Some of us may never know the joy of owning a $72,000 sports car such as the '12 Centennial Edition Grand Sport. But we all have the capacity to dream, and for one whole week that is exactly what we did when GM handed us the keys. At first glance the GS is complexly sinister in its Carbon Flash Metallic paint, flat black stripes and satin black wheels. The muscular, wide body instantly reminds us why we love C6s. Meanwhile the interior on the Centennial Edition is better than nearly every other factory Corvette we've ever been in (the exception being the Centennial Edition Z06). Starting with the microsuede seats, which finally have a shape befitting a sports car, and progressing on to the rest of the suede accents throughout-including one of my favorite steering wheels ever put on a production car. The combination of suede (also on the shifter and arm rest) and the leather wrapping on the doors and instrument panel are a nice reminder that this car does in fact cost over 70-grand, and it's well worth it. The one possible exception to the interior's good marks was the lack of visibility through the stripes on the glass roof. It bothered some, others cared less. The unique visual queues of the Centennial Edition (such as the badging and symbols), though, were pretty universally well received.
On the road, the Grand Sport feels similar to most other C6s with one noticeable exception, the steering. The new Goodyear F1 Supercar G:2 tires and revised steering wheel make the car incredibly responsive. Point the car in any direction and it will go there. This improved feel and response later paid dividends on the road course, and was easily the fastest and most rewarding stock car we've ever driven on our test track. The one down side to the G:2 was the quite significant tire noise on rougher patches of road. A few older pieces of asphalt around Tampa had us raising our voices to speak to the passenger. We didn't have a chance to quantify the experience with a decibel meter, but thankfully we also didn't see many other instances were it was a factor. Speaking of noise, we enjoyed the dual mode exhaust's-rowdy when you want it and subdued when not-attributes. Compared to an LS2 'vette, the LS3 feels a little more lazy from a standstill, but more than makes up for it on the top end. As many of you might know, all manual trans versions come with a dry-sump, handbuilt version of the LS3 (built in Wixom, MI along side the LS7 and LS9). So our test car was especially pleasurable to row all six of its buttery gears. On the dyno we found out why.
While rated like the base Corvette with optional exhaust at 436 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque, clearly the Grand Sport's LS3 was never recertified. On our Dynojet chassis dyno, the GS made 415 rwhp and 409 lb-ft of torque while following GMHTP's dyno testing procedure to a "T." On three consecutive pulls it made within 1 hp and 1 lb-ft, proving it was no fluke. It later trapped 115 mph at Gainesville Raceway, though the cold and unprepped track didn't allow for any decent short-times (2.26) or e.t. (12.94). We'd estimate a high 11 to a low 12 with a good track should be easy enough for a decent driver, thanks to its unique gear set. In fact, some of our sister publications have already hit a 12.2 at 117 mph. Average to below average drivers should utilize the launch control, which seemed to work beautifully on the street allowing just the tiniest bit of tire-spin. In the future we'd like to test out the launch control on a sticky track to see what it can do. GM says on average there is a two-tenths difference between the launch control and an expert driver, but for your average Joe, it looks to be a great feature that can make anyone feel like a pro.
On the straightaways of Gainesville's road course, the Grand Sport was a missile, especially compared to my bolt-on LS2 C6 we were testing the same day. In addition to its horsepower advantage, the reason it was so fast was the tremendous exit speed. There was seemingly no limit to grip at turn in, and it was easy to feed in throttle upon turn exit. On the left-hander leading on to the front home straight, the GS hit 1.11 g-Forces and 48 mph before straightening out. On average, though, the GS made between .99 and 1.12 g-Forces sustained, along the edge of our skid pad. On the first few laps the substantial braking force of the six-piston front, four-piston rear brakes caught us by surprise, and we were over-braking quite frequently. But with each lap the Grand Sport inspires confidence, always staying composed and never showing a hint of brake fade. The optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control and standard Z16 suspension is much more refined than the Grand Sport's Z51 predecessor yet clearly for those who don't mind a slightly stiffer ride for the sake of better handling. The stiffer springs and larger sway bars help keep the GS very well balanced, while working with the meaty Goodyear 275 and 325mm rubber. When on the softest setting (Tour), the shocks were forgiving enough across train tracks and other such likely intrusions to a smooth drive home from the office, however, not soft enough to make you think you were in a Cadillac. Its stiffest setting (Sport) should be reserved for twisty mountain roads, other instances of spirited driving, and of course the track. Though we didn't have any elevation changes to really put it to the test, we'd bet that in Sport mode the GS is as sure-footed as any.
Thanks to its plethora of coolers (rear, oil, and trans) the Grand Sport was a tireless servant for the heavy footed GMHTP staff, and never once gave us any cause for alarm as we monitored the temperatures through the factory cluster. As I toiled away in my C6, Associate Editor Justin Cesler clicked off the fastest run of the day in the GS-a 1:03.05 seconds. The ability to late-brake, carry a lot of speed through the turns, and get on the throttle early is what made the GS so deadly. Though our test track is on the small side, it did manage to top out at 93.64 mph on the front straight. By comparison, my modified C6 hit a max speed of 89.84 mph in the same spot. The difference was night and day. It's amazing what stickier tires and bigger brakes will do-emphasized, of course, by our small track. For those of you thinking the 40 horsepower was the difference, consider that two months ago SLP's Camaro only hit 91.24 mph despite having 200 more horsepower at the wheels. That's the beauty of road racing.
While I can't say that we were able to really demonstrate its potential on the dragstrip, it was apparent that the Grand Sport embodies the soul of Zora Arkus-Dontov and the many other Corvette forefathers and engineers that have continued to refine the great American sports car by melding new technology with an enveloped driving experience. The Grand Sport bridges the gap between the Z06, ZR1, and the base Corvette increasingly well. In fact, for most people, the GS is more than enough car. It sticks to the track as well as any sports car on a road course, and its straight-line acceleration is rivaled by few. I pity those who dismiss the Grand Sport, or take it lightly (and believe me, there are plenty who do). It is a rolling piece of American history with enough snot to recreate WWII with your neighbor's sauerkraut sled.
2012 Grand Sport (as tested)
- Engine: handbuilt 6.2L (376cid) LS3 with dual mode exhaust, dry sump lubrication, 10.7:1 compression
- Transmission: Tremec 6060 6-speed manual with 2.97, 2.07, 1.43, 1, .71, and .57 gears.
- Differential: 3.42 gear, limited slip differential, cooler
- Suspension: SLA double wishbone front and rear with cast aluminum control arms, transverse-mounted composite leaf springs, stabilizer bars, and monotube shock absorbers with Magnetic Selective Ride Control
- Brakes: 14-inch, 6-piston front and 13.4-inch, 4-piston rear
- Wheels: Cast aluminum 18x9.5 front, 19x12 rear
- Tires: Goodyear F1 Supercar G:2 275/35ZR18 front, 325/30ZR19 rear
- Average G through skidpad: 1.05