The seventh generation Corvette proved a revelation when it was launched, but can the new convertible Stingray continue the trend? We head to Liwa to find out
|Engine||Power||Torque||0-100kph||Top speed||Weight||Base price|
|V8, supercharged, 6162cc||455bhp @ 6,000rpm||624Nm (460lb ft) @ 4,600rpm||3.8 secs||305kph (claimed)||1,529kg (298bhp/ton)||$62,995|
As ways to wrap up a photoshoot go, this is an odd one. True, across seven years of crankandpiston.com, we’ve had our fair share of run ins with jobsworth security guards and the occasional police cruiser with a speed gun. But being flagged down by a UH 60M-Blackhawk military helicopter is new.
Perhaps a little context. It’s 8am, and we’ve just set off for a shoot in the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray convertible. Having already driven GM’s banner sports bruiser in both the US and on home turf, we’ve been immensely impressed with the C7’s performance. Initial fears that the ‘Stingray’ badge was just a cheap marketing ploy to push sales proved ungrounded: unlike its illustrious but poor handling predecessors, the new seventh generation Corvette was powerful and looked the cat’s frightened whiskers, but was also surprisingly handy through the turns. Far from being ‘just another’ powerful American sports car, the Corvette offered a visceral driving experience closer to the Porsche benchmark than ever before. The automotive world took note.
As did we when the new convertible Stingray landed in the Middle East. Convertibles by their very nature (with possibly McLaren’s 650S and 12C as notable exceptions) rarely match their hardtop alter-egos in terms of performance, the added weight of a fold-top roof and modifications to the chassis making the cabriolet – no matter how performance-hewn – softer by comparison. For mainstream models, rarely put to tyre-squealing use and not overly affected by a loss of structural rigidity, it opens doors to a whole new audience. For sports car enthusiasts, it’s a red flag.
To find out which group the new convertible Stingray belongs in, a driving road was required. But not just any road. The road we had in mind required 350km of constant highway driving, a near eight-hour round trip, and – at the end of all that – nearly 10km of the finest winding asphalt the region had to offer, in Tal Mireb just south of Liwa in Abu Dhabi. Across one epic day, we would discover whether the convertible C7 Stingray was still a bone fide sports car or a missed opportunity.
And, as it turns out, just how close our photoshoot was to a military base.
“Being flagged down by a UH 60M-Blackhawk military helicopter is new way to stop a photoshoot.”
Just under one hour into our voyage, we pull over to brim the tank and chow down at possibly the world’s most expensive picnic table: the lack of a sloping roofline means the rear end of the convertible is almost completely flat. Corvette purists amongst you can rejoice though since little has changed in the design. Though I’m more partial to the oddly named ‘Torch Red’ paint finish, our Really Very Yellow test model still looks the part, the louvred bonnet – complete with ‘functional hood air extractor’ – teasingly hinting at the 455bhp 6.2-litre V8 lying beneath it. The angry, angled headlights remain at the front, the dual style taillights and taillip spoiler stay put at the rear, while the Stingray emblem and air intakes are front and centre on the front wheel arches.
The big difference maker is the new fabric top, which unlike the targa-esque roof panel found on the Stingray can be opened and closed fully, and at up to 50kph albeit at a slightly lethargic 21 seconds. That the black roof matches the 19-inch alloy wheels is a neat addition too, as is the option to lower the roof remotely via the key fob that we demonstrate to several enthusiasts who’ve come over for a closer look. Certainly the new convertible hasn’t lost that Stingray head-turning appeal.
