2002 Chevrolet Corvette Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The best Vette yet.
The Chevrolet Corvette is one of the best performance cars on the market today, and it's also a real value. We realize value may not be the first word that springs to mind when looking at a $50,000 sticker. But this fifth-generation Corvette, called the C5, delivers a combination of acceleration and handling performance matched only by the Dodge Viper, Porsche 911 Carrera and various exotics, all of which are far more expensive.
There's really nothing quite like the Corvette. Sports cars in the C5 price range, such as the Mercedes-Benz SLK, BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster, offer an entirely different driving experience and performance characteristics.
Corvette is available in coupe, convertible and hardtop body styles. Coupe ($40,805) and Convertible ($47,330) use the 350-horsepower 5.7-liter V8; it meets California's Low Emissions Vehicle standards. The engine in the Z06 Hardtop ($49,505) displaces the same 5.7 liters, but produces an amazing 405 horsepower, a significant 20-horsepower boost over the 2001 model. Torque also is up, by 15, to 400 foot-pounds.
Other changes for the 2002 model year include revised rear shock valving, new high-performance front brake pads, cast aluminum wheels and standard head-up display (HUD) for the Z06. Z06s and Coupes and Convertibles with the optional Z51 suspension package also get aluminum front stabilizer bar links. All Corvettes with automatic transmissions get a new aluminum tranny cooler case. The Coupe and Convertible get a new AM/FM stereo with an in-dash CD player and an available 12-disc changer.
Navy Blue and Dark Bowling green Metallic paint no longer are available, but there's a new color called Electron Blue.
The C5 Coupe features a body-colored removable roof panel as standard equipment; it comes in translucent plastic as an option. But the Z06's top is fixed, a design chosen by engineers because that structure is stiffer. The Coupe's rear window opens like a hatchback, while the Z06 and the convertible have actual trunks.
In addition to awesomely powerful V8 engines, standard equipment for the Coupe and Convertible includes air conditioning, antilock brakes with four-wheel discs, a driver information center, remote keyless entry, stainless steel exhaust with chromed quad outlets, retractable headlights, Bose speakers, 6-way power seats, extended-mobility (run flat) Z-rated tires, traction control with active handling, cast alloy wheels and an automatic transmission.
The Z06 comes with dual-zone climate controls, titanium exhaust, a tire inflator kit for its Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, forged alloy wheels, a 6-speed manual transmission and leather seating surfaces.
The fifth-generation Corvette, or C5, made its debut in 1997; it was the first complete Corvette redesign since 1984.
While the basic concept is the same as it was in 1953 -- a two-seat plastic-bodied all-American sports car -- the C5 shares almost nothing with previous-generation Corvettes. The wheelbase is longer, the track is wider, structural rigidity is far higher, and there are far fewer pieces in the whole assembly, which improves rigidity and quality. It offers vastly improved ride quality -- and performance -- over the fourth-generation Corvette.
With its thick hindquarters and Acura NSX-like front fenders, the styling of the C5 Corvette has been controversial. The rear end is reminiscent of the IMSA GTP Corvettes of the late '80s, and the flowing front fenders are handsome when viewed either from outside or behind the wheel. The convertible version looks graceful when the top is down.
The Z06 is more than a hopped-up model; it's a vastly different animal. It was intended as a street racer with track capabilities, Chevrolet's one-up response to Ford's Mustang Cobra R. The designation Z06 has a rich history, dating back to the original and legendary 1963 split-window Sting Ray, where Z06 was a racing package-the Z0 comes from Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette's famed first chief engineer. It was revived for this more-than-worthy successor, only now it's a separate unit, not an options package.
Z06 hardtop and C5 Coupe present different profiles. The Z06 hardtop roofline is actually more coupe-like than the Coupe, whose hatchback glass slopes more steeply. Other visible differences between the C5 Coupe and Z06 are subtle, starting with tidy Z06 emblems on each side of the car. The Z06 has modest mesh air intakes in the nose and wedge-shaped meshed cooling inlets for the rear brakes, located on the rocker panels just aft the doors. It also has open five-spoke aluminum wheels affording a view of big red brake calipers, and four 3.5-inch exhaust tips under the center of the rear bumper. The 17-inch front wheels are 9.5 inches wide, while the 18-inch rears are 10.5 inches wide. They carry massive and exclusive Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber, P265/40ZR front, P295/35ZR rear. There is no spare, nor are the tires run-flat; instead, you get an emergency tire-inflator kit. Try not to run over any nails.
For 2002, the Z06 is 128 pounds lighter than the C5 Coupe, although its creature comforts, such as leather, air conditioning, carpeting, sound system, traction control and stability control are untouched. Using thinner glass, a titanium exhaust system and less insulation saves the weight. Don't bother arguing that insulation is a creature comfort; with a car like this, noise and spiritual comfort level are intertwined.
The LS6 treatment of the trusty GM 5.7-liter overhead valve engine (LS1 in the C5) is a ground-up renovation, yielding 405 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 400 foot-pounds of torque at 4800. And it has those big, bright red valve covers! The aluminum block is specially designed to improve lubrication and reduce back pressure, while the heads feature refined porting and reshaped combustion chambers, fed fuel by larger fuel injectors through a massaged composite intake manifold. The pistons are cast from stronger alloy, and their special shape helps increase the compression ratio from 10:1 to 10.5:1.
To make the engine more powerful for 2002, engineers developed hollow stem valves, a higher-lift camshaft, a low restriction mass airflow sensor and new low restrictor air cleaner design. They also made changes to the exhaust system to improve flow and reduce weight without compromising the car's LEW (low emission vehicle) status.
