2008 Corvette... really the best ever? Contributed by Mike Antonick, Editor "Corvette Black Book" 2008 Corvette...really the best ever?
Media coverage of the 2008 Corvette suggests it may be the best Corvette ever offered. Before I give my two-cents on the subject, let’s take a look at the evolution of the C6 so far, and see how it stacks up against its C4 and C5 predecessor generations. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say up front that my personal all-time favorite is the 1965 model. But Corvette’s first three generations are of a different era. They’re classics in the best sense. Think of 1984 and later Corvettes as the modern models, cars that can and should be driven every day.
The 2005 was the first C6, so 2008 marks the fourth year of the generation. Thus far, C6 has sold exceptionally well. The 2007 sold 40,561 units. That’s the highest single-model sales total since 1984’s 51,547. But 1984 was really two model years since 1983 was skipped, so you have to go back to 1981 for better model year sales.
For its 1984-1996 run, C4 averaged a model year sales rate of 27,552. After a slow ramp up the first year, the C5 1997-2004 generation averaged 31,089. In its first three years, C6 is averaging 37,318 per model year. In a very competitive market that sees GM’s overall market share continue to slide, today’s Corvette is selling lights out.
In addition to these strong new-car sales, used C5 and C6 Corvettes are in demand and holding value well. There are stars in the C4 lineup too, but C5 and C6 demand seems to be across all body styles and years. What’s going on here?
Simple. These are great cars. From an author’s perspective, the C4 is tough to beat because there’s lots to write about. It spanned thirteen years and so much happened start to finish. C4 introduced new technology we take for granted today, and put Corvette squarely back into the premier sports car mix. The clamshell hood is a photographer’s delight, exposing not just the engine but gorgeous suspension pieces, too. I bought two of these brand new. I sold the second to a gent in Texas, then bought it back a year later. When I scrunched in to drive back to Ohio, I swore I’d never be without a C4 again. Looking out over that monster hood through the ridiculously steeped windshield was a view unmatched by anything else on the road. A year later, I sold it again.
It is said we are what we drive, and while everything about a car is important, I place a disproportionately high value on interior environment. It’s where I live, so to speak, where I do my business. I want it right. I want great instruments, a great seat, and I want everything aligned properly. Three-series BMWs have been magazine darlings for years. When I’d read their gushing reviews, I’d wonder why nobody mentioned the cockeyed steering columns. Maybe it was a crash issue or lazy engineering, but I won’t own a car with a steering wheel that bends my elbows at different angles. The only Chevy I remember doing that was the Chevette. Corvette C4 steering wheel and column location are fine, but the intrusion of the center tunnel was unforgivable. Combined with the high sill, it created a claustrophobic cabin that I could never get comfortable with. Why was it designed this way?
When Zora Arkus-Duntov handed the Chief Corvette Engineer reins to Dave McLellan in 1975, it is reported Zora said, “The next new Corvette must be mid-engine.” A mid-engine vehicle’s big advantage is putting weight over the tractive wheels. As an engine man, Zora visualized big horsepower gains in the future and saw a mid-engine Corvette as the logical way to deliver power to the road. And Jerry Palmer’s Corvette design studio back then preferred mid-engine placement for the cool, Ferrari-like profile it permitted.
But McLellan kept an open mind and in the end became convinced that mid-engine created more problems than it solved. It did put weight over the driving wheels, but it also created cooling issues and lousy passenger/luggage packaging. His crew came up with what they called a “front” mid-engine design. They kept the engine in front, but moved it rearward to get better weight distribution. The lowest component of earlier Corvettes was the exhaust, so McLellan routed it through the tunnel to get the car lower. Proper weight distribution, low center of gravity, big Goodyear racing-bred tires (Zora hadn’t foreseen the tire advances on the horizon), and suspension wizardry. Presto. A Corvette that cornered like no other. To this day, few cars stay glued to the road like early C4s, especially with Z51.
Then there was that high side sill, a story in itself. McLellan’s initial C4 design was a T-top hybrid of sorts. The T-bar was there, but covered by a single targa panel. With the panel in place, the bar wasn’t evident. But Chevrolet engineering chief Lloyd Reuss didn’t like the bar and ordered it out well into the development program. That gave the car way too much flex, so the side sills were raised to stiffen it. The T-bar covered by a single targa panel was a practical, elegant solution and I wish McLellan had been allowed to do it.
Fast forward to the C5. This was the first genuinely “all new” Corvette since 1953. The single most important design element was relocating the transmission to the rear. So the weight distribution was right without the huge tunnel. Hydroformed side frame rails provided rigidity without the intrusive sills. Run-flat tires had gotten good enough to be standard equipment, so C5s were designed without a spare (in C4’s case, a BIG spare), freeing up space. The fuel tank was actually two tanks, tucked into available frame cavity space. All in all, much better space utilization.