With food and caffeinated beverages demolished – and memories of crankandpiston colleague AJ’s almost surgical precision when buttering his pancakes now with me for life – the fury of GM’s V8 and 460lb ft of gutsy torque mean we’re back up to highway cruising speeds quickly, the three hours that lie ahead giving me ample time to mull over my surroundings. And once again, there’s little change between the hardtop and the convertible. The seats are stiff and supportive but not uncomfortable: I manage to survive the entire day without nerve endings spasming uncontrollably. The minimalist number of buttons and rotary dials makes the infotainment system easy to navigate, and even though the convertible comes equipped with SatNav, I prefer to let our camera car on point take on navigation duties. There is though a distinct lack of headroom, which I remember being more cavernous in the hardtop, and there are a few too many plastic-ky panels in the ‘fighter jet-style cabin than ideal.
My prime irritation however comes from my fellow motorists, and in an effort not to get too wound up by the tailgating bell-ends that seem to be ten to the dozen on the roads today, I amuse myself by going through the driver information screen, my inner eight-year old immediately making a beeline for the G-Force reader. I make a mental note to see if I can break 1 lateral G later in the day.
“Certainly the new convertible hasn’t lost that Stingray head-turning appeal.”
Through Dubai and into Abu Dhabi heading for Liwa City, almost 97 per cent of the roads our convoy travels along are tragically straight: I muse, with cruise control set and no real steering input required, whether I can get away with a nap for an hour or two. The more uneven road surface answers this question for me, however. So far to get the full timbre of that thundering V8 soundtrack on the highway I’ve been cruising in Sport driving mode, but the crumbling condition of the tarmac means I’m soon abandoning this setting for Tour, the softer suspension configuration I’m hoping will preserve at least a few of my vertebrae before they turn to dust. I’m even tempted (in a Corvette of all things) to shift into Eco and preserve my already impressive fuel economy. At cruising speeds in Eco, butterfly valves close and the V8 effectively runs on four cylinders until aggressive acceleration is called for.
Rattling our way through a perilously narrow roadwork setup, we – mercifully – begin to leave Liwa City and its monotonous road network behind. Life’s too short to describe the ‘drama’ of that run in great detail, but the effectiveness of the convertible’s brakes do come into play at one rather nerve-jangling moment: so engrossed is an SUV driver in the Stingray – and the selfie he feels compelled to take with it from his driver’s seat at 120kph – that he fails to notice his lane feeding into mine until the last moment. Cue a torrent of expletives from the open top Corvette and a thumbs up from Mr SUV, happy with his photo and seemingly none the wiser to our near-collision.
It’s reasonable to wonder why we’re putting ourselves through this. Indeed, we begin to wonder ourselves until the urban-affected beige sands start to morph into a stunning shade of golden yellow as we begin winding our way back into the desert at Tal Mireb. Dual carriageway becomes single lane, traffic starts to thin, and the road begins undulating heavily with the topography of the area. As we crest a vast hillock, the road disappears sharply into the valley below. Off in the distance, the dunes continue for what seems like an eternity, and in-between lies kilometre after kilometre of sinuous tarmac with scarcely an oncoming car or speed camera to spoil the run. After hours of straight-line highway driving, it’s time to let the 455bhp convertible Corvette off the leash.
First points go to the steering as the Corvette snakes its way into the dunes. Many have marvelled at the connection between driver and front wheels in the C7 compared with its predecessors, and the convertible is no different. Now back in Sport mode, the steering is much weightier than in Tour or Eco and offers much greater precision through the opening stretch of long sweeping corners, allowing me to lean on the front end without overwhelming it. The view from the driver’s seat is a curious one, mind: like the hardtop model, the undulations of the bonnet and the small windscreen means forward visibility isn’t great. I’m concentrating so much on this in fact that the first dip in the road catches me off-guard. My my, this is getting interesting…
“Off in the distance, the dunes continue for what seems like an eternity, and in-between lies kilometre after kilometre of sinuous tarmac with scarcely an oncoming car or speed camera to spoil the run.”
