There's something about thrashing a car on a race track that boasts exceptional handling with just the right amount of horsepower. It's confidence inspiring, allowing you to get comfortable behind the wheel easily. You can focus more on driving the right line instead of self-preservation, as you might with a car brandishing intimidating amounts of power. The 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport that I'm wheeling around Atlanta Motorsports Park in Dawsonville, Georgia, is just such a car.
The newest Corvette to join the lineup is a delectable combination of chassis and body equipment borrowed from the range-topping Z06 joined with the drivetrain from the base Stingray. It's the best of both worlds, a Corvette that features the menacing wide-body looks and handling prowess of the Z06 balanced with the more tractable, manageable 460-horsepower V-8 instead of the Z06's wild 650-horsepower supercharged engine.
Items like magnetic ride control suspension, electronic limited-slip differential, bigger Brembo brakes and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are Grand Sport standards. Tuning for all that equipment, along with traction electronics and steering, are specific to the Grand Sport.
For the first time, Chevrolet is also offering the Z07 performance package on the Grand Sport, raising its on-track game with carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires and a carbon-fiber aero package for additional downforce. Chevy says that the Z07 upgrades improve cornering capabilities from 1.05 g on the base Grand Sport to a heady 1.2 g. The cars I'm rotating through on this hot and muggy Southern morning are equipped with the optional goodies, making for particularly enthralling laps of the challenging circuit.
Diving deep into braking zones is done without trouble, the giant carbon brakes slowing things in a hurry. Turn-in is sharp, with the suspension keeping things flat and planted and the Cup 2 tires clawing into the pavement. Cornering grip is certainly there, with plenty of traction to build speed through Turns 14 and 15 to shoot onto the front straight at near triple-digit speeds. Even in very tight sections, the Grand Sport scampers through without protest. There's no ugly understeer push, just lots of stick, letting you place the GS anywhere you want on track.
My runs are done with the drive mode selector in Track and the performance traction management system in Sport 2 where the car's safety electronics don't noticeably interfere. Power is always put down smoothly out of corners, and the 460-horsepower, dry-sump 6.2-liter V-8 provides ideal amounts of thrust for a user-friendly track weapon. Throttle response for downshifts is snappy, and the seven-speed manual rows beautifully through the gears.
Another feature sure to appeal to track-day enthusiasts is the built-in Performance Data Recorder system that captures laps times, telemetry information and video for you to dissect later or share with your adoring fans on YouTube.
Even though the Grand Sport is an excellent track car, the fact is that most will spend their lives exclusively on road. That's fine because it's great there, too. In a Grand Sport without the optional Z07 package, I toggle the drive mode to Touring to unlock further compliance in the magnetic suspension and lighten steering feel and am rewarded with a fine road runner.
The massive Pilot Super Sport rubber doesn't generate an excessive amount of tire noise, and ride quality is smooth for a sports car, with only bigger bumps rattling occupants in a cabin that's otherwise comfortable. There's also a respectable list of interior tech features including navigation, satellite radio, Chevrolet MyLink, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, head-up display, backup camera, Bose sound system and available 4G-LTE Wi-Fi connectivity.
When you feel like lighting up some backroads, flipping the drive mode to Sport causes the engine to howl louder through the standard performance exhaust system, and the GS positively torches winding ribbons of pavement with ease -- even without the Z07 package. The noticeably firmer suspension and staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear tires again help the Grand Sport do everything I tell it to. Exceeding this car's handling limits on the streets would not only be difficult, but also incredibly irresponsible, likely drawing unwanted attention from local authorities.
The Grand Sport looking the part is certainly a plus, with its wider body, Z06 grille and variety of graphic options giving buyers a greater ability to customize their rides. A total of 10 exterior paint colors, six heritage package hash-mark color fender decals, five full-length stripe colors and five wheel choices on the Grand Sport create countless personalization possibilities.
If you're expecting a lot of Grand Sport special touches for the interior, prepare to be disappointed. Only a center console badge and floor mats set it apart from the other Corvette models.
Somehow, I don't think the lack of special interior touches will slow the Grand Sport from becoming the best-selling model in the Corvette range once again (the C6-generation Grand Sport accounted for 60 percent of sales during its run). With the GS' return to fill the sizable performance gap between the base Stingray and Z06, it likely will pick up where it left off.
Not only is the Grand Sport itself easier to handle behind the wheel than the Z06, its $66,445 price tag for the coupe and $70,445 for the convertible are friendlier on the pocketbook, too. Even with the Z07 performance package upgrades' $7,995 option cost, it's still a fair bit cheaper than a Z06. For comparison's sake, a base Z06 costs $14,000 more than a standard GS, with the coupe starting at $80,445 and the droptop stickering at $84,445.
Yes, the extra money to have the baddest Corvette on the block isn't crazy, but from a driving standpoint, the Grand Sport truly is the sweet spot in the lineup because it's simply excellent in every circumstance. It's fast and capable on the track without being scary, and it's comfortable on the road. It even looks wicked, to boot. All things considered, the Grand Sport is my new Corvette of choice.