Moving the transmission to the rear transformed the C5’s interior. In addition to easy entry, proper foot wells, perfect pedal placement including a real dead pedal (finally!), the instruments were the best in the industry just as 1963-1967 had been in their day. That the layouts were so similar thirty years apart is high praise for the sixties-era interior designers indeed.
For performance driving, C4 is still a very viable platform. For daily driving enjoyment, C5 and C6 are in a world their own. Where C5 was a completely new car, some have referred to C6 as C5 and a half. Unfair perhaps, but it is safe to say C6 is a refined version of C5. C6 is a tighter, crisper design with slightly more wheelbase and slightly less length. In profile, C6 is easily spotted by its shorter rear overhang. In front, of course, the exposed headlamps give it away instantly. Sensitive to criticism of interior material quality, C6 got a snazzier interior. Fortunately, it retained the C5 instrument layout with just minor tweaks. A better car by most objective measures, C6 did not make C5 obsolete. With about 50,000 miles in all C5 and C6 body styles, here’s my quick comparo.
The C6’s seats look more comfortable, but they’re not. Designers went for more lateral support, but the narrowness of the seat means all but the skinniest will be sitting on, rather than in, the side bolsters. Advantage C5.
C6 has electronic door latching and keyless ignition. More upscale cars are heading this way so it must be a good thing. But the advantage of a push-button ignition escapes me. The ignition senses the proximity of the fob. If the fob goes dead, one must gain access with a key to the rear, pull a mechanical door release, then plug the dead fob into a receiver/programming slot in the glove box. So a key must be carried anyway (the 2008’s fob hides the key in a slick hidden compartment). A interior mechanical door release is provided for emergency exit. Overall, the C6 interior has nicer materials, and desirable features like XM radio, OnStar and navigation. Advantage C6...barely.
As a snob purist, I’ve had trouble accepting C6’s exposed headlamps. But they light the road exceptionally well, unquestionably better than C5. When you wash a C6, you don’t have to remember to roll the headlamps around. C5’s headlamps act as air brakes in the up position. You could conclude C5 is better in daylight, and C6 better at night. Advantage C6.
About half of the country’s states require front license plates. The C4 and C5 were designed for those that do, but included a cover for those who don’t. C6 was designed with no provision for a front plate. The tacky bracket provided for the half of us who need it is a disgrace. Advantage C5.
Peak horsepower for C5 base engines was 350, for Z06 405. The 2008 base engine is 430-hp, the Z06 is 505-hp. And all this extra power comes with no fuel penalty. My personal 2008 coupe is getting the best fuel mileage of any C5 or C6 I’ve driven. Big advantage C6.
Radio antennas for C5s were unique to each body style. Coupes had antennas in their front and rear glass. Convertibles had a conventional power mast. Hardtops and Z06 hardtops had a fixed mast. The fixed mast was cheapest but worked best. To simplify things, all C6 antennas are mounted in the front facia. A great idea, but not so great for reception. This becomes somewhat moot for C6 in 2008 as XM became standard, insuring perfect reception everywhere. But for those who still like conventional AM and FM broadcasting, advantage C5.
Some drivers love Corvette’s head-up display and won’t be without it. I’m somewhat ambivalent. It’s fun to play with and C6 has more choices and a G-meter. But I always tire of head-up and revert to the instruments, maybe because they’re so well done. One thing I dislike about head-up is the reflection into the windshield of the head-up cavity during daylight. Here’s an interesting tidbit. SInce head-up wasn’t available initially with C5, a C5 without head-up has a different dash, one with no head-up cavity (and no reflection). C6 dashes all have the cavity. If a C6 doesn’t have head-up, the cavity has a blocking panel. Advantage? If you like head-up, C6. If not, C5.
Is the 2008 Corvette the best ever? In addition to the new base engine, the car got some nice upgrades. There’s that expensive leather-wrapped interior, but even the standard interior has much nicer trim pieces, especially around the console. Steering feel was improved. Manuals got improved shift linkage with shorter throws; automatics got upgraded hardware and software. Base wheels are a new design. That’s what I ordered for my Velocity Yellow coupe, but in optional charcoal finish. At first I thought the design was a little clunky around the lugs, but I’ve come to like these wheels. To sum it up, I have to agree the 2008 Corvette is indeed the best ever, at least of the modern Corvette models. Other models in the C5 and C6 range offer advantages here and there, but the 2008 Corvette is the best I’ve ever experienced. I think the 2008 base coupe is the best sports car value on the planet, and the Z06 is the best high performance sports car value. If they’re not, what is?