Firing through the seven-speed gearbox via the wheel-mounted (plastic) paddles, the Corvette is up to pace quickly, the low down grunt from the V8 meaning there’s barely any lag through the ever-widening corners. Even the rear wheels stay put, my fears that this rear-wheel drive 455bhp sports car would sail arse-wards into the nearest and deepest sand dune on this unpredictable stretch of tarmac fortunately not coming to pass. Already that beautifully configured C7 chassis ensures there’s oodles of balance through even the longest and fastest of turns, but it’s as the Tal Mireb run begins to wind closer and tighter to the dunes that the convertible really begins to show its class. We’re not quite at Porsche 911 standards of precision (the Corvette still feels a little too big for such a comparison, and does bottom out on some of the steeper drops in the road) but the stiffened suspension allows me to attack the road ahead without fear of understeer undoing all the engine’s hardwork.
Through the Head-Up display I’m reminded of the G-Force reader, the opening salvo of 0.3 and 0.4g rising the more confident/yobbish I get as the corners roll past: downshifting into second for some of the tighter turns, holding the gear and feeding the power back in again, and I manage to grab a 0.8g. Those hours of highway driving really were worth it.
Those heavy duty brakes allow me to keep the rear settled even when the anchors are thrown out hard: there is the occasional wobble when a blind left hander proves slightly sharper than it looks from my vantage point, but a couple of downshifts help keep the momentum pegged. Indeed, swift changes through the seven-speed automatic box help punch the Corvette back out of the turns without upsetting the balance, a tangible rock in the cabin as the next cog is slotted matching the angry nature of that V8. For this run the fabric roof has been stowed, and as the needle bounces off the tachometer, that awesome soundtrack fills the cabin again.
More skilled hands than mine might tell you that the convertible Corvette does not handle the corners as solidly as its hardtop counterpart, and while that may be so, on this road it’s difficult to swing the gavel and definitively state that. The energy of that 455bhp V8 is still mightily dramatic, balance through the corners more than a ‘Corvette’ should reasonably be capable of, and while the precision may not be quite up there with the Porsche 911, as a convertible the Stingray takes the aggression of its hard-top alter-ego and throws in a visceral soundtrack that should tempt you to ditch the top altogether. It’s already encouraged me to spin the Corvette around and line up for another thrash through the Tal Mireb dunes.
“My fears that the Corvette would sail arse-wards into the nearest sand dune fortunately don’t come to pass.”
What we’re unaware of at this moment is that our blast through the dunes – coupled with amorous soundtrack – has grabbed the attention of the nearby military base: light traffic on this road is nothing new, but Really Very Yellow sports cars with a volcanic V8 roar is less common. It’s with some considerable shock then that – as the Corvette ascends a dune – a Blackhawk appears on the horizon, heading straight towards me. The C&P crew in the camera car are similarly perplexed, and try in vain to grab some shots of our new extra.
The Blackhawk’s second run however is considerably closer, the rotors dipping as the helicopter manoeuvres its way around the dunes at what can only be a 50ft altitude. This, coupled with the frenetic arm gestures of the pilot, we translate to mean “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” We weigh the possibility of our Corvette outgunning a Blackhawk, and conclude that such a scenario would leave us royally stuffed. Instead, V8 thrashing swiftly turns into a V4 third gear cruise through the dunes, our unexpected audience eventually disappearing entirely. Leaving us to ponder the long drive back home.
*My thanks to Arun M. Nair and Awesome Group for the images
Engine: V8, supercharged, 6162cc
Power: 455bhp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 624Nm (460lb ft) @ 4,600rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Front suspension: Double wishbone, cast aluminum upper and lower control arms, transverse-mounted composite spring, monotube shock absorber
Rear suspension: Double wishbone, cast aluminum upper and lower control arms, transverse-mounted composite spring, monotube shock absorber
Brakes: Power-assisted discs with four-piston fixed front and rear calipers, 320mm (front), 338mm (rear)
Wheels: 18 x 8.5in (front), 19 x 10in (rear)
Tyres: P245/40R18 (front), P285/35R19 (rear), Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat
0-100kph: 3.8 secs
Top speed: 305kph (claimed)
Base price: $62,995