Driven: 2013 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible

By Seyth Miersma

July 06, 2012

—Ann Arbor, Michigan
Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. And Corvettes. Don’t forget about the Corvettes.
It may be that our former EIC and spirit guide David E. Davis Jr. was shooting for the broader picture when he helped to create the legendary Chevy ad, but we can’t help but think, with a week’s worth of Corvette driving under our belts, and the birthday of the USA just here, that the singular name of America’s sports car must be added to this long-held quadfecta of things we love.
This particular Corvette proved to be a fascinating piece for review, not because we have any lack of experience with the current generation of the near-supercar, but because of the configuration. The Grand Sport is in the middle of the Corvette range (some might say “sweet spot”), with a 430-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8, the really great magnetically adjustable shocks, and a cool body kit. In the case of our specific vehicle, the fun factor was upped with the convertible top, 60th Anniversary package (which makes the Vette a dead-ringer for the 2013 Corvette 427), and (sigh) an automatic transmission.
[Click here to read our review of the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe.]
The good news there is, in all honesty, we hadn’t gotten behind the wheel of a Corvette with an auto in years and years. What’s more, the combination of the cool appearance package, convertible top, and auto struck us as a very real-world type of configuration for the car. We in the media love to write about all Corvettes as if they’re just moments away from yet another lap-record attempt at our local track, but the truth is that people very often buy the model as a treat to themselves, and as a car that they use primarily to cruise around in, looking cool.
Driven: 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport ConvertibleSo, while the six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, wasn’t exactly how we’d spec this monster convertible, we know that a lot of actual customers will. And the truth of the matter is that, for most of the time that we had the car, the autobox didn’t ruin our experience. Yes, when driving really aggressively through tight, challenging roads, the automatic was too slow to shift up and down, the paddles themselves lacked the tactility to draw us into the driving experience, and the overall package felt lukewarm. But, when just listening to the engine purr at 2000 rpm, cruising down country roads with the top down, and working on our tan, the automatic served just fine. In fact, considering the rather stiff nature of Corvette’s six-speed manual shifter and heavy clutch, one could construct a strong “ease of use” argument for the auto.
Automatic or no, the engine is clearly the star of the Corvette package, at least when you’re behind the wheel. Even the monstrous 325 cross-section rear tires are easily broken loose when a full foot’s worth of throttle is applied from a standstill. With that said, one can, with more judicious use of the gas pedal, get going rather smartly from 0-60ish (around four seconds) miles per hour. Our experience was that the feeling of power and speed is even greater in the 70-90 mph zone there, where the Herculean torque from that big V-8 really puts power to the pavement. And of course, there’s too much top end available from the Grand Sport to safely explore without access to some sort of high-speed oval or another—suffice it to say that doubling your state’s highway max will not be an issue, should you choose.
Half the fun of wringing out this massive motor, especially in the open air, is getting to hear the throaty exhaust open up. Our Corvette was equipped with the optional dual mode exhaust, which keeps your neighbors happy by hushing the pipes under 3000 rpm (in competition mode, 3500 rpm is the line of demarcation in normal mode), and then exploding into full-throated fury above that engine speed. Of course, the engine/exhaust note at full volume is one of life’s great pleasures, and may incite the particularly patriotic car nuts among us to offer a salute, should there not be a flag handy for waving.
A quick side note here, about the automatic and dual mode exhaust combo. In previous dual mode Vettes, we’ve taken issue with the exhaust, which we often found strangely intrusive as we kind of hovered around the rpm-based transition point. With the automatic transmission in charge, we noticed this problem far less. We tended to be driving very quickly—with high rpm and an open exhaust—or at posted speeds, with the transmission neatly keeping us away from that weird zone at the transition point.
In terms of handling, convertible or no, the Grand Sport was whoppingly capable on our favorite back roads. We must mention that, when compared to Chevy’s own Camaro convertible, the Corvette drop top does offer quite a lot of cowl shake on rough surfaces. But that shake was really more seen than felt, and the Corvette didn’t lack a very rigid structure when tossed very firmly into tight corners. In fact, as has almost always been our experience with this model, and even with the large power that’s available, we found that most of the time there was far more mechanical grip available than we needed to drive really quickly.
Driven: 2012 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport ConvertibleWe were also renewed in our amazement for the Corvette as a greatly involving driver’s car. Feedback from the road was readily apparent through the steering wheel, both from a dead-center position when cruising, and when lock was applied at speed, in a corner. The seats and floorboards, similarly, gave gentle reminders about what was happening with the road surface below. Really, only the slightly slow response time of the steering wheel—not nearly as quick to turn in as similarly competent sports cars—and the long wheelbase held the Corvette back in the handling realm. The car simply feels as though it is engineered to be “happiest” at 150 mph or more, and, therefore, does occasionally feel dull to respond at lower speeds. Again, considering this is a car that’s used for preening more often than circuit-busting, that’s an impressive fact.
We have to say that we didn’t love the convertible top on this car. This is a vehicle that has, quiet frankly been around for a little bit too long at this point, the C6 is passing its seven-year birthday, and it shows in some areas more than others. In a world where competitively priced convertibles have hard-tops, faster tops, “magic” glass tops, and more, the slowly moving canvass affair that Chevy offers here feels pretty dated. We’ll accept that one or more of you might call us spoiled for mentioning it, but the fact that you’ve got to manually release the top, and then operate the mechanism is pretty old school as far as $70,000, 2012 or newer vehicles are concerned. (With the 60th Anniversary package, auto trans, and other cost-add extras, price as tested for our car was over $76,000.)
Likewise, the interior of the Corvette is dated. This fact is made even starker when you look around at the greatly improved interiors General Motors is stitching together these days (Cadillac XTS, we’re looking at you). We’ve no doubt that, when it shows up, the C7 Corvette will feature amazing, top-of-class technology and styling, but here and now the C6 Grand Sport feels like a rather crude car in terms of creature comforts and tech.
There’s a lot of leather to look at in the 4LT trim that we tested, but the navigation screen is tiny and has old-feeling software, overall infotainment controls are crude, the seats lack a large-range of adjustability, and the non-leather surfaces seem too plasticky.
Of course, driving over an open road that courses gently through knee-high corn in Michigan summer, with the top down and some strong backbeat fighting with the rich V-8 howl for our attention, the Corvette Grand Sport feels alright. In fact, it feels damned good, in a way that no German or Japanese competitor can match, now or ever. Why? Not because the Corvette, a nearly immutable cornerstone of American motoring, is better to drive than the comers of the world. But because it, with its massive power, and brash looks, and stirringly loud voice, is simply more authentically a part of our national fabric at this point. We love it, with its majesty and its flaws, like family.
2013 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible
Engine: V-8, 6.2 liters, 16v
Output: 430 hp/424 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.1 sec (est.)
Weight: 3289 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 15/25 mpg
Base Price: $59,600