Review by Greg Wilson
Photos by Russell Purcell

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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Here’s a prediction: 40 years from now, the 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible is going to be a very desirable collector car. Of course, by that time, we’ll all be driving fuel-cell powered Smart cars that actually drive themselves, so the sight of a low-slung 2005 Corvette convertible coming down the street will be like seeing a Bugatti Veyron pick its way through a maze of Trabants.

But even today, there are few sports cars that match the street-presence of the new-for-2005 Corvette convertible. And that includes its more expensive competitors, the Jaguar XK8, Cadillac XLR, Mercedes-Benz SL500, or Lexus SC430. As nice as those cars are, I can’t see them becoming collector cars in 40 years.

Perhaps the only other sports car on the market right now with as much street appeal is the Dodge Viper, but at the risk of offending Viper fans, the Viper is more of an adrenaline-inspired cartoon than a car. It’s loud, it’s rough, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard to control. And it’s expensive. The 2005 Corvette convertible is not only fast, attractive and well-proportioned, it’s a sports car that you can actually drive every day.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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Of course, Corvettes weren’t always that way. As recently as the 1990s, they were hard-riding, noisy, vibration-prone, cramped and uncomfortable, and were a nightmare on wet roads. What’s remarkable about the new, redesigned 2005 Corvette convertible is that it’s actually easy to drive, and – gasp – comfortable! Okay, it can still be a handful on wet roads, but its improved suspension, tires, traction control and stability control combine to make this a much safer Corvette.

Unlike its import competitors, the Corvette still has that raw edge that makes you feel like you’re driving a race-car. The guttural sound of its 400 horsepower 6.0-litre overhead valve V8, the mechanical noises made by its quick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission, and the awesome grip of its Goodyear Eagle F1 Z-rated run-flat tires (18″ front; 19″ rear) put a little Watkins Glen into your morning commute.

Corvette: the details

For 2005 and 2006, Corvettes are available in three body styles: a coupe/hatchback with a removeable roof panel (see my 2005 Test-Drive report), a soft-top convertible, and the limited production 505 hp Z06 hardtop/hatchback.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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The new Corvette is slightly smaller than the previous version (127 mm (5 in.) shorter and about 25 mm (1 in.) narrower) but retains the familiar composite body, wedge-profile, and four round taillights. Perhaps the most dramatic styling change was the new Xenon HID headlights under clear plastic covers that replaced the long-standing flip-up headlights. Reaction to those has been generally positive, especially since they offer significantly better lighting at night.

The interior was also given a styling update that makes it look more upscale and better-finished, including redesigned gauges, metal-look trim, a cleaner dash layout made of nicer materials, and a shifter that’s closer to the driver. As well, there’s a new optional touch-screen and navigation system, a head-up display that shows the speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, and lateral g-force rating; and a keyless ignition system.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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The MSRP of the 2005 Corvette Coupe is $67,395 while the convertible is $79,495. For 2006, the price has gone up by $410: the Coupe is now $67,805 and the Convertible is $79,905. The new Z06 is $89,900. As well, GM’s Destination charge has risen from $1,100 to $1,300.

Corvette Coupe and Convertible models haven’t changed much for 2006. The biggest upgrade is a new optional 6-speed paddle shift automatic transmission, replacing the 4-speed automatic. There’s also a new, smaller-diameter three spoke steering wheel, advanced front airbags with a passenger seat sensor, two new exterior colours, yellow and red metallic, and a new titanium grey interior colour and grey convertible top colour.


Convertible top

Though some luxury convertibles have switched to hardtop convertibles, the Corvette has a traditional, soft fabric top with a glass rear window. One advantage of a traditional top is that the car actually looks like a convertible when the top is up, not like a coupe. There is a certain stylishness to a convertible car with a fabric top.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
Click image to enlarge

The Corvette’s fabric top has five layers to keep out noise, conceal the steel support structure, and preserve the car’s aerodynamics at freeway speeds. To lower the top, the driver first pulls down and twists a single lever at the centre of the windshield header. The driver then presses and holds a button on left side of dashboard while the top retracts underneath the hard tonneau cover behind the rear seats. The whole process takes about 20 seconds to fully retract, and 20 seconds to fold-up. There’s no need to get out of the car.

