by Gabe Beita Kiser
Throughout the 66 years it has been produced, the Chevrolet Corvette has been called many things, some derogatory and some not. "An American icon," "the poor man's sports car," "King of the Hill, or even, "Plastic Fantastic." But removing oneself from fan club affiliation and donning a pair of objective glasses reveals that each of those names is accurate. Like its predecessors, the Corvette is a highly emotional machine - not quite muscle car, more unhinged than a sports car, and definitely something to be enjoyed and reckoned with at the same time. The Grand Sport, however, is an attempt to turn the Corvette into a gentleman's track day machine. It's for the chess player of a driver who doesn't need the outrageous output of the Z06 nor the softer grand touring abilities of the Stingray, just the precision apex-finder for the weekly slalom. However, the Grand Sport Convertible's ability to take down its top and soak up the sun also means it has fun baked into its bones that brings drivers closer to the drama outside of the car.
After updates made for the 2018 model year, the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Convertible enters 2019 unchanged. The Carbon 65 Edition package celebrating 65 years of Corvette has been dropped from the list of the available options, while two new colors have been added to the exterior paint palette - Elkheart Lake Blue and Shadow Gray.
As a hybrid between the base Stingray and more potent Z06, the Grand Sport receives much of the wide, aerodynamically aggressive bodywork found on the Z06, with the exception of the hood, which it retains from the Stingray. All three trims feature Grand Sport-specific wheel designs in a staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear configuration, and all models feature visible carbon flash exterior fender vents and HID headlights. An assortment of carbon bits can be added, while the Grand Sport Heritage Package can equip a range of six colors to the fender hash marks with matching center stripes over the top of the body. Signature quad-tailpipes, centrally mounted, carry over, while the convertible ditches the removable roof panels of the Coupe for a folding soft-top mechanism.
Low and wide - the two words that define any great high-performance sports car like the Corvette Grand Sport. Measuring 177.9-inches in length, the Grand Sport Convertible is an inch longer but rides on the same 106.7-inch wheelbase as its Stingray cousin. However, it's wider by a good margin at 77.4-inches to the Stingray's 73.9, matching the Z06 and ZR1's wider bodies. The Grand Sport rides slightly lower than a Stingray, too, measuring 48.7-inches tall in Convertible guise. While not using the same carbon fiber composite chassis as some exotic sports cars, the Grand Sport Convertible is still relatively lightweight thanks to the generous use of carbon fiber and aluminum used for various body panels. It weighs in with a base curb weight of 3,487 lbs, just 59 pounds more than the Grand Sport Coupe.
For 2019, the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible's color palette comprises ten hues, including the new for 2019 shades of Shadow Gray Metallic and Elkheart Lake Blue Metallic which join favorites like Torch Red and Arctic white in the range of no-cost options. The three most striking colors - Long Beach Red Tintcoat, Sebring Orange Tintcoat, and the luminous Corvette Racing Yellow Tintcoat are all available at an extra cost of $995 apiece. Additional contrast can be dialed in with five available colors for the convertible top, including Spice Red and Black.
Our Grand Sport Convertible test car came with a particularly striking color scheme, boasting a Blade Silver Metallic coat as a base for the Grand Sport Heritage Package's Torch Red fender hash marks and a black convertible top.
Despite aggressive bodywork and an enhanced chassis, the Grand Sport's measurable numbers aren't much better than the standard Stingray, as the GS features the same 6.2-liter naturally aspirated LT1 V8 engine, outputting 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive remains the staple drivetrain for the Corvette line-up, with only the likes of the Audi R8 offering an all-wheel driven alternative. With a choice between a seven-speed manual gearbox or an optional eight-speed automatic transmission, the Grand Sport Convertible is quickest when equipped with the automatic and the Z07 Performance Package, which enables a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.6 seconds - 0.1 quicker than the Z51-equipped Stingray - while it'll run out of puff at a top speed of 181 mph. It'll manage a quarter mile sprint in roughly 12 seconds, too, so it's no slouch, but its talents lie when straight roads end and twisty ones begin, where the chassis upgrades from the Z06 and the adaptive dampers and available sticky rubber of the Z07 Performance Package come together to produce something special.
The Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is equipped with the same 6.2-liter LT1 V8 as the lesser Corvette Stingray Convertible, but with the performance exhaust equipped as standard (an option on the Stingray) it doles out 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. By default, power is routed through a seven-speed manual transmission with an active rev-matching function, but an eight-speed automatic gearbox is available with paddle-shifters as an option.
