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'14 Vette surpasses '60 glory days.

Byline: Jason H. Harper

The Chevrolet Corvette has long been America's almost-great sports car.

In the 60 years since it first appeared, fans have eternally hoped that this time, this generation, the makers would get it right. It's our beloved underachiever.

And so comes the launch of the seventh generation, when the asterisks are smeared away and qualifiers become unnecessary. The brand-new C7 coupe is not only a great sports car; it's a great car -- full stop.

I, too, was holding my breath, expecting the Red Sox of the automotive world to choke again at the last moment, acquiescing to corporate penny pinchers and allowing substandard seats, ugly plastic and cheap knobs on the interior. As usual, potential buyers would look into the cockpit, shake their heads sadly and go buy a Porsche or BMW.

Pricing starts at $53,000 for the base and $63,800 for the top-line model with a sports performance package. With 455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque and many standard performance and interior amenities, the Corvette far undercuts its European competitors.

First off, the interior is nice. The seats are not only comfortable, but they keep you from slipping around while cornering. The previous generation's was like sitting on ice in a wind storm, sliding wildly from side to side. The leather no longer looks like it made a stop in the vinyl factory. The setup is crafted around the driver, creating an intimate, uncluttered cockpit that leaves you in control. You also get a heck of a view of the road, the result of an incredibly low hood and low dashboard.

So the Corvette's lousy interior is lousy no more. Let's move on to the thing I've always liked: The way it drives. The 'Vette is an ultra-competitive player on the racetrack and is far wieldier than many give it credit for. A tail-happy, high-horsepower beast, it's never had a light touch exactly, but you could do wonderful things with it.

The C7, available with a seven-speed manual or six-speed automatic, gambols down straights with mad abandon and performs smoky burnouts on command. Standard stuff. But I took it on an autocross -- a tight track on a parking lot bounded by safety cones -- and it showed a surprising delicacy. It was able to hopscotch through tight, tricky curves with total control.

Then I took off the traction control and performed four-wheel drifts around the same corners, handling it like a hooligan. In either driving style, the car is commanding. The $2,800 Z51 performance package is an absolute must. An optional exhaust system brings the horsepower to 460 and pound-feet of torque to 465. Even with all that oomph, it gets 29 miles per gallon on the open road. That's better than a Honda Odyssey.

The C7 looks radically different from any Corvette before it. The 1960s drop--dead gorgeous C2 was called the "Sting Ray,'' a moniker that has taken on legendary status. By the time Chevy abandoned the name in the 1970s, the aura of Corvette cool had already disappeared.

After the prototypes of the new car were driven, Chevy executives had a long discussion and decided that the new car was worthy -- and so the seventh generation car is officially the Corvette Stingray.
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Author:Harper, Jason H.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 15, 2013
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