As a lifelong Europhile, the cars I look at always come with inevitable and costly problems. And the standard wisdom says Corvettes balance fun with reliability at some expense of build quality. As in the previous articles, I have set out to determine whether or not I like Corvettes enough to buy and drive one on the daily. So, this is day three / car three of this all-important quest.
Today, Facebook Marketplace leads me to another NoHo used car lot full of tired fun rides and there’s a C6 waiting for me. Unlike the first two Vettes I drove, today’s C6 shows no hint of class. With its faded orange paint, bubbling window tint, and worn black interior, it reminds me of a washed-up party girl – let’s call her Lindsay. However, unlike the previous C5s, the C6 Corvettes came with a 6-speed automatic transmission complete with paddle shifters and a 6.0-liter 400 horsepower V8. So, there’s still the promise of American thrills. The portly salesman who greets me says that because of COVID I will be on my own for this drive.
First impressions: the C6 is theme-park-ride exhilarating! Someone made the hilariously bad decision to remove the mufflers, and now the effortless Corvette speed broadcasts with an unhinged V8 roar that has me giggling at every stoplight. However, after 10 minutes of this aural assault, my ears are starting to ring- though I’m sure the engine sounds phenomenal and/or obnoxious to pedestrians.
Happily, there are no issues from the fun pedal. The torque feels smooth and immediate and an extra 50 horsepower over the C5’s 350 doesn’t hurt. But, the real surprise of the drive is the 6-speed automatic. Despite being roundly dismissed in its day, I found that the transmission is far better than the previous 4-speed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the paddle shifters! Unlike current designs, both paddles shift up and down which can create confusion in the heat of the moment. Better to have a dedicated paddle to upshift and another to downshift, don’t you think?
Fortunately, the rest of the driving dynamics shine. The steering in addition to being heavier features improved road feel that registers through the handsome three-spoke helm. There’s a certain magic that happens when torque and grip come together to pin you to your seat around an onramp. And, thankfully, when you’re about to run out of road, the brakes provide excellent stopping power along with reassuring pedal feel.
As an everyday car, the C6 is a vast improvement over the C5. This particular C6’s foibles aside, it’s becoming clear that the C6 is a major upgrade over the C5. Really, it would be much easier to live with a C6 every day. The interior is still plasticky crap, but it actually works. More importantly, the seating position is far more comfortable for tall drivers like me (I’m 6’6”).
Now I’m left with more questions than answers. What’s better? A manual C5 or an automatic C6? Would it be better to pay cash for a cheap C5 or to finance a C6? Are the C5’s Radwood-cool pop-up headlights worth the terrible interior and slushbox? Can’t be sure. As it is, when I return the C6 to the dealer, I find that the interior door button release doesn’t work. No worries, says the salesman, greeting me as I reach out the window to grab the exterior handle, he’ll have his guy fix it. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Corvette number four.