One of the Corvette's hallmark features is its pushrod engine, which translates to lots of torque available low in the rev range, a mild redline relative to overhead-cam engines, and a loud burbling exhaust note that turns to a roar when the throttle is coaxed. Unlike a luxury car's smooth idle, Corvette engineers want drivers to feel the violence under the hood. Rev the motor and engine mounts feed vibrations directly to a driver's spine while the firewall heats occupants' legs. The experience is an aural treat too since the performance exhaust system has a function enabling drivers to select between different levels of loudness, from Stealth and Touring all the way to Sport and Track. Throttle response is very sharp, and while Touring, Eco and Weather modes help subdue it to make the 'Vette easy to live in the city, Sport and Track modes will jolt a driver to their senses or commence oversteer under abrupt throttle inputs. If the throttle stays pinned, the Corvette will know that a driver means business. That's when the eight-speed automatic goes into Performance Shift mode, which removes its fuel-economy-seeking behavior and begins to hold gears longer before shifting into the next gear imperceptibly fast. Still, the Corvette's rudeness means it skews on the raw side and doesn't feel quite as refined as some European competitors.
It should be known that any owner living near bumpy roads will want to own a cushy daily driver alongside the Grand Sport Convertible. That's because, despite the Corvette's adjustable Magnetic Ride Control dampeners, the Grand Sport suspension system does a wonderful job of conveying the road's texture to a driver's bottom. Bumpy roads translate to a jarring ride, but the tradeoff is incredible grip in the corners and steering that's easy to feed precise inputs into once getting over its slightly unnatural feel. On smoother roads, the chassis clearly conveys what the wheels are doing and allows a driver to use the Corvette's bluntest instrument, it's pushrod V8 with gobs of torque available low in the rev range and remaining omnipresent until the moment before the eight-speed automatic snaps another gear into place. With wide tires, a long track width, and the 6.2-liter positioned as close to center chassis as possible, the Grand Sport Convertible responds to steering inputs sharply and doesn't push wide in the corners. But with the top down, it's possible to feel just how powerful the wind gets at speed. The wind's power, in this case, finds itself pushing the rear end down thanks to the flap at the rear. That helps keep the Grand Sport Convertible from oversteering as easily as the Stingray does, but press hard on the throttle with a willingness to engage opposite-lock and the rear wheels will light up the pavement. Start to get aggressive in Sport or Track modes and a "Performance Shift Active" message will light up on the gauge cluster, manifesting in the form of quick shifts that crack off in rapid succession during acceleration and jolting downshifts when digging deep into the brakes.
Gas mileage is seldom a consideration when it comes to purchasing a high-end sports car like a Corvette, a vehicle knowingly purchased for its ability to go fast. But surprisingly, thanks to cylinder deactivation, variable valve timing, and direct injection, the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible achieves EPA-rated mileage estimates of 16/25/19 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles when equipped with the more economical manual gearbox. With the eight-speed automatic the city estimate drops to 15 mpg, and the combined estimate to 18 mpg. With an 18.5-gallon gas tank fed by premium gasoline, expect an average range of 350 miles in mixed driving conditions.
Even with a spirited drive that included multiple full-throttle starts towards the end of our week with the automatic Grand Sport Convertible - a week spent mainly driving in the city - we managed to extract a 15.7 mpg average out of the Corvette's 6.2-liter V8.
In any low-slung two-seat sports car, certain compromises in practicality are made for the sake of the experience, and the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible hasn't managed to get around these. While interior space is relatively generous for both occupants, ingress and egress are problematic due to the low seating position, which also hinders visibility. But the driving position is excellent, and eight-way power adjustable, too, with most major controls well within reach. But the Corvette's downfall is the relatively cheap feeling interior, with materials that don't match up to those found in European counterparts. Fit and finish isn't quite up to standard either, but at least everything functions smoothly, and in defense of the Grand Sport, at this price point the materials are semi-acceptable. There's loads of customization available, as well, and while the latest technological advancements may not be present, sticking with the basics helps give the Corvette a raw edge.
The slight acrobatic maneuvers it takes to get inside the Corvette, even with the top down, is the first hint a driver gets that this car is a really just a missile with seats. But the large dials, an array of buttons arranged to confuse, an attack-minded driving position, and tight interior dimensions really do help make the inside of the Corvette feel like a fighter jet's cockpit. Storage space for wallets, phones, and water bottles is slim, and the raked-back windscreen does little to make the interior feel less cramped, even with the top down. The absence of a rear seat means that the front seat occupants have plenty of legroom, which the passenger may need in the event they need to instinctively stomp on an imaginary brake pedal.
