeping bends. I have to force myself to wait to brake, force myself to accelerate earlier, and have faith that there’s enough traction to keep gaining speed as I fly onto AMP’s front straight.
Coming out of bends, I rely on the electronic limited-slip differential to mete out torque to the Sport Cup 2 rubber. It’s amazing just how early I can dig back into the big V8 without unsettling the car, or how abruptly I can brake and steer into turns over crests or into dips. Nothing seems to be too much to ask of the Grand Sport. To find the car’s limits would require far more time acclimating to both the car and the track – I’m only cracking 183 km/h on the front straight where Chevy’s engineers managed 209 – but suffice it to say there’s a huge amount of capability waiting to be tapped.
The Grand Sport really could go straight from showroom to paddock.
Need more proof the car’s at home on track? The 2017 Grand Sport Z07 is only one second slower around the company’s Milford Proving Ground course than the 2009-2013 Corvette ZR1. And the ZR1 had 178 more horsepower than the Grand Sport.
It’s also a really tough car. The temperature at the track is over 32 degrees and the cars are hot-lapping time after time without, unlike their drivers, breaking a sweat. To prep the cars for this abuse, Chevrolet engineers only adjusted the alignment, used heavier-weight oil, filled the brake lines with high-temp DOT 4 fluid, and dropped cold tire pressures to 28 psi. These steps, by the way, are all detailed in the car’s owner’s manual and can be performed at any Chevy dealership without voiding the warranty. The Grand Sport really could go straight from showroom to paddock.
Are there downsides? Chevy expects fuel economy of 18 litres per 100 kilometres city and 9.4 L/100 km highway, up from 13.7/8.2 in a regular Corvette with a manual. And owing to the low bodywork and wide tires, a placard recommends against using an automatic car wash. These are small sacrifices for such a great car.
It has the purity and balance of great European sports cars that cost much more, plus the all-out grunt of an American V8.
The Grand Sport is at its best on track. You’re forgiven, though, for wanting the Grand Sport based on how cool it looks alone. The 19/20-inch staggered wheels, the aerodynamic add-ons, and the optional contrast-color stripes and hash marks just look plain mean. It’s also now available to a much wider array of drivers: Unlike the last Grand Sport, this one is offered as a convertible as well as a coupe, and with an automatic transmission as well as a stick.
As someone who values driving enjoyment and purity above raw power, the Grand Sport is the Corvette I’d take home with me. It excels in performance driving but can be relatively civil on the way to and from the track. It has the purity and balance of great European sports cars that cost much more, plus the all-out grunt of an American V8. If you want a fast Corvette, this is the one you want.
Photos: A.J. Mueller / Chevrolet