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Now in its sixth generation, Chevrolet's Corvette has earned the ultimate accolade from enthusiasts: It's said to be a track star that can be comfortably used as a daily driver. To the staff here at Leftlane HQ, that praise has always sounded too good to be true. We've enjoyed driving Corvettes on closed courses before, but until recently, we had never lived with one for a week to see what it would be like slog through traffic light-riddled suburbia to see how the 'Vette would hold up in a world where the Camry and Explorer reign supreme and sports cars are relegated to the garage for weekend use.


We decided it was time to find out.

Yes, the Corvette is a terrific performer on a closed course. Phenomenal grip, a balanced chassis, "right-now" power delivery and good steering feel combine with the C6 Corvette's shorter wheelbase and smaller exterior dimensions to make a genuine sports car. And with the Z51 Performance Package, which stiffens things up a bit for autocrossers, the target group for the package, according to GM, the Corvette becomes even more impressive on a track.

But, as we said before, we knew all this before Chevrolet dropped off a Velocity Yellow 2009 Corvette Z51. What we wanted to know was if the Corvette was as adept a daily driver as it was a weekend tire burner.

What is it?
It's the latest interpretation of an American performance icon. Introduced for 2006, the sixth-generation Corvette received an upgraded LS3, 6.2 liter, 430-horsepower V8 engine in 2008. The LT3 trim-level we tested was equipped with the aforementioned Z51 Performance Package. Stiffer than the standard suspension, but not quite as punishing around town as the considerably pricier Z06 can be, the Z51 struck us as the ideal comprise daily driver/weekend warrior - at least on paper.

What's it up against?
For daily drivability mixed with closed course capability, the Corvette has few peers. Long considered the darling of SCCA members, the Mazda MX-5 Miata corners like a go-cart and is comfortable enough to use every day, but it feels like a set of training wheels compared to a Corvette.

Porsche's Cayman S is priced and sized about the same as the Corvette, but with less than 300 horsepower from its mid-engined flat-six, the Cayman certainly won't keep up with the Kentucky-built 'Vette. Porsche's 911 provides more logical competition as a roomy and versatile high-performance grand-tourer, but even the cheapest 911 runs about $15,000 more than our well-equipped Corvette.

We'll throw the Audi S5 in, too, since we're evaluating the Corvette on the daily grind. It's powerful and comfortable, but much softer than the Corvette, which makes it a better around town cruiser. Due to its extra bulk, however, it's hardly an autocross champ.

The SCCA classifies Corvettes (other than the explosive ZR1) in its Super Stock category, which, among current production models, also puts it up against the BMW Z4 M Coupe and Roadster, Dodge Viper, Lotus Elise and Exige - and of those, only the German twins from South Carolina are logical daily driver choices.

Any breakthroughs?
Last year, the Corvette got GM's latest LS-series engine, the LS3. The optional dual mode exhaust installed on our test car keeps things quiet puttering around town but opens up to an explosive roar and higher RPMs - the perfect Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde complement to help evaluate our daily driver/track star hypothesis.

How does it look?
Chevrolet pushed the wheels to the corners on this sixth generation Corvette, which gives it a muscular look absent in its predecessor. The Corvette DNA introduced in 1984 with the C4 is still highly evident in the 2008 model, but that's not to say it looks dated; on the contrary, the Corvette is a pleasingly modern and upscale looking sports coupe.

Viewed on its own, the Corvette looks much, much larger than it is. At 174 inches from head to toe, the Corvette is about the same length as a Chevy Aveo sedan with an iPhone taped to its nose. Looks are highly deceiving, however, thanks to the Corvette's long snout and short overhangs, both of which combine to make it look like a much longer car than it is. At under 73 inches wide, the Corvette isn't nearly as wide as it looks, either, courtesy of a low roofline and massive windshield.

From a practicality standpoint, however, the Corvette features a plastic aerodynamic add-on below the nose that rubbed on nearly every driveway or speed bump we encountered. With just over 2,000 miles on the clock of our test vehicle provided for evaluation by GM, the plastic piece was scraped and tattered to the point where replacement would be necessary soon.

And inside?
This isn't General Motors' best effort. The similarly high-performance Cadillac CTS-V has an interior where even the pickiest plastic snob will be hard pressed to find a piece of cheap plastic.

