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New Car Review

Chevrolet Corvette Coupe

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Chevrolet Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 5.7-liter LS1 V-8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 345 hp @ 5,600 rpm/ 350 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic FUEL ECONOMY: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 22.1 mpg test WHEELBASE: 104.5 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 180.7 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 47.7 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 73.6 in. CURB WEIGHT: 3,245 lbs FUEL CAPACITY: 19.1gal. CARRYING CAPACITY: 24.8 cu. ft. TIRES: P245/45ZR17 (front)/P275/40ZR18 (rear) INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock. EQUIPMENT: Power mirrors, power windows, power seats, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with in-dash CD, ABS, traction control, dual air bags. STICKER PRICE: $39,614

We were getting ready to begin planning for our Thanksgiving trip. It wasn't "over the hills and through the woods to grandmother's house," but Interstate 95 to DC and our daughter's house. My wife asked me what the car choices were.

"A Corvette," I answered.

"A Corvette?" she replied. "Are you crazy? We have to take luggage and food and a folding table. There's no way we'll fit it all in a Corvette. We'll have to take my car."

The last time we took her car the alternator gave out, we burned out a battery and spent a lovely two hours in a Pep Boys getting it all repaired. My choice was the Corvette, and the deciding factor was whether or not we could fit the folding table in the storage area under the hatch.

It fit, with room to spare.

So did the suitcase, fixings for the fruit cocktail, turnips, hanging suitcase, briefcase (I expected to work), and everything we'd need for a two-day trip. The luggage situation was eased somewhat by the fact that we were leaving early Friday morning to return home and help another daughter move. But that's the theme for another road test.

Chevrolet's C-5 Corvette (that means it's the fifth version of the popular sports car) was redesigned for the 1997 model year. Outside it still retains all the Corvette cues; sleek design, pop-up headlights, soft wedge shape. Under the hood is a new version of the standby 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) V-8 engine that pumps out an impressive 345 horsepower.

But between the outside and the inside are some subtle improvements that make the Corvette a far more tractable car than before. The storage capacity is one. Previous Corvettes had little to no storage space. That we were able to carry so much in our tester is a tribute to the designers' skills in retaining the same basic exterior dimensions and shape, yet increasing interior space.

A far more critical space test occurred later in the weekend. We were able to fit four large pizza boxes side-by-side in the `Vette's storage area. You can't even do that in a Hummer!

Redesign of the side rails also makes entering and exiting the Corvette much easier than before. There's no tall side rail to negotiate, just a normal door sill.

Corvette power is always a rush, and my morning commute was shorter by at least five minutes every day. But what I found pleasant was the ride to the neighborhood ATM machine. The `Vette also did well as a "clunker," dealing with small-town driving and traffic without complaining. Part of the reason is a compliant four-speed automatic transmission that shifted smoothly when it was necessary and "hot rodded" when that was called for.

Another pleasant feature was the instrument panel, with a three-dimensional look to the display of six instruments. We also had a great sound system and HVAC that warmed the car on some very cold mornings.

The engine was relatively quiet under normal operation, which was something like 1,500 rpm at 60 mph. When we were just "clunking" around town, it was even quieter. Stepping on the loud pedal, of course, created a stir that could wake the dead with all that power exhausting through four tailpipes. But under all circumstances, excessive tire noise made the drive so noisy that we had the CD player turned up full blast and we ended up yelling at each other most of the time.

I have always said I liked the Acura NSX better than the Corvette because it is more sophisticated and handles better. But the new Corvette is at least in the same league with the NSX in the handling department and offers more power when you need it and a lot more practicality. And, it's a lot less expensive.