7th heaven: Ranking the seven best C7 configurations
We come to bury the C7 Corvette, not to praise it. Scratch that. We come to praise it as well, because the seventh-generation Chevrolet sports car is arguably the finest mass-market two-seater in human history. We recently drove a selection of C7 Corvettes to and from the Barrett-Jackson auction where the final Z06 was auctioned off for a sobering, seven-figure sum. Would you like to get in on the action for a little less?
We’ve reviewed our notes from this final drive—along with what we learned over the years in a few closed-to-the-public racetrack sessions—to recommend seven great ways to configure your new Corvette. They’re ranked in order, because why not? Grab your checkbook and follow along.
#7: Stingray Convertible 3LT, automatic: $77,915
Let’s face it: this is the ’Vette that gets a bad rap. Automatic transmission, folding top, luxury equipment, base engine—and a $990 accessories package that includes a car cover. You can just about see the Craigslist ad that will run eight years from now: “2019 Stingray, Sebring Orange, never seen rain or snow, 4700 miles. No lowballers.” It’s easy to make fun of the car and its owners… but to drive a Stingray in this configuration is, frankly, to love it. You burble along with the top down, surfing a powerboat wave of torque, listening to the astounding stereo’s crystal-clear imaging, and relaxing in the first-class seats. The valet can drive it without glazing the clutch and you can actually get it out of your driveway without cross-crabbing in reverse. You know what? Maybe those guys on Craigslist really do know what they have.
#6: Z06 Coupe 1LZ, 7-speed manual: $83,085
Speed costs money; how fast do you want to go? The Z06 pictured here might be the exception. With drag radials, it’s a ten-second car—and that’s before you take advantage of the massive aftermarket for its 650-horsepower LT4 engine. Call this a Street Stock Corvette, because around a road course you’d quickly tire of its relatively tame brakes and propensity to peg the temperature gauge on hot days. The only options we added were black wheels and brake calipers to point up the car’s Darth Vader aspect. Sadly, choosing the cheapest (and lightest) trim here means you’re stuck with the rental-grade 1LZ interior. It doesn’t matter. Tint the windows California dark. Who could keep up with you long enough to get a look inside, anyway?
#5: Grand Sport Coupe 1LT, 7-speed manual: $68,980
Spoiler alert: you’re going to have to order a car like this, because the dealers won’t touch it. Another spoiler alert: this Grand Sport is missing a few spoilers. Nor does it have the sublimely perfect racetrack balance of its Z07-equipped, full-aero cousins higher up the Grand Sport pricing ladder. So what’s the appeal? In a word: focus. This is a Corvette for young buyers who will be commuting to work in the same car they’re taking to SCCA’s Track Night in America. It’s got all the right moves, and it’s probably the fastest way to get around a racetrack for under seventy grand. You’ll have to put up with a bare-bones interior, but we added two options for the sake of sweet emotion: a transparent roof to lighten the mood, and Corvette Museum Delivery because there’s nothing better than picking up your all-American sports car within shouting distance of the men and women who built it for you.
#4: Stingray Z51 Coupe 2LT, 7-speed manual: $68,640
“All Corvettes are red… the rest are just mistakes.” If you recognize the line, and the book from which it comes, chances are that you’re deeply invested in the Corvette mythology. (If you don’t… here you go.) This little red Corvette is the distillation of what makes the C7 so good. You want the Z51 package, because it adds racetrack competence and resale value. You want Magnetic Ride, because it includes the Performance Traction Management system. And you probably want 2LT trim; it’s the sweet spot between bare-plastic 1LT and garage-queen 3LT. Choose black interior over grey, because the grey can feel a bit dismal. Boom! Now you have a car that need fear no mid-price Porsche or Supra-badged Bimmer.
#3: ZR1 Coupe 1ZR, 7-speed manual: $129,780
Thirty-five years ago, the Z51 variant of the C4 Corvette appeared to much fanfare—and to much squeaking of the fiberglass body as it twisted under the vicious assault of SCCA-spec springs and shocks. In certain circumstances—a National Solo autocross match, a Showroom Stock race around Mid-Ohio—the C4 Z51 was simply untouchable. From that moment on, the Corvette has possessed two souls, one for the drive-in and one for LeMans. The ZR1 is the ne plus ultra expression of the latter. We’ve specified it in white (the lightest color) and with no options other than the Comp seats. An automatic transmission would make it faster—we observed a 1.8 second difference in the auto’s favor around a minute-and-thirty lap time track— but the manual is the driver’s choice, and that’s appropriate for the driver’s Corvette. The ZR1 equipment makes this car a hassle on the street, thanks to reduced visibility and tires that skip and chatter in agitation during low-speed maneuvers. On the track, with that big wing pushing you into 1.6g of transitional cornering forces at triple-digit speeds, it’s utterly sublime. The only problem with this super-’Vette, from a sales and marketing perspective at least, is this: most of the people who can drive it at the limit are already receiving a check from GM, so they’re not perfectly willing to hand one back.
#2: Z06 Convertible 3LZ, automatic: $102,105
If the ZR1 is the ultimate expression of the Corvette’s hardcore heart, then this droptop cruise missile is the perfected idea of Corvette-as-boulevardier. Nothing short of a McLaren 720S is going to smoke you in an impromptu Miami Beach drag race, but the rest of the time you’ll be cruising in comfort thanks to the 3LZ package, microfiber-suede inserts, and no-hassle automatic transmission. Z07 package? Ground effects? Who wants that crap? It would just scrape the pavement as you pull into the Hotel Del. This is this kind of Corvette that Boogie Nights character Dirk Diggler would find irresistible, and it’s the perfect way for retirees to leave their cares behind—in a cloud of tire smoke.
#1: Grand Sport Coupe 2LT Z07, full carbon, 7-speed: $90,370
Why pay ninety grand for a naturally-aspirated ’Vette with a mid-grade interior, a clutch pedal, and a roof over your head? Simple: because this is the finest Corvette ever made. With Z07 equipment and the full carbon ground effect package, this widebody C7 looks like an F-22 ready to strike. On the street, there’s little to differentiate it from the Z51 Stingray, but on track, the Grand Sport takes the brilliant balance of that lesser model to greater heights. It communicates better than the ZR1 thanks to the lack of aero, and you don’t have to worry as much about braking down to a perfect corner entry speed. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper to operate at speed, thanks to reduced wear on tires and brakes. We added Comp seats, the PDR video system, machined-face alloys, and the red/white/blue stripe. Picking 2LT allowed us to select the Kalahari sueded interior, which verges on the slightly upscale and which relieves the visual monotony. This is the C7 at its best: fast enough, well-equipped, capable of freeway duty, a true joy to drive in all circumstances. Yes, it’s expensive—but it’s worth every penny, and it sets the highest possible bar for the C8 to come.