With the top up, the Corvette is fairly quiet at freeway speeds, and seals the wind and rain outside. The rear window has an electric defogger for cold or icy mornings, but visibility to the rear is hampered by a high rear deck. As well, visibility when lane-changing is restricted by the top.

With the top down, visibility to the rear is much better of course, but the driver sits very low and the rear deck is quite high, so it’s still a challenge when backing into a parking space. As well, the top of the windshield header may be too low for taller drivers. It didn’t bother me – I’m 5′ 9″ – but 6 footers may find it obstructs forward vision.

At freeway speeds with the top down and the side windows down, wind buffeting is confined to a gentle slapping behind the ears. Putting the side windows up improves things a bit, but not much.

With the top down, the experience of being open to the sun and the sky, the fresh air, the sounds and sights around you, is very pleasant – and contrary to popular opinion, convertibles can be used in the Spring and Fall too. Just turn on the heater, and warm your feet!


Interior impressions

This is nifty: you don’t need to use a key to get in the car or start the engine. Just leave the key in your pocket, and touch the pad on the door slot, and the door unlocks and opens.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
Click image to enlarge

Once inside, you only need to put your foot on the brake and or clutch, and press a button to start the engine.

On the inside of the doors are electric buttons instead of door handles, but to get out of the car, the doors won’t open unless the engine is off and the transmission is in Reverse. GM says this is to prevent draining the battery, but I find this difficult to understand. Why can’t the doors open with the engine in First gear, or once the engine is turned off, or when the engine is running in Neutral? Fortunately, if the battery fails, there are two emergency levers located near the door sills that will open the doors manually.

Standard equipment in the Corvette Convertible is comprehensive. The perforated leather seats are both comfortable and supportive, and offer power height adjustment and seat heaters. A tiltable, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are nicely positioned for reach, and the large round primary gauges are easily visible. An AM/FM stereo with an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 player and Bose speakers offers great sound with powerful bass. A dual zone automatic climate control is easy to operate, and the power windows and power heated outside mirrors are also standard.

Surrounding the instrument cluster are buttons for the driver information display (average fuel consumption, instant fuel economy, range, etc.),

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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and a Head-up Display which projects onto the windshield ahead of the driver, includes a tachometer, digital speedometer, a lateral G-force meter, and oil pressure gauge. The HUD can be adjusted for height and brightness, and it can also be turned off. Personally, I find the HUD distracting.

Two cupholders to the right of the shift lever have a sliding cover which looks nice when they’re not in use, but since there’s not a lot of storage space, I found myself using the cupholders to store my cell phone. The armrest between the seats hides a shallow storage bin.

My test car didn’t have one, but a DVD navigation system is available that includes a 6.5-inch (165 mm) colour touch-screen display. Standard safety features include advanced frontal airbags, side airbags, while Onstar is optional.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
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Small trunk

The trunk lid can be opened remotely with the key fob or by pressing a button in the cabin. The trunk is about half the size of the cargo area in the Corvette coupe, but when the convertible top is lowered, the trunk is halved again. In its favour, it is wide, fully carpeted, and has two battery-sized covered storage bins in the floor and a cargo net for securing loose items. But if you’re going on a road trip, a couple of overnight bags is the limit of this trunk’s capacity.


Driving impressions

400 horsepower is a lot of power for a car that weighs 1451 kg (3199 lbs). Its 0 to 100 km/h time of 4.2 seconds is in the league of cars that usually cost much, much more. The Corvette’s LS2 6.0 litre pushrod V8 makes 400 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400 rpm (up from 350 hp and 360 lb-ft in 2004).

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
Click image to enlarge

Its generous torque gives the Corvette terrific off-the-line throttle response and passing power on the highway, but it also allows it to motor along at low revs when cruising on the freeway. For example, in sixth gear, the Corvette will climb most grades you’ll encounter without having to gear down. At 100 km/h, the engine turns over just 1300 rpm in sixth gear. At 120 km/h, it does only 1600 rpm.