Corvette interiors have been on the decline ever since the eye-popping shades of red and white leather of the first generation C1 went out of production. And the Grand Sport Convertible is no exception. Even though elegant black Napa leather seats with white stitching graced the interior of our C7 Grand Sport Convertible, materials felt toy-like and almost comically cheap. Thankfully, drivers can opt for one of ten interior leather colors and alter the color of the seat belts and stitching for maximum personalization. While our test car didn't feature the optional Competition Sports seats, carbon fiber instrument panel and steering wheel trim, or Alcantara dash trim and center console cover, buyers can add these as options in order to spruce up the cabin.
Sports cars seldom offer great, or even decent, levels of practicality, particularly those of the mid-engined variety with whom we'll have to associate the Corvette with from next year. But even amongst front-engined options, the Corvette fares immensely well when it comes to available storage space. Just how well? Well, the Corvette offers up 15 cubic feet of trunk volume, which is just about the same amount you'd find in a Honda Civic sedan. The problem is, opting for the convertible cuts that down to just 10 cubic feet in a somewhat deep and narrow opening.
With a small two-seat cabin, interior storage also isn't too plentiful, with a shallow center bin large enough to accommodate a phone and a wallet, while the door pockets and cupholders are really a bit small to be useful. There is, however, a trick storage bin hidden behind the touchscreen infotainment system, which although not massive, does come in handy.
With the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible boasting an affordable price tag, it boasts a fairly extensive repertoire of features across the three available trims, with all Grand Sports equipped with dual-zone climate control, an eight-inch color driver display, eight-way power adjustable seats, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and cruise control. But higher trims receive additional features, such as a universal home remote, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a color head-up drivers display, while seats on the 2LT and 3LT receive power bolster and lumbar adjustment, heating and ventilation, added memory functionality, and a performance data-logger and front-facing camera. It's from a driver assistance perspective that the Grand Sport is found a little lacking, however, as it makes do with only a rearview camera, and tire pressure monitoring as standard, with the upper two trims equipping front curb-view cameras. The curb cameras alone make the upper trims a bargain given how easy it is to damage the low front end without them.
Like the rest of the C7's interior, the infotainment system feels dated, even with the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8-inch touchscreen display requires hard presses to register commands and resolution and clarity leave something to be desired. The system is legible even with the top down and the sun shining behind it, but it lacks the smooth and crisp responses of its competitors. A premium Bose surround-sound audio system is decent, though the Corvette Convertible is no concert hall given the vast amounts of noise intrusion from the engine and road. Fortunately, the windshield is raked far back enough that the microphone that enables Bluetooth phone conversations to pick up the driver's voice clearly. Steering wheel-mounted controls also help drivers adjust volume, track, or radio stations without having to take their hands off the wheel during high-performance driving.
Of the Corvette range, the Grand Sport Convertible is one of the most reliable derivatives, with almost no complaints leveled against it from a reliability perspective. J.D. Power scores it an impressive 85 out of 100 on their overall reliability score, while a cursory glance through the owners' forums shows there's little to look out for, even on higher mileage models. There have been no recalls for this generation Grand Sport either.
For added peace of mind, the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is covered by Chevrolet's five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance program, three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty, and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
That being said, our test vehicle suffered from one disconcerting issue during the week it was in our possession. Driving the Corvette after a strong rain caused squealing noise, like the sound of wet metal bearings rubbing against each other, to emit from the rear driver's side wheel. The problem amended itself after five miles, but the noise changed pitch depending on wheel speed and didn't seem to be altered by the brakes, leading us to believe it's an issue with a bearing.
As is the standard with low-volume, two-seat sports cars and supercars, the Chevrolet Corvette has not been crash-tested by either the IIHS or the NHTSA.
Despite not being crash tested, the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible covers all the basics in terms of safety features, with high-performance brakes boasting ABS and EBD, standard advanced traction control and stability control systems, and front- and side-impact airbags for both occupants. But where the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is lacking is in the assistance features like forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking. However, OnStar services are equipped, which give access to emergency services in the event of an accident.
That depends on how it'll be used. If you've been a Corvette dreamer all your life and are aching to own your own for pleasant top-down drives down scenic roads, then you're better off with a Stingray. The Grand Sport Convertible is too uncomfortable to use as a daily driver or as a grand tourer. But at the same time, the burlier Z06 is the car to own if you spend weekends whittling down your personal lap time record. The Grand Sport, in this case, is the middle ground. It's for the beginner who wants to learn the technicalities of track driving without the annihilating nuclear capabilities of the Z06, or for the expert who has a fantastic road in mind for the weekend and wants to spend more time savoring the drive than holding back their throttle foot.