The Z06 uses the same double-wishbone suspension front and rear, but for 2002 it has a larger front stabilizer bar, stiffer rear leaf spring and new camber settings, all calibrated for maximum control in high-speed operation. New rear shock valving provides a more controlled ride. Th.
Corvettes come with comfortable cabins, something that wasn't always true with previous-generation models. Low doorsills and narrow side rails make getting in and out easier than before and there's more room for driver and passenger. There's also a real trunk; arriving at the airport after a trip halfway around the world, we were able to cram two huge duffel bags into a coupe. The other major improvement is the elimination of the rattles and stress squeaks that have haunted Corvettes for so long. Its handsome analog gauges are easier to use and more satisfying than digital displays.
Convertibles come with a top that stows neatly under a flap that folds flat at the forward edge of the trunk lid. You'll need to read the owner's manual to figure out how to use it, however. The top is made of high-quality material with a glass rear window. The top seals well -- there were no leaks in our car wash test or our high-speed wind test.
The coupe isn't exactly quiet and there is more interior noise in the convertible than the coupe, and even more in the Z06, as we mentioned. However, this is a sports car, and noise -- particularly the calculated growl of that terrific new V8 -- is part of the deal.
The 2002 Corvette's LS1 V8 engine is potent. It produces 350 horsepower and 375 pound-feet of torque (with the six-speed, 360 pound-feet with the automatic).
Automatic or stick, the Corvette is fast traffic. It's quick at the starting gate, beautifully balanced, surprisingly comfortable, and built to a far higher standard than any Corvette in history. While we prefer the 6-speed, we have to admit that the automatic rams its shifts home with authority, and there's enough muscle in the LS1 V8 to cover the small performance penalties associated with auto-shifters.
Unlike most ragtops, the Corvette convertible weighs the same as the coupe, which means its acceleration performance is undiluted: 0-to-60 mph in less than 5 seconds with the 6-speed manual transmission, about 0.4 seconds slower with the automatic. The only performance penalty that goes with the convertible version is top speed. The ragtop doesn't share the coupe's aerodynamic efficiency, so it tops out at a mere 162 mph versus 175 mph for the coupe. Of course, when the top is down there's more drag and a correspondingly lower top speed. Still, that's speed that'll get you to the drive-in in a pretty big hurry -- and the local slammer even faster.
From a handling and acceleration standpoint, it's tough to perceive any performance distinctions between coupe and convertible. Corvette's chief engineer said the structural design for the new Vette began with the convertible, and as a consequence no shoring-up measures were required for the soft-top chassis. You hear the same song from almost every purveyor of convertibles, but in this application it seems to be true. If there is any distinction to be made between the agility and stability of the Corvette coupe and the new convertible, it would be all but impossible to discern on public roads.
Significantly, we haven't seen a hint of cowl shake, the time-honored malady of convertibles wherein the dashboard and exterior oscillate at differing rates. Ride quality is decidedly stiff. You don't get a sports car's ability to change directions without snubbing body roll and limiting up and down suspension motions, and when you do those things you're obliged to accept some tradeoff in comfort. Potholes are easily identifiable in the Corvette. Yet they are not uncomfortably harsh. We hear them and feel them, but they aren't jarring and don't unduly upset the handling balance.
Even with the basic suspension package, responses are surgically precise, if you can imagine a surgical instrument with 350 horsepower and great gobs of torque. The Corvette offers sharp reflexes while driving down rural roads. It provides a superb blend of muscle and finesse, with a much higher tolerance for mistakes of the enthusiastic variety, complemented by brakes that are nothing short of race worthy.
Chevrolet's second-generation Active Handling is standard equipment; it's a magical system that gets you out of slides before trouble strikes, by applying braking to the individual corners as needed. It utilizes on-board sensors to measure yaw, lateral acceleration and steering wheel position, then brings into play the capabilities of Corvette's standard ABS brake and traction control systems to smoothly assist the driver in maintaining vehicle control in oversteer or understeer situations. Some such systems have been getting criticism lately, for their hair-trigger qualities, their eagerness to aggressively assist before the driver wants or often needs such assistance. Corvette engineers say that this system has been carefully calibrated to limit such intrusiveness. Aside from an 'Active Handling' message on the instrument panel, drivers might not even realize they've been assisted.
Much to our relief, and even surprise, we found this to be true on the racetrack. We spent two days in the Z06 at the Rupert Bragg-Smith Advanced Driving School, which is Chevrolet's official school for high-performance driving. It's located at a wonderful 2.
A number of great sports cars are in this price range, but the Corvette does not really have any direct competitors. Similarly priced BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster and Mercedes-Benz SLK models operate at a more modest pace. When it comes to pavement-ripping prowess per dollar, nothing can match the Corvette's power and grip.
Dodge Viper rivals and surpasses the Corvette's dynamic capabilities, but it is a more highly focused car and costs considerably more. When it comes to civilization and comfort, the Corvette wins hands down. To get a similar blend of comfort and true sports car performance, you'll find yourself in a Porsche store looking at 911s, but the 911 can't compete with the Corvette's price.
The Corvette is no longer this country's only sports car. And it has evolved well beyond what we would call affordable. But coupe, convertible or hardtop, there doesn't seem to be much question that the latest generation of this all-American is a world-class GT.
Coupe ($41,210); Convertible ($47,735); Z06 Hardtop ($49,910).
Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Options As Tested
Z06 Hardtop ($49,910).
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