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Pie in the sky: Playing hooky with a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

By Keith Buglewicz on February 18, 2014 12:19 PM
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I'm a Corvette fan, although not a Pollyannaish one. While I love the cars, I'm well aware of their many foibles. So with the prospect of a no-apologies great car finally rolling out of the Bowling Green, Kentucky production line, I've been itching to drive it and see for myself. After several missed connections, an Arctic White on Adrenaline Red C7 Stingray showed up here at KBB. It was even a convertible.

So I made a deal: I get the car to myself for the day, and I'll return with something as equally American as this sports car: apple pie.

Any exploration of the car's considerable performance capabilities were thwarted by L.A.'s Great Equalizer: traffic. Yet even here, there were obvious improvements. The suspension in Touring and Eco modes -- yes, even the Corvette is going green -- was compliant and comfortable over rough patches on the freeway. The exhaust was deep, but muted. Not only is its interior better than the low-hanging fruit of its predecessor, but it's so well put together that you could slap a Toyota badge on the steering wheel and have no doubters. 

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The next morning called for fog, but that prognostication proved false as the sun lit the sky bright orange and red. I started off, heater blasting, top down, with an impromptu decision to forgo the freeways for surface streets, at least for a while. I also left it in Eco mode, since I was just in traffic and not in any particular hurry. 

If there are nits to pick with the car, then let's get that short litany out of the way now. I had a bit of a hard time finding fifth and sixth gear when downshifting from seventh. The shifter would easily slide into fourth or third, and the automatic rev matching made doing so a snap. The other two required a much more deliberate hand, as if the channels for the gear lever were smaller for fifth and sixth. Oh, the knob for the climate control temperature setting didn't click smoothly as I turned it, but the identical one for the fan was fine, so maybe it was just broken in our test car. I had planned on topping off the 3/4-full tank, but the Corvette was ironically reluctant to accept more gas; blame backpressure prematurely triggering the pump's automatic shutoff.

That was about it. 

Cruising through the Beach cities of Long, Huntington, and Newport was uneventful, really. The car's 6.2-liter V8 puts out 460 hp and 460 lb ft of torque, plenty to squirt through traffic, I eventually came to terms with the shifter, and the audio system was plenty good. The Corvette's new design got tons of attention though. Other drivers were perfectly willing to ignore the rules of safe driving to give me a thumbs up, or holler "NICE CAR!". I appreciate it, but stay safe people. Chevy's going to build more for you to look at.

A lot more.

I eventually ran out of surface streets and hopped on Interstate 5 through Camp Pendleton. With the windows up and top down, the wind tickling the top of my head was easily tolerable. I was even able to conduct a phone conversation over the car's Bluetooth without shouting, which may be a first for a convertible. In Eco mode, the Corvette's suspension was on its softest setting, and easily soaked up the concrete expansion joints as Marines went through landing exercises overhead. I had been driving for about two hours by this point, and two important things were clear to me. First, this new Corvette was a smooth cruiser, a more capable GT than any Corvette before it. Second, I was really glad I had stopped for sunscreen earlier, because there was no way this top was going back up.

After a brief breakfast stop in Oceanside, I headed inland toward the mountains. I also put the car into its Tour mode, which deactivates the active fuel management, which allows the engine to operate in gas-saving 4-cylinder mode under light loads, and perks up the engine's response to the gas pedal. This mode selector is really the key to the Corvette's newfound civility and refinement. That whole, "With a twist of a knob..." cliché is really true here, with the Corvette Stingray transforming from a fuel sipping commuter (well, sipping's relative here) to a track star with just a couple clicks. The digital display transforms as well, providing more or less information depending on how relevant it is for the given mode. It's clever, and unlike a lot of similar systems, the results are immediately noticeable from behind the wheel.

Traffic thinned as the highway shed lanes, narrowing from three, to two, and eventually to one lane in each direction. As it wound through orange groves, past Indian casinos, and through increasingly narrow canyons, I could finally stretch the big Chevy's legs. The Tour mode still allowed the Stingray's suspension to absorb bumps, but the car felt more agile, the throttle more responsive, the exhaust volume a bit louder. At the moderately quick pace I was keeping, the Tour mode was ideal, the rev-matching transmission an excellent companion. 