More generally, the Corvette should be a car for performance lovers more than for those wanting to show off at the weekend car meet. Its interior really is cheap enough to turn smiles into frowns and comfort is low on the list of priorities, but as long as performance is the main focus, the Grand Sport will hardly disappoint.
The base price of the cheapest Corvette Grand Sport Convertible available is an MSRP of $71,495 for the 1LT before tax, registration, licensing, dealer fees, and a $1,095 destination charge. From there, the 2LT carries a base MSRP of $75,950, while the range-topping 3LT is priced from $81,240. Upgrading to the eight-speed automatic transmission on any one of the three trims carries a premium of $1,995.
The Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is available in three trims: 1LT, 2LT, and 3LT, all of which are powered by the same 6.2-liter V8 developing 460 horsepower and mated to either a seven-speed manual gearbox or eight-speed automatic.
The 1LT comes readily equipped with staggered 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, adaptive dampers, a performance exhaust, Brembo brakes, eight-way power adjustable seats, and a nine-speaker Bose audio system paired with an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment setup with 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, and standard SiriusXM, HD radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto functionality.
The 2LT equips auto-dimming rearview mirrors, a ten-speaker Bose sound system, curb view cameras, head-up driver display, heated and ventilated seats, seat memory function, lumbar and side bolster adjustment, a universal home remote, and a performance data-logger.
The LT3 adds additional leather and suede interior appointments for greater luxury and upholsters seats in soft Nappa leather, while also adding navigation.
Most equipment is bundled into the three trims when it comes to the Grand Sport Convertible, but there are several package add-ons for various items.
The most important of these packages is the Z07 Performance Package, which at $7,995 equips stiffer Z07 suspension with Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Brembo carbon ceramic brakes, dark gray painted calipers, and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires.
Additionally, buyers can opt for one of four special edition Drivers Series packages, paying homage to famous Corvette racers for a fee of $4,995. These packages honor Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin, and Tommy Milner, and each model receives specific interior and exterior coloring, package-specific racing stripes, Corvette Racing Jake logo wheel center caps, and specific wheel designs and coloring.
Even buyers looking to buy the Grand Sport Convertible for track days will likely want the ability to get coffee at some point, and that means parking. For that, you want to go no lower than the 2LT package since its front cameras will be the front-end's saving grace as soon as curbs come into play. And while our 3LT didn't come with the Z07 Performance Package, the grippier rubber and upgraded brakes would be welcomed on any track day. But the biggest amendment we'd make to our test vehicle is the transmission. There's nothing wrong with the automatic, and it's certainly quicker than the seven-speed manual, but the Corvette already sends so many raw inputs to the driver that it just feels right having full control over the shifting process too. As the driver's car of the bunch, the Grand Sport Convertible would be perfect as a 2LT with a manual transmission, the Z07 Package, and obviously, as all Corvette should have, an outlandish exterior and interior color scheme.
The Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is said to combine the best aspects of the Stingray and Z06 in one package. But is it really good enough to justify not buying a Z06? The differences between these sports cars are few, but the biggest of which is the engine, with the Z06 packing a supercharger and 650 horsepower, which when paired with the upgraded aerodynamics and suspension make for an incredible track weapon. The Grand Sport Convertible handles just as well, but at times it feels like it could do with more power, particularly when on the track. Ultimately, it comes down to where you're likely to use your 'Vette. If you're at your nearest racetrack every second week, then the Z06's extra power will be up your alley, but if your focus is primarily on street use with the odd track day every once in a while, the Grand Sport Convertible, at $15,000 less than the Z06 Convertible, is the thinking man's Corvette.
If the Corvette Grand Sport Convertible is to be regarded amongst the sports car greats, it needs to be good enough to rival the benchmark of all topless sports cars - the Porsche 911 Cabriolet. In Carrera S Cabriolet guise, the 992 generation 911 closely matches the Grand Sport Convertible for power, weight, and rear-wheel drive nature, although the Porsche can be optioned with all-wheel drive. Both offer a choice between a seven-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed auto, and on track, both are equally adept at laying down rapid lap times within a second of each other. But on the road, the 911 is more comfortable, more maneuverable, and feels easier to live with. The Porsche is also vastly more luxurious and has semi-usable rear seats, making it more practical. But, the Grand Sport Convertible starts out nearly $50,000 cheaper than the 911 and offers 90% of what the Porsche does. The 911 might be the benchmark sports car, but is it $50,000 better than a Grand Sport? I don't think it is.