Milford, Mich. It's only been a year since the max-attack ZR1 exploded onto the supercar scene. Yet Chevy is expanding the Corvette lineup once again with the new $55,720 Grand Sport. The Grand Sport slots beneath Chevy's top two Vettes, the ZR1 and Z06, in both price and performance. It also brings back a legendary moniker that first graced Corvette race cars in 1963 and last appeared on the 1996 C5 Grand Sport Corvette. That limited-edition Vette had an uprated 330-hp LT4 V8 that made it a very special machine.
So does this new Grand Sport Corvette have the goods to live up to its storied name? Let's take a few laps to find out.
There are three V8 engines in the Corvette lineup, the monster 638-hp supercharged LS9 of the ZR1, the banshee 505-hp LS7 in the Z06, and the stout 430-hp LS3 that resides in the bay of the base cars.
The Grand Sport is basically a $5840 performance and appearance package for the base car. It takes the place of the now discontinued Z51 handling package and utilizes some Z51 hardware and some bits from the Z06 too. So, unlike the carbon-fiber-infused Z06 or ZR1, the Grand Sport employs the steel frame and all-fiberglass body. The Grand Sport is, however, the highest-performing base car, and the package is available on both the coupe and convertibles.
The Grand Sport, like other base Vettes, comes with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. On automatic cars, the only difference between the Grand Sport and base Vettes is a shorter final-drive ratio (Grand Sport uses a 2.73:1, base 2.56:1).
Manual Grand Sports utilize the close-ratio Z51 six-speed gearbox. Cars with this transmission also get a new dry-sump oiling system that maintains oil pressure during extreme cornering maneuvers.
While the system doesn't change the horsepower, it's required because the Grand Sport's suspension and tires generate increased cornering forces—with stiffer springs, and the same antiroll bars, wheels and tires as the Z06.
Those massive tires—275/35R-18 front and 325/30R-19 rear—required the same aggressively flared fender profile as the Z06. Also, the Grand Sport enjoys the Z06 brakes, with six-piston front calipers squeezing 14-inch rotors and four-piston rear calipers on 13.4-inch discs.
Visually, Grand Sports will be easy to spot. Besides the Z06-like fender flares, Grand Sports get a new two-gill air duct that's just behind the front wheel. For an additional $1195 buyers can opt for a pair of stripes on the left fender and Grand Sportembroidered seats.
GM used the Grand Sport introduction to display the Vette's new launch-control system. This system is standard on every manual-transmission Vette and it makes for painless launches. Simply switch the stability-control system to the competitive mode, floor the throttle with the car stopped, and sidestep the clutch. The Vette now makes a near-perfect getaway every time. Practiced drivers can beat the system by a tenth of a second ot two, but you can't beat it when it comes to consistency.
Thanks to the increased traction, Chevy says the Grand Sport scoots to 60 mph in 4 seconds. Even though the Grand Sport has the least horsepower of the Vette lineup, it's plenty strong.
We took the Grand Sport to mean streets first, and on Michigan's cratered roads, the increased firmness was definitely noticeable. The ride is never harsh, but the tune is a good bit less compliant than the base car.
The payoff is far greater handling precision. On GM's sinewy road course, the Grand Sport cornered flat. The standard Vette's normal body motions are all but gone. The Grand Sport stays commendably poised, even under hard, racetrack threshold braking.
The Grand Sport is much easier to drive than a Z06 or even a ZR1. Where the two higher-powered cars so effortlessly break traction when exiting a corner, the Grand Sport stays hooked up. After a few laps, the driver's confidence grows to the point where we were hustling the Grand Sport around as hard as we would in, say, a Mazda Miata.
That's high praise for a car that can gather speed so effortlessly.
Even better, the Grand Sport has equipment that ensures it can lap continuously with no ill effects. In addition to the drive-sump oil systems, there are coolers for the rear differential and power-steering fluid. And the brakes never showed any sign of fade. You could run this car until the tank runs dry, fill it back up, and go out for more racetrack fun. As long as you don't mind replacing tires, the Grand Sport is the ultimate Vette for novice track-day junkies.
If you started with a standard Vette and upgraded it yourself with larger brakes, stiffer suspenders and other hardware from the aftermarket, you'd spend at least three times what Chevy charges for the Grand Sport package. To us, that makes this car a winner, even if it's not the top dog in the Corvette corral.
This is an article about the model Chevrolet