Photo credit: DALE JEWETT
The Corvette challenge: What would you change?
|Dale Jewett is technical editor for Shopautoweek.com, an affiliate of Automotive News|
Usually, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter is the guy answering the questions.
He answered most of mine recently as we hammered a 2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 convertible on the roads around the General Motors Proving Ground in southeast Michigan.
Of course, he skillfully dodged my attempts to bring out any details on the next-generation Corvette, known as the C7. That car makes its debut early next year.
But in the friendly banter after our drive, Juechter had a question for me: "What would you change for the next Corvette?"
Now, complaining about the Corvette runs a close second in popularity to raving about the Corvette -- particularly in media circles. Among the common digs: the styling is cartoonish; the interior materials look cheap; the car is too big and heavy; the seats are uncomfortable.
Sure, the C7 is too far down the development road to make any big changes. The assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky., is already being torn up to get ready for the new car.
But here was my chance. I had the full attention of the Corvette chief engineer to give him my wish list . . . and I didn't have a quick answer.
The truth is that years of continuous refinement have made the Corvette a powerful and comfortable sports car.
And not to cheese off fans of the ZR1, but the 427 convertible is the best of the C6 breed. It marries the 505-hp dry-sump V8, six-speed manual and suspension from the Z06 track car with the grand-touring chassis and interior from the Grand Sport convertible. The redesigned seats introduced last year on the Centennial Edition are here along with suedelike coverings for the steering wheel, shift lever, center console and door armrests.
Photo credit: DALE JEWETT
The 427 convertible and a 60th-anniversary trim package are the final acts for the Corvette's C6 generation. And Corvette fans know this is something special. Juechter says the order bank for the 2013 Corvette is bulging; the factory is pushing to build more cars, and close to half the orders are for the white 60th-anniversary model.
So, I had to think for a couple of minutes before answering Juechter's question. I've been fortunate over the years to drive several Corvettes—around town, on long trips and at the track.
All indications are that the C7 will build upon the stiff, low-weight platform introduced with the C5 Corvette in 1997. That's good.
A new base engine is expected. Rumors point to a new generation of GM's small-block V8, possibly turbocharged. The goal: Deliver at least as much power as the current base engine (430-hp, 6.2-liter V8) with better fuel economy. I asked Juechter to please make sure a clutch pedal is available.
Cutting weight also helps boost fuel economy and improve performance.
At about 3,200 pounds the base 2013 Corvette coupe isn't exactly heavy, but shedding a couple hundred pounds would put it on par with the new Porsche 911.
The 427 convertible, the Z06 and the ZR1 already use plenty of carbon fiber. GM has nearly a decade of experience creating ClassA finishes with the material. The Z06 and the ZR1 also use hydroformed aluminum side rails to cut weight.
My guess is that you'll see these materials on the base C7. This also helps explain the $131 million that GM is spending to retool the assembly plant.
So that leaves the interior.
I asked Juechter to please replace the archaic navigation/radio unit used in the current car. He gave me that look that says, "I know." It's not a good sign that Corvette owners pack the theater at the National Corvette Museum for an hour-long seminar on how to use the system. I realize that the Corvette is a low-volume program and has to piggy-back on components designed for high-volume models. GM has much better units in its arsenal now.
The redesigned seats are comfortable. I told Juechter that no one would complain if they get even better. And if he can narrow the center tunnel to create more hip room, that's a plus.
But that's all I could come up with on short notice. And even after a few days' of extra thinking time, I can't come up with much else.
What would you change? Tell me in the Comments section below.
One thing remains true -- the last model year of every generation delivers some of the best Corvettes built. The 2013 Corvette is no exception.