Payne: Corvette Grand Sport grand slam

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Imagine if Superman and Wonder Woman had a love child. The offspring would be beautiful, powerful, regal. Come to think of it, he would probably be Chris Hemsworth. Superkid would knock the Trumps, Kardashians, and Jenners right off the tabloid front pages.

But in lieu of this comic book fantasy, let me introduce you to the very-real spawn of a torrid Corvette Stingray and Z06 fling. His name is the 2017 Corvette Grand Sport.

The young Grand Sport is an impressive supercar to behold. You’ll know it by its birthmarks: twin “hashmark” stripes on either bicep — er, front fender — just aft of the ginormous, 19-inch tires. Actually, this sci-fi child from Planet Bowling Green should come with a cape.

Grand Sport has all the best attributes of its famous parents. From Momma Stingray it gets thrifty sensibility and a growly, normally aspirated, push-rod 460-horsepower V-8. From Papa Z06 comes the wicked athletic prowess: ground-hugging aero package, mega-brakes, wider track and massive, gummy tires. The result is a $65,445 C7 Corvette that won’t break the bank, yet offers the 1.2-G cornering performance that helped the Z06 vanquish six-figure cyborgs like the McLaren 650S at Car & Driver’s epic Lightning Lap face-off.

I am familiar with the Corvette family, having spent weeks with both around Metro Detroit since the Stingray was introduced in 2013. I have driven the Stingray in anger at Illinois’ Autobahn Raceway and the Z06 at full flight around the Mid-Ohio and Spring Mountain tracks.

So I was thrilled to hook up with Junior for a day around Atlanta’s glorious neck-bending 3-D Atlanta Motorsport Park last week. The kid didn’t disappoint.

With the Z06’s wide body, he looks like dad, save the hood blister for the supercharger. Stingray’s popular Z51 package is standard including rear-differential cooler and dry-sump oil system essential for hot laps. And since GS is all about track days, go on and option the Z07 package (what’s $8K?) to get the Herculean, 151/2-inch ceramic brakes so you’ll never have to worry about stopping. Merging on the track out of AMP’s pits and putting the throttle to the mat in third gear, I thought I was going to the moon – only to have the giant Brembos haul me back to earth like I had thrown Titanic’s anchor out the back window.

Under the Grand Sport’s composite skin is Corvette’s familiar, 3,400-pound, aluminum chassis. There’s no ultra-light carbon fiber tub like a McLaren. No magic, rear-steer-active-suspension engineering like the $90,000 Porsche 911. Over AMP’s non-stop roller coaster of blind turns, the ’Vette’s chassis twists and turns like a mechanical bull. Bellowing out of AMP’s high-g ESS turns onto the Nurburgring-inspired pit straight at 130 mph, I feel the beast’s weight moving underneath me.

No matter.

The Z07 downforce package of rear wickers and side-and-front spoilers sucks GS to the asphalt (and makes it look awesome, too). Standard magnetic shocks constantly balance the beast’s four paws. And on those paws are fitted the Z06’s massive 10-inch front and 12-inch rear Michelin Super Cup 2 tires — the rear glutes stretched 3.5-inches to cover their width. They grip. Like. Glue.

The beast roars past the start-finish line rattling every window in the timing tower.

The GS is a tantalizing mix of raw and digital, a wild beast civilized by modern tech. Happily, GM doesn’t let the tech tame the monster, allowing drivers to dance as close to the edge as desired. I dialed the Drive Mode selector to TRACK SPORT 1, which gave me control while never completely turning off the electronic nannies.

There is no substitute for horsepower, and the Grand Sport will never rival the speed of Superdad Z06. But 460 horsepower is plenty for the weekend racer, thank you very much (and doesn’t have the Z06’s, um, annoying heat-soaking issues). Note pro Andy Pilgrim shattering AMP’s production car lap record the day I was there.

The Grand Sport is actually the raciest of Corvette’s three trims; its specs are closest to the normally-aspirated 491-horse, LeMans-legal C7-R race car. That was the intent of the original Grand Sport — raced by Roger Penske, among others — way back in 1963.

But where only five original Grand Sports were made, the 2017 GS will come from a big litter of convertibles and coupes. As with the last-gen C6 Grand Sport, Chevy expects sales to be on par with the Stingray (40 percent Stingray, 40 percent GS, 20 percent Z06).

But the Grand Sport is much more than a track car. Like its bunkmates, it transitions easily to the street.

Outside AMP, I drove an automatic Grand Sport for miles through the rolling hills and small burgs of suburban Atlanta. The Grand Sport comes in a dizzying array of colors and interior choices, but my favorite is the (new for ’17) Watkins Glen Gray Metallic paint, accented with red Grand Sport hashmarks. It’s subtle – unlike, say, the Admiral Blue Metallic with white hood stripes and red hashmarks that will set off every police radar detector within 50 miles. Save the “wow” factor for the black and lipstick-red leather-trimmed interior.

The automatic solves one of my two gripes about the Corvette: the mushy manual transmission. With its quick, barking upshifts, the eight-speed auto is both fun and quicker to drive. The manual seven-speed, by contrast, has one too many gates and is prone to mis-shifts.

My other gripe is the oily interior smell. You’ll get used to it.

Your speed-addled scribe kept the TRACK mode setting on the street; I like the heavier steering and wake-the-dead exhaust yowl. But the Corvette always aims to please and you can dive into the console settings and adjust ENGINE SOUND MANAGEMENT to anything you want — including STEALTH mode for gliding around town like you were in a 460-horsepower Prius.

Those console settings are part of Chevy’s MyLink touchscreen that includes passenger-friendly features like Apple Car Play and Android Auto so that your smartphone can take over the screen. Creature comforts abound, making it the most passenger-friendly sports car on the market. Riding shotgun means getting your own cocoon — plenty of legroom, a cubby behind the headrest that will fit a small camera bag or purse, and separate climate controls at your right knee.

There are also two enormous “Oh, crap!” handles for when your driver asks if you’d like to take a hot lap around the local race track. Like Lois Lane rocketing into the clouds on Superman’s back, you’ll want to hold on tight.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport


Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: $66,445 coupe, $70,445 for convertible

Power plant: 6.2-liter, aluminum V-8 with direct injection and dry sump

Power: 460 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 175 mph

Weight: 3,428 lbs. (coupe as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/29 mpg highway/21 mpg combined (manual); EPA 16 mpg city/29 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (automatic)

Report card

Highs: Glue-like stick; awesome power

Lows: Mushy manual box; oily interior smell


Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★