Eventually, I got to the narrow two-lane that winds its way up to Mt. Palomar, and places beyond. The road heads straight up the mountain, doubling back on itself in a series of switchbacks which, I thought, would demand the Stingray's most aggressive Track mode. A couple clicks, and the exhaust suddenly boomed, the suspension tightened, and the rev-matching went into full-race mode. Honestly, it was too much for the road; the car skittered across the broken, denuded asphalt, and it became clear to me within just a couple of corners that Chevrolet isn't kidding about "Track" mode; save it for smooth racecourses. I switched it to "Sport," and again found the Corvette's sweet spot. The engine felt aggressive, but not touchy; the suspension was firm, but still compliant enough for the conditions. The car stopped fighting me, and I confidently -- and quickly -- made my way up the hill. 

A few miles in, and I hit the only intersection; I turned right and continued on my way, pausing long enough to take a few photos of the Corvette against the backdrop of the valley, the ocean, and points beyond. The wind tousled my hair, the exhaust boomed against the cliff walls, and while the Corvette easily mastered its terrain, it also made me feel like a hero. Chevrolet nailed the dynamics on this car. For example, you hear people talk about "steering feel" sometimes. It's a nebulous concept, one that's hard to explain in words, but this Corvette has the right steering feel in a way that no other car carrying the Corvette name ever has. It's darn near perfect.

Soon, the bends eased, the mountains retreated, and as I descended near Lake Henshaw, I amazingly began to smell brakes. "No way," I thought, picturing the platter-sized rotors and massive red calipers. Could such serious looking hardware not be up to the task of a brisk mountain road? Sure enough, the Corvette wasn't the culprit; I quickly reeled in an old pickup truck, whisps of smoke escaping from its front wheels, and felt silly for doubting this car's capabilities. Soon back to the larger road, and with a click back into Tour mode, I headed toward pie.

The Julian Apple Pie Company isn't actually in Julian, but an even smaller town called Santa Ysabel. It's a popular spot, nestled at the intersection of two very fun roads, its parking lot typically housing a handful of interesting cars and a couple dozen motorcycles. Today was no different, and their drivers and riders were inside, convincing themselves that a slice of apple pie qualifies to keep doctors away; by extension, a slice of rhubarb is basically a salad. Flimsy justifications aside, the pie really is excellent, and I grabbed two -- Traditional and Dutch apple -- and headed back to the car. 

As I settled in, I realized I was doing exactly what Chevrolet intends with this car. The sun was shining, the day clear, the car magnificent, and I had cobbled up the flimsiest of excuses to wear more than 200 miles off its tires. The varying road surfaces and types had allowed me to try out all of the Corvette's driving modes with the exception of the Weather mode, which babies the engine to keep this sports car from turning into an overpowered nuisance on slick roads. 

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I switched back and forth between Sport and Tour modes, gleefully shifting to hear the big V8 burble despite its obvious ability to motivate the Corvette in a much higher gear. My path eventually took me back to the highway, and north toward our offices in Irvine. 

I finally arrived back, with the pies, by mid-afternoon. Later -- behind the wheel of a Toyota Highlander, and with a belly full of Dutch apple -- I reflected on the day. I had discovered that the Corvette is still fast and fun. But what I most remember about my day long journey was the lack of hardship involved. Everything worked, nothing squeaked or rattled, the interior felt high quality, and the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray still smells pleasantly like a boat if you let it sit in the sun long enough. The top went up and down in a scant 16 seconds, even as I drove. I was able to work around the transmission's shift gate, and once I did it was eminently enjoyable. The automatic rev matching is more than a gimmick; it's a useful tool when driving briskly, albeit one that I'd probably turn off if I was actually at a track. It even got decent fuel economy, averaging 19.9 mpg according to the trip computer.

The track. Yes, that was the one aspect of the 2014 Chevy Corvette's personality I didn't get a chance to experience firsthand. It's the environment where the active rear differential really comes into play, guiding the car through high-speed turns, and making the driver feel even more heroic. I could use some heroics in my life.

Time to plan another trip.

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