First Drive: 2008 Chevrolet Corvette

click above image to view our first drive of the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette

Torque is good! More torque is better. For anyone who likes to drive, an engine with a stratospheric red-line is fun for a while, but a fat torque curve means acceleration is just a squeeze of the right pedal away. Compared to a Ferrari engine, GM's classic small block V-8 may seem crude and unsophisticated, but the latest variation is anything but. The basic architecture of the 2008 Corvette power-plant dates back to 1955, but aside from some of the basic dimensions, this is a whole new beast.

In the engine bay of the C6 Corvette, the new 6.2L LS3 V-8 now cranks out 430 HP @ 5,900 rpm and 424 lb-ft of twisting force @ 4,600 rpm. That's 25 hp more than the pricey and complex Lotus-designed LT5 in the old ZR-1, and the base price of this car starts at about $45K. At its 2008 model intro, GM offered up a base 'Vette with the six-speed manual gearbox to toss around. Find out what the latest version of America's oldest sports car is like after the jump, including a VIDEO.

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It's actually been over a decade since I sampled a Corvette, having skipped over the C5 generation. The last 'Vette I drove was a late C4 model and the transformation over that time period is simply amazing. While C4 'Vettes had tremendous performance relative to competing models of the time, refinement was not part of the equation. From a functional standpoint, the biggest flaw of the C4 was a severe lack of structural integrity. The chassis flexed so much that it did most of the work allowing the wheels to follow the contours of the road, not the suspension.

The intervening years have been good to GM's sports car. The latest C6 is substantially stiffer than any prior iteration, which allows the suspension to be more compliant so that the wheels can do their job with no assist from the chassis. The long and bumpy right hand sweeper on the GM Ride and Handling Loop that had the C4 skittering off toward the grass was no problem for this model. Besides the chassis stiffness, the Magne-Ride variable damping system also plays a part in the phenomenal handling of the Corvette.

The shift quality of the six speed transaxle wouldn't qualify as silky, but the lever could be moved rapidly through the gates allowing us to make use of the surprisingly quick revving LS3. When the time came to stop, the 'Vette decelerated as though an anchor had been driven into the ground beneath it.

The interior has also been greatly improved relative to older models with clear legible gauges and controls that fall readily to hand. The upgrade of materials found inside the cabin for 2008 was definitely noticeable, as well. Check out the leather covered dash complete with stitching where there once was a sea of plastics.

The 2008 Chevrolet Corvette now has better performance than any previous iteration in a form that is actually usable without punishing the driver. This is the base model, people! Hopefully we'll soon get a chance to see what it's like to live with on day to day basis.

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