While on my recent vacation in Southern California, I decide to make things a little more interesting by renting a fun car for the day from Turo, the peer-to-peer car rental service.
While there are lots of interesting rides to choose from on Turo in the Los Angeles area (I was seriously tempted by one of several 1960’s Mustangs that are available), I decided to go with something a little more modern for my first Turo rental. While you can spend $1000 or more per day to rent an exotic, a C7 Corvette can be yours for around $99 per day, easily making it the Turo bang-for-the-buck value leader (which come to think of it is one of the reasons why people buy Corvettes in the first place).
After going through the relatively simple booking process, the time had come to pick up the Vette. I pulled up to the owner’s house, and there it was. While the owner wasn’t there (I would never actually meet him in person), the key was right where he said it would be (on top of the left rear tire).
As I stepped up to the car I got a little twinge in the pit of my stomach. Is that fear? Intimidation? Surely not. Heck, this isn’t even my first time behind the wheel of a C7, having driven one briefly (along with a Lamborghini Aventador) at an extreme track driving experience a few years ago while a racing instructor rode shotgun. Back then, I was impressed with the Vette in that it offers 80% of the capability of the Lambo (and let’s be honest, 100% of the real word usable capability of the Lambo) at a small fraction of the price. But still, this will be my first time taking the animal out of the zoo, unsupervised, and with only God as my copilot. Am I up to it?
I fumbled a little bit with the awkwardly positioned electric door release, opened the door and sank in. With a push of the start button, the 6.2L LT1 V8 roared to life, the unexpectedly loud bark of the exhaust me catching me a little off guard. The engine then settled into a slow, violent burble. This uneven idle was not unlike starting my 1970 Mark III, with the engine shaking, sputtering, and generally running unevenly. I assumed that it would even out when it warmed up (and it did, somewhat), but there was always enough shaking and rumbling at idle to remind you that the engine was running. I would say that the probability of getting out of a Corvette while accidentally forgetting to turn the engine off is exactly zero.
I slipped the shifter into drive and slowly crept out of the owner’s driveway, being careful not scrape the front end in the rain gullies of storm sewerless Southern California (a maneuver I would have to repeat many times on this trip). As I pull out, the view out the windshield, with the comically large fenders, instantly reminded me of various C3 Corvettes that I have driven and ridden in the past. It is an iconic view that for better or worse is part and parcel with whole Corvette experience. You either get it or you don’t.
After plying a few city streets, I wheel the Corvette on to I-5 in Orange County. As I cruise up the onramp, I finally get to indulge in the raison d’etre of this car: I gently roll the throttle to about three quarters, and seemingly instantly I go from about 25 to about 95. (side note: I don’t think I ever once touched the carpet with the accelerator pedal).
I expected incredible acceleration, and the Corvette did not disappoint. Perhaps the most amazing part is how quickly it pulls at highway speeds. It is as if someone locally altered the physics of the Matrix, and now wind and rolling resistance no longer exist. Even at highway speeds, you can summon vast amounts of speed to point and shoot your way into virtually any traffic opening.
One other thing hit me immediately after I entered the freeway: The noise. As I reach highway speeds, my eardrums are getting assaulted by the racket emanating from the rear tires, located probably no more than 24 inches from my ears. The roar is tremendous, and there is very little in the echo chamber of a hatchback to muffle it. The cacophony is a blend of expansion joints, rain grooves and textured finish in the concrete. Mixed into this is the steady staccato of the exhaust. It is a very visceral experience.
My rental was equipped with the Bose sound system, but it might as well be an AM radio, as most of the high-end and bass get lost in the maelstrom. Turning up the volume increases the quantity, but alas not the quality of the music. The Corvette does at least have Apple CarPlay, which allows me to make maximum use of Waze.
While the noise is punishing, the ride decidedly is not. As you would expect, the ride is on the firm side (you can feel every Botts’ dot and expansion joint). While it will never be mistaken for a Lexus, the ride is never jarring, certainly nothing like the legendary harsh ride of the C4. I suspect the Z06/Z07 variants of the C7 may not be quite so kind to your backside.
In any case, I don’t plan on staying on I-5 for long. I had no intention of using a car like this just to sit in LA traffic. Instead, I headed straight towards the canyons and dry washes that Southern California is so well known for, where I can more properly experience this car.
Once I hit the canyons, the grin factory opened up for business. The “go-cart-like handling” analogy has been thrown around so much that it has become cliché, but that really is the aptest description. Coming into a sharper-than-expected switchback at a speed probably quadruple the posted 10mph, I simply sharply turned the wheel into the turn. The front end dutifully complied, instantly following the S-bend without so much as even a tire squeal. The only other time I can recall pulling G forces like that was, well, in a go-cart.
Still, it is not all fun and games. The Vette constantly reminds you of how big it is, especially in the width dimension. It always seems like it is using the entire lane. While driving through the canyons of southern California the C7 proved to be more agile than I expected, but I couldn’t help but thinking that a Miata would probably have been a lot more fun.
Much has been made of the supposedly more civilized nature of the C7, and I will give credit where credit is due: My example, despite being 2 years old and having over 31,000 no doubt hard-driven miles at the hands of dozens of renters, exhibited nary a squeak or rattle, even from the removable roof area. Granted, the table-smooth California roads are nothing like the pothole infested roads of Ohio that I am used to, but it is still impressive nonetheless.
One thing that has not changed from the ’70s and ’80s Corvettes I drove and rode in when growing up is the ineffective air conditioning. Set for 70 degrees on automatic, it had to run almost at full blast to keep the car cool on a relatively cool (75 degrees) sunny summer day. The air conditioner’s job wasn’t helped by all the heat pouring into the footwells from the engine and exhaust, something I haven’t experienced in a modern car in decades. Luckily switching the A/C to manually force some of the cold air through the heater outlets on the floor seemed to solve this.
Nor does the eight-speed automatic transmission do this car any favors: It has too many gears to effectively manage with the paddle shifters, so most of the time I just left it in auto, leaving me to feel somewhat uninvolved. The transmission is also was a tad too eager to show off, dropping down three or even four gears with a big lunge and a “harumph” from the engine when really a one or two gear downshift would have sufficed. I’ve read it before, and it’s true: this car really should be driven with the manual transmission.
Which brings me to the crux of my experience with this car: Driving a Corvette is a bit like having a puppy that wants to play with you all the time. While it is amusing at first, it soon gets tiring, and then annoying. Sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet. Indeed, while I had planned on renting the car for eight hours, after five I was exhausted from the constant assault, so I ended up returning it early.
Renting this Corvette sealed any notion that I may have harbored about getting one as my daily driver. But that is not what the Corvette is all about, and using it as a mundane commuter would quite frankly be insulting to the Corvette. No, it is about driving down two-lane roads, going nowhere in particular. Much like Disneyland, it is a fun place to spend the day, even if I wouldn’t want to live there.