DO YOU believe that America’s involvement in Iraq was righteous and justified? Do you have an attack dog? Do you believe everyone has a right to own as many automatic weapons as they damn well please and that Obama Barrack is basically a communist? Yes? So, of course, you drive a Chevrolet Corvette.
This is not a car. It’s a statement. And what it says is that you are a staunch conservative, from a family of decent God-fearing folk, who believes in short haircuts, US beer and the American way.
Nobody has ever listened to a George Michael CD while driving a ’Vette. Or Edward Elgar. And things that have never been said to anyone who has just stepped from such a car include, “Welcome, Your Grace”, “Thank you for sparing us some of your time, Your Holiness” and “Darling, the undertaker is here”.
All of this means that Democrats who do listen to George Michael would never drive a Corvette in a million years. And that’s always been fine. Because to drive, America’s only sports car — ha-ha-ha — was much like its typical owner’s other car: a pick-up truck. Bouncy, disconnected, unwieldy and crude.
Have you ever wondered why the Corvette has never been made with its steering wheel on the correct side of the car? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because Chevrolet’s sports car division reckons that the world outside of America is full of cannibals and communists, neither of whom would appreciate their pushrod engines and leaf-spring suspension. Amen. Praise the Lord.
However, there’s a problem. I first noticed it a couple of years ago while driving the previous-generation Corvette ZR1 from San Francisco to the Nevada desert. I know, of course, that American products often seem not so bad when they’re at home — I can even tolerate Budweiser in some states — but the car really didn’t seem to be so bad. Yes, it was a big, daft old Hector, but it looked as though Chevrolet was actually trying to make it more than 1½ tons of plastic, pig iron and straight-line grunt.
And now things have got worse because there’s an all-new Corvette. It’s called the Stingray and, ahem, I really don’t know how to say this but, um, it’s excellent.
This is not a car. It’s a statement
Yes, mothers still asked their children to come inside when I drove by, and cyclists sneered at me even more cruelly than usual. I felt the hatred from anyone whose IQ was greater than their hat size. And I wanted to lean out of the window and tell them all: “Look, I know you think this is crap, and that I only bought it to demonstrate my love for Garth Brooks, but, trust me, it’s tremendous.”
Corvettes have always been good-looking but this one is a masterpiece. Yes, it has four huge exhaust tailpipes and a bonnet that’s more sculpted than the Himalayas. So I’ll agree it’s childish, but what’s wrong with that? The Lamborghini Aventador is childish. The Ferrari 458 Italia is childish. The Jaguar F-type is childish. And the Stingray looks as good as any of them. Better, in fact, from some angles. It’s one of the most beautifully proportioned cars I’ve seen.
Under the skin it’s like a greatest-hits album. Because what Chevrolet has done is to take all of what’s good from the best of Europe and Japan and put it in its car. It has the same sort of unpronounceable suspension and electronic differential that you get in Ferraris, the same sort of throttle-blipping technology that you get in a Nissan 370Z, the same sort of head-up display that you get in a BMW M5 and a system that shuts down half of the cylinders when they’re not needed. The same as you get in a Bentley.
But, that said, it has some things you won’t find in any European car. The touchscreen display, for instance, will slide down at the press of a button to reveal a hidden cubbyhole that is easily big enough for a Bible and a small pistol.
Naturally, behind the hi-tech exterior some things remain resolutely backward. The gearbox is mounted at the back for better weight distribution, but it comes with the traditional Corvette weak synchro crunchiness when you’re going into second or third. You also get a pushrod engine with just two valves per cylinder, because four is communist. And the body is still fibreglass because carbon fibre is a pinko plot. So, yes, it’s a Silicon Valley software geek, but it still knows how to kill a deer.
And the signature track? Well, that would be the straight-line wallop, which is fearsome even by the most demanding European standards. Get the launch just right and that mighty 6.2-litre V8 will get you past 62mph in 4.2 seconds. The top speed, according to the speedo on my car, is 330mph. I think that may be a bit optimistic — 180mph is nearer the mark.
Of course, many American cars over the years have been capable of impressive straight-line performance, but the Corvette can do something else as well. It can go round corners. Both kinds — left and right.
I’m going to make no bones about this. I drove the Stingray to, and then round, the Top Gear test track the other day, and while I admit that a clear blue sky can make any drophead seem acceptable, I absolutely loved it.
The issues were tiny. Over speed humps — which are communist — the nose graunches even if you are going slowly. And no matter what setting you select, the ride is always on the wrong side of firm. But then I guess that being a bit uncomfortable puts you closer to Jesus. Also, the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car.
£64,540 for a 180mph convertible that looks this good and drives this well is still the bargain of the century.
But I didn’t mind because I was having too much fun. With all eight cylinders engaged, the bellow when you accelerate is intoxicating, and this is a car that behaves like a Mercedes SLS. It’s happy only when there’s 40 degrees of opposite lock up front, a grinning driver in the middle and enough smoke pouring off the rear tyres to hide a battleship.
In America the cost of a basic Stingray convertible is about £34,000. And yet somehow General Motors has decided the price here in Britain should be £64,540.
I don’t doubt that makes you very cross, because it smacks of blatant profiteering. But look at it this way. A similarly quick Ferrari will cost more than twice as much, so £64,540 for a 180mph convertible that looks this good and drives this well is still the bargain of the century. I mean, a Jaguar F-type V8 is almost £16,000 more, for heaven’s sake. And I’m sorry but it’s not as good.
There is just one thing, though. If you drive a Jaguar, you are welcome to drop round at my house any time for tea and buns. If you drive a Corvette Stingray, you are not.
Clarkson's verdict ★★★★☆
Yup, Americans can make sports cars
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray convertible specifications
Engine: 6162cc, V8
Power/Torque: 460bhp / 464 lb ft
Transmission: 7-speed manual
Performance: 0-62mph: 4.2sec
Top speed: 180mph
Road tax band: M
Release date: On sale now