I thought I would start this review, my fifth Corvette review so far, with a brief retrospective on each
model, and how they all lead up to this moment in Corvette history.
There's a lot of terminology used when it comes to sports cars, which seems to be reserved only for
sports cars, not wagons, SUV, trucks, etc. These words get conjured up often in automotive journalism, and often denote
a particular sort of snobbishness, which can leave a bad taste in the mouth of the average driver.
The word "enthusiast" is a perfect example. An enthusiast is a driver who (I'm assuming) really loves to
drive, but has a knowlege not found amongst 'average' drivers, it seems. I mean, lots of people can drive, lots of people
enjoy driving, but only an enthusiast has a passion which can be trusted beyond that of most other mortals. The enthusiast
is supposed to be better than the average driver, it would seem.
Then, there's the word "refined".
Refined is a word we've been hearing and reading all our lives in automotive journalism. It's assumed
that a car which has been 'refined' (especially a sports car) has been improved somehow, and this assumption would be mostly
correct; however, it's a word which must be used cautiously.
Let's say you've got one generation of sports cars, which lasts several years, and then the next generation
comes out. If it's being said this newer generation is 'refined' in comparison to the previous one, this often means its performance
is now improved. This is true. It'll (perhaps) handle with more finesse, it'll (perhaps) be easier to drive, stuff like that.
But refinement does not always end with performance. A more-refined sports car might also display less tire noise.
Or maybe it'll not be as jarring to drive over bumps. Or maybe it will cater to those over 6 feet tall better than its competition.
It will basically be more of a pleasure to drive, as well as possibly more of a performance-machine.
But there are limitations to this trend of refinement. I would not say, for instance, that a car that has
a nav screen, or can become its own "wi-fi hotspot", is more refined over the same make and model sports car which does not
have these items. Well, I wouldn't say this, but who knows...the current generation of car-enthusiasts out there might think
differently. The latest Consumer Reports faulted the newest edition of Jeep Wrangler, for instance, because it didn't have
features found in the Lexus and Audi SUVs it was being compared with.
In case you're not getting my implication here: the Jeep is a certified off-road vehicle. The Lexus RX and
Audi Q7 are not. It's unfair to compare an all-terrain vehicle, in my opinion, with those designed soley for urban and suburban
Anyways. With a car series like the Corvette, it's easy to use such terminology. The Corvette of 2004 had
been in production, and had witnessed plenty of ups and downs. How, then has this car been refined (or not) over the
years? Let's do a quick retrospective.
C1: 1953-1962. This first generation was meant to be a specialty model,
I think. Chevrolet wanted to offer something different and sporty, but may not have been envisioning the 50+ year career their
new model would have. As the C1's years rolled forward, the Corvette went from being a pretty European-inspired car to one
which started to look more and more grotesque and "American". The C1 started off underpowered, but Chevy soon changed
C2: 1963-1968. Gone was any idea of the Corvette being a dainty, eye-pleasing vehicle.
Now, it was more of an eye-catching model, more like something Buck Rogers might try to fly out to space. It also
became more muscle-car like; lots of power, gigantic engines, but handling, braking, and other driving qualities were an
C3: 1967-1982. It can be said that the C2 and C3 generations were less refined than
the C1. This is opinion of course, but think about it. These newer generations were all about looks and power, but driving
these cars to the speeds their engines wanted to could be a very dangerous proposition. V8 motor engineering was at its peak
during this time; meaning that the C2 and C3 could go fast (true) but they didn't always have the handling...the "refinement"
to handle such speed.
C4: 1984-1996. Welcome to C4. For the first time, Chevrolet actually started to
think about what this next edition of 'Vette should be all about, and it wasn't just turning sales and being outrageous. Yes,
these cars still had the engines, the power, and the speed.
But as more refined automobiles, C4s were also safer to drive at higher
speeds. Tire, brake, and suspension technology was all improved now; these cars weren't just about looks and straight-line speed
anymore. For the first time since the C1's day, the Corvette could once again keep up with the majority of sports cars on
the market, even blowing away some of them. As a matter of fact, the C4's looks are not nearly as wild as a C2 or a C3's.
Chevy, it seems, has definitely changed their priorities.
With a background like this, we can only expect the C5, which started production in '97, to be refined over
the C4. But how? How is it different in comparison?
Let's start with looks. C5's profile is not drastically different in comparison to C4. There is not a massive
change in this car's appearance, the way there was from C1 to C2 to C3 to C4. It seems Chevrolet spent a LOT of time with
C5 in the wind-tunnel, for sure, as every contour and nuance of this generation's shape appears to have been re-sculpted,
Towards the end of the C4's life, Japanese sports cars really started coming to the forefront. Early in
the C4's life, the 'Vette was in a class of its own. It was the only true American sports car, yet was priced more cheaply
than lots of 2-seaters from Europe. Japan changed this. Mazda's RX-7, Nissan's Z cars, and Toyota's Supra all started
making dents in potential Corvette sales, partially because these cars were all "catching up", and sometimes surpassing the
Dodge's Viper also came on the scene. Not only did the Viper start to give the Corvette a run for its money
(on and off-track), it was also faster, more powerful, and arguably a better sports car all around. Only its cost and availability
kept it from completely dominating Chevy in the sales department.
So with the C5 generation, all of this was supposed to have been addressed.