It is difficult to say, but in some cases a car is simply better with less power. Sometimes a motor is so good it outperforms the chassis it was put into. In the case of the 2017 Grand Sport Corvette, Chevrolet realized that a dialed-back Z06 would appeal to consumers who wanted a car with more track capability than the Stingray Z51 package. The Grand Sport is a sort of middle-of-the-road spot, slotting between the Stingray and the monster Z06 in price and performance. While many car manufacturers exploit a position like this, success can only be determined by functionality. Designed to be equally at home on a race track as it is on the street, the 2017 model revives the attitude of the original. With the wide body from the Z06, the aggressive, angular form oozes an attitude that defines the Grand Sport. This car attempts to be a daily driver with a daring alter ego. In an effort to find out whether or not the car’s functionality matched its purpose, team principal Jeff Francis decided we should take a road trip to Buttonwillow Raceway.
With history and heritage in tow, the team headed out on the two hour drive to our destination. Most notable about the journey was the usability of the Corvette. The ride was pliant and comfortable while the rear hatch compartment left plenty of room for an ice chest, duffel bags and our other gear. In the cockpit, we were greeted by what is likely the best interior in an OEM Corvette to date. The seating position is nice, the material quality has vastly improved over previous generations and technology is up to snuff. Having Apple car play is all well and good, but the available heads up display is even better. Besides being epically cool, it is genuinely useful, especially on a road trip. In street mode, the display has a color readout that supports audio and navigation functions.
Over in track mode, the system projects a g-meter, current vehicle speed and engine rpm. A reach down leads you to the vehicle mode selector. For those trying to attain relatively good gas mileage, the eco mode squeezes the most fuel efficiency out of the motor. Essentially becoming a four-cylinder, the motor will sip gas at a slower rate until the driver gives it a boot full of throttle. On the highway it pays dividends, although burning through fuel is much more fun with all of the cylinders firing. The eco setting is only one of the selectable drive modes. To make the car more user friendly, there are five available settings. The weather mode helps keep a driver from crashing in inclement weather, the aforementioned eco mode saves fuel and the touring mode is for comfortable daily driving. Towards the other end of the spectrum, there are the sport and track modes. Most interested in the performance track mode, we pushed on to our destination.
Once at Buttonwillow, the real testing began. We found the magnetic selective ride control suspension tuned exceptionally well for track duty, the system reacting instantly to iron out bumps and maximize traction. The performance traction management is no joke either, stability control keeps wheel slippage in check without absolutely killing the power. The system is made for those who can drive, General Motors isn’t doing any real babysitting here. It is designed for the driver to get as much out of the car as they can, repeatedly. It will stop you from power sliding the car, but that’s okay because you can turn the system completely off, if ruining your tires is what you desire. Speaking of wheel slippage, there is little of it. While our car did not have the optional Z07 package, the standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires generate huge levels of grip and the car carved through the high speed esses with ease. Even in tighter corners the rubber is unrelenting; front end grip in the Grand Sport is an absolute joy. Throw it into a corner, it doesn’t matter. The car just sticks. From the electronically controlled rear differential to the suspension, you can tell this Corvette was built to stick like flypaper. Grip is the Grand Sport’s defining attitude. However, if you want even more face-melting fun, a buyer can opt for the Z07 package with the even stickier tires, stage II aero, and a carbon ceramic brake package with 15.5 inch front disks and 15.3 inch rears.
If the Grand Sport’s cornering doesn’t excite you, the exhaust note surely will. A familiar tone, the baritone growl from the 6.2-liter V-8 grows to a roar the longer you hold the loud pedal down. The awesome exhaust noise, complimenting an ample 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, makes the whole experience more enjoyable. With dry sump oiling and upgraded cooling systems the Grand Sport doesn’t flinch in the least while being flogged like this. Indicated temperatures and the performance of our car stayed remarkably normal during its two hour shakedown, even with extended runs. While the Grand Sport’s supercharged big brother may have to deal with excess heat, it wasn’t an issue for our car. It is totally usable on the track, even under heavy stress.
Our car had the available the eight-speed automatic transmission. The 8L90 transmission may get drivers to 60 MPH faster, run a very slightly quicker quarter mile time and be easier to use in traffic, but purists will prefer the seven-speed manual. At the point, the automatic may have been the best General Motors has ever built, but many think it isn’t as slick as many other dual clutch units are today. This is possibly why GM worked so hard co-developing the 10-speed transmission that has found its home in the 2017 Camaro ZL1. That said; the eight-speed automatic transmission up shifts well and it spouts a glorious pop from the exhaust between gears. Whichever transmission an owner opts for, neither put a damper on the amount of fun you can have, nor the ultimate usability of the car.
The bottom line on the 2017 Grand Sport is this; it lives up to its purpose. While this might not seem like high praise, it absolutely is. Given that the car is meant to be both a useable daily driver and have a hidden talent for exerting more force upon its driver than the Earth’s gravity, living up to its purpose is all you can ask of it. All said and done, with the 2017 Corvette Grand Sport, GM has created a true performer.