The Corvette is where GM must have allocated all of that cheap polymer. With just one dark shade throughout - broken up only by a shiny piece of plastic that does a poor job of impersonating carbon fiber - the Corvette's interior is certainly not inspiring.

On the bright side, the Corvette is roomy, especially the trunk area, which can accommodate a full grocery store trip (to get food for a day at the track, of course) and ergonomics are top-notch. The steering wheel, gear knob and center stack are all within easy reach, the gauges are clear and large and the seating position - including fantastic pedal arrangement - is terrific. The Corvette is low to the ground, of course, but it's not especially difficult to get into and out of and its relatively short doors - for a coupe - make tight parking spots less of a challenge.

We're genuinely shocked every time we see a Corvette steering wheel, which is straight out of a Chevy Cobalt, not to mention about a dozen other GM products. The fact that the automaker wouldn't invest in a sporty steering wheel for this car continues to baffle us. It's one thing to save money, but it's another to dilute the driving experience by not upgrading one of the most important tactile pieces of a car.

Our Corvette featured an optional transparent roof panel, which can easily be removed to make the Corvette into a semi-convertible. We liked the idea at first, but found that the roof let in too much sunlight that, when combined with our tester's black interior, made it a sweltering place to spend time even when outside temperatures were just a little warm.

Finally, we'll chalk it up to an unusual car, but this particular Corvette suffered numerous squeaks and rattles we haven't seen in any other example we've driven.

But does it go?
Like a Corvette should, of course. With 436 horsepower on tap and 428 lb-ft. of torque ready to roll at 4,600 rpm, it moves quickly in every gear at any speed. Our tester featured the optional dual-mode exhaust, a rather pricey $1,195 option that bumps horsepower up six ponies and gives the 'Vette a throaty growl, especially above 3,000 rpm.

Grab the Cobalt steering wheel - we couldn't resist - and the Corvette responds quickly to your commands. Steering feel could be a touch better, but response is accurate and fast. Around town - one of the primary focuses of our evaluation - the Corvette's steering is light enough to pull into parking lots but firms up unobtrusively above about 10 miles per hour. Not unexpectedly, the Corvette relishes urban playgrounds like sweeping on ramps and deserted suburban streets.

Even with the Z51 package, which firms up the suspension a bit, the Corvette proved to be reasonably comfortable over most pavement. Certainly, it doesn't ride like a luxury sedan, but it's an acceptable compromise that didn't grow tiresome even after hours of driving through rough streets or wavy new pavement that's somehow deemed acceptable by the department of transportation. It does not deliver the punishing ride that you'd see in a dedicated track car or a Dodge Viper.

We spent 45 minutes sitting in stop-and-go traffic thanks to a turned-over 18-wheeler that blocked everything but the shoulder of a major highway. The fairly heavy clutch wasn't much of a burden because the torquey 'Vette can lope along in second gear at a toddler's pace without undue drive train bucking, thus limiting the need to coast along in neutral - the ultimate test that we know has seen many a track car converted to street driver wind up collecting dust in the garage after just a few weeks of daily grind use.

During our week-long slog, the Corvette returned an average of 18 miles per gallon. In sixth, the Corvette toddles along at almost laughably low RPMs should you choose to maintain legal speeds, which helps it earn an EPA-estimated 26 MPG highway.

Why you would buy it:
We answered our question: The Corvette can be the only car you own for the rest of your life if you're so inclined to never buy another vehicle. It is a jack of all trades and a master of many.

Why you wouldn't:
If you've got the disposible income, you might as well buy a designated track car, a trailer and pickup and a couple of cars to use as daily or weekend drivers.

Since that only describes a tiny fraction of the auto-loving population, it's a good thing that Chevrolet keeps investing in the Corvette, the easiest-to-enjoy vehicle on the road today. This is one of the few cars that can put a smile on your face every time you back out of your garage - whether you're hitting a congested urban road or headed out for a spirited jaunt.

In these penny-pinching times, the $58,690 Corvette Z51 represents a screaming deal because it really represents two cars in one: Dump your track car and your daily driver and consolidate your garage down to one car - as long as you don't need passenger-hauling capability.


2009 Chevrolet Corvette
base price, $47,045. As tested, $58,690.
3LT package, $4,555; Chrome wheels, $1,850; Z51 performance package, $1,695; Dual mode exhaust, $1,195; Transparent roof, $750; Velocity Yellow paint, $750; Destination, $850.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.