Sports cars and that “wind in your face” experience have gone hand-in-hand since the days when open-top MGs ruled the twisties.
Despite Chevrolet’s best efforts, however, we’ve always had a hard time properly classifying the Corvette as a genuine sports car. Offered only as a roadster initially, it lacked the handling precision necessary to properly compete with the zippy small cars GIs were experiencing in postwar Europe. Subsequent ‘Vettes emphasized straight-line performance up until the outgoing model. But even it came up a little short in some areas – primarily interior refinement.
Fast forward to today, however, and the Corvette has been reborn as a genuine modern sports car for the 21st century. A vehicle that has already blown us away as a removable-roof targa-type coupe, the Corvette really comes into its own as a convertible, vindicating decades of stylish boulevardiers that lacked the cornering prowess of a true sports car. Eclipsing even the impressive sixth-generation Corvette, the new model now known as the Corvette Stingray needs to make no excuses for itself.
Constructing a convertible out of a coupe used to be as easy as simply cutting the top off and adding a little bit of reinforcement. Today, of course, it’s a lot more complex than that – the Corvette, like any other coupe/convertible, was engineered to be both a droptop and a hardtop. Interestingly, that means that its structure hasn’t actually changed despite the removal of a roof-like structure behind the rear seats necessary to create the convertible.
According to Corvette engineers, that’s because the car’s aluminum space frame is 40 percent stiffer than that of its predecessor. Frankly, we never thought the old Corvette was much of a wet noodle when it came to torsional rigidity, which means that the new Stingray is even better all around.
A press of a switch located near the driver’s knee – admittedly, an unusual location – raises and lowers the thickly-insulated soft top. As in virtually any modern convertible, the rear window is heated glass. Curb weight adds about 65 lbs. because of the convertible’s top mechanisms and its conventional trunk lid. Speaking of storage, it’s actually unchanged from the coupe; there’s room back there, but not for a golf outing.
Starting at $56,000 prior to a mandatory $995 destination charge, the convertible adds $5,000 to the sticker price of its coupe sibling.
Otherwise, there are no changes over the coupe. Both are powered by the same 6.2-liter, 455 horsepower, 460 lb-ft. of torque V8 engine mated to either a seven-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy remains rated at 17/29 mpg (21 mpg combined).
Adding the optional Z51 package ($2,800) includes size-up wheels (19-inch front and 20s out back), a stiffer suspension and an electronic limited-slip rear differential among other goodies. Perhaps most notably, selecting the Z51 package lets buyers specify the $1,795 Magnetic Selective Ride Control shocks that deliver the driver’s choice of an uncannily smooth ride, a firm and sporty feel or a borderline punishing track-oriented setup at the spin of a console-mounted dial.
All Corvettes let drivers dial in – literally – the steering heft and throttle response of their choice regardless of how well-optioned they are.
Navigating some of the country’s most beautifully paved roads in the mountains near Palm Springs, California, we found the Corvette Stingray Convertible to be truly in its element. Any difference attributable to the droptop configurations was measured more in sunburns than in actual driving response. Nary a hint of cowl shake made itself known even when we repeatedly drove our base Corvette tester over a rough railroad crossing in the dusty town of Banning, California.
With the top down and the side windows rolled up on the highway, only a hint of that wind-in-your-face feel is prevalent. Those expecting to catch bugs in their teeth should look for a motorcycle. With the top erected, the convertible is almost as silent as its quiet hardtop sibling aside from some wind roar where the rearmost point of the side windows comes in contact with the roof itself.
Our tester was an automatic gearbox model. Routine driving revealed a comfortable, almost luxury-oriented shift quality. Select one of the more sporting drivetrain modes and the transmission livens up, although we still found it to be more aggressive in its upshifts than our enthusiastic right pedal wanted to see. Luckily, a pair of well-placed paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel fired off rapid shifts when called upon. Even left in automatic mode, however, downshifts require only some throttle application.
Power remains robust – especially as the tachometer needle swings toward the upper reaches of the rev range.
One obvious benefit to the Corvette’s transmission tuning – and the slippery shape that isn’t diminished much by the softop configuration – is its remarkable fuel economy. Driving more aggressively than the California Highway Patrol would probably prefer, we managed to climb about 2,500 feet and then descend back down all the while achieving an indicated 32 mpg.
If we could dream up a sports car for today, it would be the Corvette Stingray convertible.
Leftlane’s bottom line
Take everything we love about the 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe. Chop the top off entirely. Bring sunblock and maybe grab a hat.
There you have it: The 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible. Easily the most fun – and remarkably frugal – way to go topless.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible base price, $56,000.
Photos by Andrew Ganz.