Because, of course, when piloting a brand-new Chevy Corvette Convertible for the very first time, there is absolutely no reason the top should be up. It's cold outside? Fine, blast some heat. It's raining? No problem; once you're moving at speed, the showering blast from above will be obliterated by the car's own jetstream. Snowing? For heaven's sake, either put on some appropriately wide winter tires or park the 'Vette in the garage and take the Cruze, you big baby.
And so it was that I layered on a second hoodie, slipped on my sunglasses and plopped myself inside the new-for-2014 Corvette Convertible. First thing's first; the top must go down. Just 20 seconds later, I was ready to continue, the sound of 6.2 liters of American V8 muscle filling the open-topped cabin, a sinewy stretch of roadway near Palm Springs, California, spread out ahead.
As I drove off through the boring stretch of city toward the mountains that were my destination, I couldn't help but notice how many people stop and stare at a bright blue Corvette Convertible. If you're an introvert, this is not the supercar for you.
The angularity of its sharply creased lines are not spoiled by the removal of its top.
Much has been said about how the new Corvette looks, and to all of that I'll add that the angularity of its sharply creased lines are not spoiled by the removal of its top. There's an overall exaggerated wedge shape that starts low ahead of the front wheels and slowly rises to the car's fat and flat rear haunches. The bodysides are much more defined than the previous generation, highlighted by the slash-like front fender vents that match the heat extractors atop the hood.
Other details worth pointing out are the headlights and their LED-lit clusters, the taillights' deep internal recesses, the four shotgun-shaped exhaust tips peaking out the rear valence and the highly stylized Corvette insignia that was redesigned for this seventh-generation sports car.
As with previous Corvette designs since the third-generation model appeared in 1968, there are massive peaked fenders that do somewhat obstruct the driver's view out of the windshield while looking quite aggressive. There are bits that look like mini headrests behind the actual headrests of the seats, which helps to visually break up the flat surface of the piece that covers over the convertible top in its stowed position.
Whether or not the convertible is actually better- or worse-looking than its hardtop counterpart is a matter of preference, of course, but my personal eyes prefer the hardtop in appearance. I prefer the convertible, however, from behind the wheel.
Chevy is happy to report it required absolutely zero additional stiffening in its transformation from hardtop to droptop.
Perhaps it's the rush of wind that makes a convertible so enticing, or the burbling and wailing exhaust note making its way unencumbered to your eardrums. Perhaps it's a little bit of both, the combined senses serving to make everything seem just a bit faster, more reckless. Perhaps it doesn't matter. All I know is that driving a good convertible on a perfectly crisp day with the top down is one of life's most rewarding motoring moments, and that's especially true when the car on which it is based is as good as the 2014 Corvette Stingray. And make no mistake, the latest Corvette is exquisite.
The inherent goodness of the Corvette Stingray starts with its aluminum-intensive chassis structure, which is 57-percent stiffer than the previous generation and 99 pounds lighter, and which Chevy is happy to report it required absolutely zero additional stiffening in its transformation from hardtop to droptop. In fact, Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Jeuchter tells us that the 2014 Stingray Convertible is stiffer than the McLaren MP4-12C Spider, at least when measured on Chevy's equipment.
The actual act of dropping the top is extremely simple. There are no manual latches to be found, with only one button needing to be pressed and held for the duration of the electronic dance. And, as was alluded to before, the top can be operated at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour – Chevy engineers explained that it could be operated at much higher speeds, but they had to take wind speed into account, as well. Once stowed, the top is completely invisible under a one-piece cover that I personally witnessed close without properly sealing in one instance out of a few dozen.
With the top firmly and electronically latched in place, enclosing the cabin, wind noise is relatively well managed, and I didn't see any hints of moisture making its way through the seals in the lone rain storm I suffered through. Visibility is somewhat compromised over each shoulder, naturally, but it's not exactly claustrophobic inside.
In one unfortunate omission, however, the steering wheel cannot be heated.
Even when enclosed, the 2014 Stingray is a pretty nice place to be. Seats are comfortable, supportive, and importantly for a nice convertible, can be optionally heated or cooled. In one unfortunate omission, however, the steering wheel cannot be heated, regardless of how many option packages you check. Bolstering from the standard thrones is pretty good, but stepping up a notch to the $2,500 Competition Sport Bucket Seats isn't a bad idea if you plan to drive aggressively or at a race track on a regular basis.
The digital gauge cluster in front of the driver is clear, and the amount of information it can offer the driver on its eight reconfigurable inches of LCD area beats that of any traditional gauge cluster I've seen. A head-up display on 3LT models puts the most pertinent information directly in front of the driver where it's easiest to see. Navigation is optional, though thankfully the eight-inch screen equipped with Chevy's MyLink technology suite is standard, as is a helpful little storage cubby behind that screen.
