Lacking the navigation option, you don't expect much from the Corvette's black plastic face-plated stereo system, with its monochrome display. But looks are deceiving in this case, as the stereo hides a six-disc changer capable of playing MP3 CDs. This system also has XM satellite radio, adding to the music options, but forget iPod integration, as all you get is an auxiliary jack on the face-plate.
The monochrome display is merely adequate for seeing what's currently playing and choosing music from satellite radio or an MP3 CD. But you get additional information on the car's head-up display, a projection on the windshield showing the car and engine speed. When you skip forward a track or change CDs, the display briefly shows the name of the next song before resuming its normal duties. That head-up display can be flipped through a street mode and two different track modes, which show lateral g-forces, oil temperature, and other pertinent performance data.
As mentioned above, the Bose audio system, with seven speakers, has some power, but not much refinement. It didn't exactly bring out the best in the music we played through it, muddying up the vocals and muting the highs.
Bluetooth is just one of the unexpected special prizes in this Corvette. Pairing a phone and accessing the system requires you to hold down the talk button on the steering wheel for about 2 seconds. If you just tap that button, it will only mute the stereo. We paired the system to an iPhone and found the call quality nice and clear, but it can't access a phone's contact list; if you want to call out, you will have to know the number.
OnStar is included with the Corvette, and includes navigation services. When you give a destination to an OnStar operator, they can send turn-by-turn directions to the car, and these will be displayed on the radio interface.
Under the hood
The convertible Corvette is built on the base model, so it gets the LS3 engine, as opposed to the LS7 engine in the Corvette Z06. For driving on real roads, that LS3 is plenty, with 6.2. liters of displacement for its eight cylinders. Normally, this engine would generate 430 horsepower, but our 2009 Corvette Convertible came with the optional Dual Mode Exhaust, enhancing exhaust flow and increasing the output to 436 horsepower at 5,900rpm. This optional exhaust system also creates that brilliant engine roar we liked so much. Torque is up there at 428 pound-feet, peaking at 4,600rpm.
Most sports-car fans will scoff at the idea of an automatic transmission in a Corvette, but this six speed really isn't bad, especially if the car won't be put on the track. Automatic mode works well for just getting around, delivering smooth operation, easy hill starts, and painless stop-and-go traffic experiences. It also seeks high gear, and will have you in sixth before you know it, resulting in decent fuel economy. The EPA rates the car at 15 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. We turned in an average of 18.8 mpg, not spectacular, but impressive for such a big engine.
When you want to really go, put it in Sport mode, enabling the paddle shifters. We didn't notice any difference between Drive and Sport when you let the automatic work, and the transmission also doesn't aggressively downshift for you. Sport driving is all about using the paddles. Unfortunately, manual gear shifts feel a little soft, with the usual torque converter slushiness, but the car won't overrule your choice of gear. With third gear engaged, you get good throttle response for speeds from 20 to 80 mph.
We were surprised to see the Selective Ride dial on the console of this Corvette, which let us choose between Touring and Sport mode for the suspension. This option is similar to Audi's Magnetic Ride system, and uses a magnetic fluid in the shock absorbers, the viscosity of which is controlled with an electromagnet. The car monitors the road conditions and driving style, adjusting the damping of the shock absorbers appropriately. In practice, we didn't feel a big ride difference between Touring and Sport, but we assume it improved the handling, and it is good to see GM adopt this technology for the Corvette.
The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible has a base price of $51,700, but that version doesn't come with much. We added the 4LT Premium Package for $10,050, which brings in the Bose stereo, CD changer, Bluetooth, head-up display, and the power top. The magnetic ride control was an additional $1,995, $1,195 for the exhaust system, and $1,250 for the automatic transmission. Those options and sundry others brought our total up to $69,480. Chevrolet manages to avoid a gas guzzler tax with the Corvette due to how it tunes the transmission. Although not as elegant, you could definitely give a Ferrari F430 a run for its money with the Corvette, at about a third of the price. For around the same money as the Corvette, other speeders to consider would be the , , and the , although a dealer mark-up on the latter would probably drive the price way up.
In our ratings for the Corvette Convertible, we would have just considered its cabin tech average, but it gets a bump from the head-up display, an innovative feature found on few other cars. Performance is outstanding, with excellent acceleration from the big engine, nicely tuned handling, the high-tech magnetic-ride system, and better gas mileage than any of its competitors. We also consider the design of the car outstanding, as the Corvette uses such a distinct body style that this Chevrolet Corvette Convertible is unmistakable on the road.