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2006 Chevrolet Corvette

There are still people who don't give the Chevrolet Corvette the credit it deserves.

Some people don't like the image. Some think the car is too crude, not subtle enough.

They really ought to open their eyes.

Or have their heads examined.

Because the Corvette is not only by far the best sports car value you can find, it is right up there with any sports car you can buy, at any price, by any criterion you want to name.

After previous experience in the new coupe and recent experience in the Corvette Convertible, it's clear the new-generation C6 extends those leads even further.

It isn't an all-new car; rather, it is a thorough upgrade from the C5, using many of the refinements that were introduced to this platform when the Cadillac XLR sports car debuted.

The most obvious change is to the front end. For the first time since 1962, pop-up headlamps are not part of the program. No more $1,000 garage bills every time one of those stupid motors burns out.

Looks better, lights on or off, although some feel the front end is a rip-off of the Ferrari F360 Modena.

Technically, though, the new lights have better, brighter coverage and help this 'Vette achieve a 0.28 drag coefficient, one of the lowest (i.e., best) in the industry.

The car is about 130 mm shorter overall, making it more manoeuvrable. But it's all taken out of the overhangs, so interior space is uncompromised.

Among the most remarkable aspects of the C6 Corvette is its weight, or lack thereof. The coupe runs about 1,442 kg (3,179 pounds), with the convertible a shade heavier at 1,451 (3,199).

This is Porsche 911 territory.

It is also lighter than the C5, despite a more robust structure, larger (i.e., heavier) wheels and tires, and more equipment, including a (standard in Canada) power top on the convertible, the first since 1962.

The pushrod, small-block V8 engine has been bored out to 6.0 litres, generating a nice even 400 horsepower at 6000 r.p.m. and a matching 400 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 r.p.m. The 0-to-100 km/h comes up in a very strong 4.2 seconds when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission.

Chevrolet performance specs show the following: The quarter-mile comes up in 12.6 seconds at 183 km/h; top end is 300 km/h (186 m.p.h.).

New synchronizers in the rear-mounted Tremec six-speed reduce shift effort and allow a shorter lever and reduced travel.

The awful skip-shift feature, which directs the gearbox straight from first to fourth if you're pussyfooting it, didn't bother me like it usually does.

The Corvette is also offered with a four-speed automatic.

Two other notable numbers for the car: Transport Canada fuel economy ratings of 13.2 L/100 km city, 7.6 highway. Wow.

The double-wishbone, transverse leaf-spring suspension is similar in design to the C5, but most of the parts are new. My test car had the base suspension; the brilliant Magnetic Ride Control suspension damping system and a track-oriented Z51 are options.

The brakes are bigger, as are the wheels and tires.

An all-new interior features vastly better materials and assembly quality. Maybe not yet Audi level, but better than any Corvette ever. There are even a few storage bins, and cup holders.

As with the Cadillac XLR, the C6 Corvette uses electronic door handles – touch a button behind the trailing edge of the door (outside) or on the door pull (inside) and, pop, you're in.

A proximity key fob means there's no ignition key to worry about. As long as the fob is in range, and you have the clutch depressed, just touch the starter button once – no need to hold it down – and the car fires up. This is really, really cool, and impresses the heck out of passengers.

To get side air bags, you need to upgrade to the optional sport seats, which also brings power adjustability to the lower lumbar region and side bolsters, as well as the usual six-way adjustments.

The five-layer convertible top is quiet when up, and the larger glass rear window means rear three-quarter visibility isn't bad. To drop the top, you manually unlatch a single clamp on the header, then push the button. It's done within 18 seconds.

But be warned: This car will beep at you for the slightest transgression. For instance, if the trunk luggage partition isn't perfectly installed before lowering the top – BEEP! Try to leave the car without engaging reverse? BEEP! There have been several other beeps I still haven't figured out yet.

Like all too many of today's cars, the C6 Corvette has auto-engaging power door locks. I thought these could be deprogrammed via the driver information centre, but if so, I couldn't make it work.

All is forgiven when you've got an open road, a sunny day (or a balmy night) and a tankful of fuel. This car is fantastic.

The gearbox is smooth – heavier than a Miata obviously, but not hard to handle at all. Clutch take-up is remarkably easy, considering the amount of torque it must transmit. Even negotiating the increasingly stupid TeeDot traffic, my clutch leg was in no danger of seizing up.

Acceleration is fierce, unyielding, incessant. Catch the next gear, and it just keeps hauling. You're breaking speed limits before you're into second gear.

Yet if you're not in a hurry – it happens, even with me – the engine has such tremendous bottom-end torque that at any road speed you have a choice of three or even four ratios.

You can cruise at 100 km/h in sixth, and the engine is barely above idle – hence those stunning fuel economy numbers.

Steering is lighter than many sports car fans might wish, but you soon learn what's going on at the front wheels.

Cornering power is insane; if you're squealing these tires, you really are driving too fast for public roads. Go find yourself a racetrack.

Another remarkable aspect of this car is its ride quality. If you haven't been in a Corvette for a decade or so, you're in for a treat.

The MagneRide is spectacular, but even the base set-up on my test car is amazingly comfortable. Indeed, I might wish for a slightly stiffer set-up; with the other two suspension options, I'd have that option.

Also, a Corvette that doesn't squeak and rattle? You bet.

In a nod to tradition, though, you will catch the occasional whiff of fibreglass resin.

So, Porsche or Ferrari snobs – or even Viper snobs – swallow your pride.

Recognize that the Corvette is simply a sensational car, at an amazing price: the base coupe starts at $67,395, the convertible at $79,495.

My convertible tester, with optional GM OnStar communications system, listed at $80,590.

Try getting a 400-horsepower sports car for anywhere near that price.

jim @ jimkenzie.com

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