That accounts for its rather economical fuel consumption on the highway: 7.6 L/100 km (37 mpg Imperial). In the city, it’s rated at 13.2 L/100 km (21 mpg Imperial). But you’d have to be driving with a very light foot to achieve those numbers.

The standard six-speed manual transmission, which is mounted at the rear for better weight distribution, offers quick, short, mechanical shifts; and clutch pedal effort is surprisingly light. However, the manual transmission has the annoying ‘1st to 4th’ feature which guides the shift lever from 1st gear to 4th gear at low speeds to save fuel.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
Click image to enlarge

Personally, I prefer to make my own decisions about when to shift, and I find this feature an annoyance. Fortunately, the engine has plenty of torque even in fourth gear, so the engine won’t bog down at slow speeds.

As mentioned earlier, a new six-speed paddle shift automatic transmission is available for 2006 as an option. 2005 Corvettes have an optional 4-speed automatic.

With its low-profile Z-rated tires (Front: P245/40ZR-18; Rear: P285/35ZR-19), low centre of gravity, and fully independent suspension the Corvette has handling limits higher than most drivers have. And now, with its more refined suspension, the Corvette feels safer while still offering amazing grip.

An optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension that constantly adjusts shocks to different surfaces is optional, as is a Z51 Performance Package with stiffer shocks and springs, larger stabilizer bars, improved cooling, and larger cross-drilled brake rotors. But unless you’re into weekend auto cross slaloms, I think you’ll be very happy with the base suspension, and there’s really no need to spend the extra money.

On slippery roads, standard traction control and Active Handling (a computerized stability control system) automatically brakes individual rear wheels as needed to regain traction and stability on slippery surfaces. It’s not immediate though, and you will experience some slippage before it kicks in. There’s also a standard rear limited slip differential.

2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
Click image to enlarge

For me, the big surprise with the 2005 Corvette is its comfortable ride. Though the 2005 Corvette retains the steel rail backbone structure, composite floors and centre tunnel, aluminum cockpit structure, and fully independent suspension of the previous Corvette, its suspension cradles, control arms, knuckles, springs, dampers, bushings, and stabilizer bars were all redesigned. The new Corvette soaks up potholes, pavement cracks and railway tracks with amazing aplomb. Previous Corvettes would shake and rattle over similar bumps, but this Corvette is tight.

Braking, courtesy of four big disc brakes with ABS, is powerful and immediate with a progressive pedal feel. The speed sensitive variable assist power steering provides moderate boost at parking lot speeds and firms up nicely at higher speeds without being too sensitive. However, the Corvette’s 39 feet turning circle is wide.

I did encounter a problem with the plastic air dam underneath the nose of the car. It scrapes on the pavement when entering driveways or when going over speed bumps. I’d give this piece of plastic no longer than a year before it breaks or falls off.


Verdict

Combining surprising civility and comfort with the raw edge of a traditional Corvette, the 2005 Corvette Convertible offers a high level of performance and value in the premium convertible sports car class.


Technical Data: 2005 Chevrolet Corvette convertible

Base price $79,495
Options $995 (OnStar Safe & Sound package)
Freight $1,100
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $81,690
Type 2-door, 2-passenger sports car
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel drive
Engine 6.0 litre V8, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder
Horsepower 400 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 400 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual (optional 4-speed automatic)
Tires Front: P245/40ZR-18; Rear: P285/35ZR-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 SC Extended Mobility Asymmetric Tread
Curb weight 1451 kg (3199 lb.)
Wheelbase 2685 mm (105.7 in.)
Length 4435 mm (174.6 in.)
Width 1844 mm (72.6 in.)
Height 1244 mm (49.0 in.)
Cargo capacity 295 litres (11.0 cu. ft.) (top up)
  144 litres (5.0 cu. ft.) (top down)
Fuel consumption City: 13.2 L/100 km (21 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 7.6 L/100 km (37 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Premium unleaded recommended
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Assembly location Bowling Green, Kentucky

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