The C6 Corvette, when it was first introduced in 2005, had an interior that was much improved over the C5, which in turn was a nicer place to be than the C4 that preceded it. I'm happy to see that the steadily improving interior accommodations have continued with the C7. That said, I happen to think that people will indeed be clamoring for a nicer interior when the C8 hits the scene, whenever that happens to be, because while it's a significant improvement over its predecessor, the latest Stingray is still several steps behind the luxed-up confines of cars like the Audi R8 and Porsche 911. Granted, those steeds are more expensive than the Corvette by a large margin, but they are indeed the types of cars with which the 'Vette must be compared. It's possible to raise the standards inside the 2014 Stingray with options – most notably the 3LT package (as seen in our images above and below) and its $8,000-plus premium – but even in this best-case scenario, you won't exactly be ensconced in the very finest of luxury trimmings.
Thing is, the Corvette has long been known for performance first, with beauty and comfort trailing, struggling to keep up like a little kid who doesn't want to be left behind when his big brother goes out to play with friends. Beauty and comfort aren't falling so far back anymore, but this performance-first attitude has never been more pronounced than in 2014.
First off, you really should be checking the $2,800 Z51 box on the order sheet. For that easy-to-digest sum, Chevy loads the 'Vette up with an amazing amount of kit that includes an electronically locking differential, 13.6-inch slotted front brake rotors (one inch larger than stock), a stiffened and retuned suspension and 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels shod in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP summer tires, not to mention the dry-sump engine lubrication, coolers for the transmission and differential and revised gear ratios. In other words, the Z51 is a bargain and a package you want.
The Z51 is a bargain and a package you want.
GM's 6.2-liter LT1 V8 engine pounds out 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque when equipped with the dual-mode performance exhaust (which, at $1,195, you also want) or 455 hp and 460 lb-ft in standard trim. Power goes to the rear wheels through the buyer's choice of a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters or, if the buyer is smart, a seven-speed manual gearbox equipped with an excellent rev-matching feature that automatically blips the throttle when downshifting. It's an excellent gearbox, with short throws, positive action and a clutch that's easy to modulate while being stiff enough to remind you how many horses you're corralling underfoot.
Using the handy-dandy Launch Control feature – scroll the drive mode dial through Weather, Eco, Tour and Sport to put the Corvette into Track mode, then hit the controller's button until a light on the dash confirms Launch Control – the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible with Z51 Package will fling itself from 0-60 in just 3.8 seconds. Those figures are an exact match for the Coupe, except that removing the roof adds an extra stage of drama and lets much more of the engine's beastly soundtrack filter in. Keep it planted and you won't stop accelerating until the needle hits 190, but not after seeing a quarter-mile whiz by in 12 seconds flat.
Removing the roof adds an extra stage of drama and lets much more of the engine's beastly soundtrack filter in.
With the beautiful beast of an engine sitting up front, you might expect somewhat sloppy handling, but the reality is that the Corvette, with its transaxle sitting all the way at the back of the car, has perfect 50/50 weight distribution and holds its grip on the tarmac to the tune of 1.03 lateral Gs. More impressive, though, is the confidence at which the Stingray delivers such performance. There's simply no understeer to speak of, and the car's mid-corner attitude is so easily controllable with the throttle that the Corvette would make an excellent car in which to learn to drive fast.
Considering the extreme grip that the Stingray Convertible is capable of, the ride is downright comfortable. If your backside is particularly sensitive, or if you want the absolute best suspension setup available, consider the optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control and Performance Traction Management system a wise investment at $1,975.
Steering feel is excellent, as is braking performance, particularly with the Z51's ventilated rotors. I did miss a few shifts when I wasn't paying rapt attention, usually from second to third, and the oft-derided skip shift feature that forces you from first to fourth is still included in a nod to emissions and economy. Chevy's Jeuchter says the alternative would be Stop/Start, and he doesn't think Corvette owners are ready for that leap quite yet. I'd rather have the Stop/Start, since that at least would be defeatable with a button...
That sum, in base trim, is a tidy $5,000 increase over the Corvette Stingray Coupe.
You've read about a lot of performance and a lot of options by now, but here's the quick takeaway: With its base price of $56,000 in Convertible form, or $58,800 in Z51 1LT trim, no car offers more performance for less money than the 2014 Corvette Stingray. While a fully optioned model can easily crest $70,000, keen use of the options sheet can result in a Stingray Convertible with the Z51 Package, the seven-speed gearbox, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, dual-mode Performance exhaust, Competition Sport Bucket seats and navigation for $66,075 out the door in your choice of color.
For those keeping track, that sum, in base trim, is a tidy $5,000 increase over the Corvette Stingray Coupe. That's a pretty sweet deal if you've got the means to afford it... and, of course, an extra 20 seconds or so to spare before most every trip out of the garage. And don't worry about all those gawkers – they're just jealous.