The C6 has been the topic of so much speculation for so long, that seeing, touching, sitting in, everything but actually driving one, seems almost anticlimactic.

GM's embargo on releasing photographs, facts, and figures was January 1st at 12:01 a.m. EST. The official media unveilings were on January 4th and 5th during media days at the North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center in Detroit. And the general public got to see the car firsthand at the Detroit show just a few days later. I was one of the fortunate few that Chevrolet invited to a Market Plan and Media Briefing on December 18th, which included the abovementioned "seeing, touching, sitting in..." Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed.

What follows will be in large my personal impressions based upon seeing--but not driving--the '05 Corvette (it's likely that an official media test-drive event of some sort won't happen until at least late March). However, if the C6 lives up to its claimed power-output figures and lives up to the statements of its creators, it will be a very impressive performer. And I have no reason to expect that it won't live up to the hype, based on how well the various iterations of the C5--most especially the Z06--have equaled and quite often exceeded the manufacturer's performance figures. Because of the timing of the C6's debut at the NAIAS and the widespread dissemination of photographs and information on the Internet, much of what follows may be old news. We are getting this to you as quickly as we can considering both the 3-4 month lead times we work with and the blanket of secrecy that Chevrolet kept over the project for all but a select few (including the big guys like Road & Track, Car & Driver, Motor Trend, and Automobile, plus Corvette Quarterly--which is published by one of GM's advertising agencies, Campbell-Ewald, and is in effect a factory mouthpiece), who got early, preferential access to the C6.

More Evolutionary
Than Revolutionary

When it was introduced in very early 1997, the C5 came as close to fulfilling that hackneyed claim "all new" as any car possibly could. Other than the basic architecture of a front-mounted pushrod V-8 sending the power to drive the rear wheels, seating for two, four-wheel independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes, and, of course, the requirement that it go fast and possess excellent handling, there was essentially no carryover of design or components from C4 to C5. The '05 C6, by contrast, is a highly derivative and highly refined evolution of the C5 platform.

Although roughly 80 percent of the car (by component count) is new or not carried over from the C5, almost the entire car has been developed from its already superb predecessor. The C6 is shorter and narrower, but it rides on a longer wheelbase. It has upgraded components and equipment, yet weighs virtually the same as a comparable C5. And, it has gained 50 horsepower and 25 (six-speed) to 40 (automatic) lb-ft of torque from a 305cc increase in displacement--thanks to being bored out from 3.90 inches to 4.00 inches (the stroke remains the same). The chart on page 54 compares the C5 coupe, using data from the corrected 2001 Corvette Press Kit and Chevrolet's Preliminary Specifications for the C6 coupe. All dimensions are in inches or pounds unless otherwise specified. Brake dimensions are rotor diameter by thickness.

The basic suspension configuration of the C6 is the same as all C5s. Ditto for the drivetrain layout. Overall, what the C6 presents is a new Corvette that is a little taller with a slightly reduced overall length, is less wide (it looks less fat at the hips than the C5), and has significantly shorter front and rear overhangs--all perched on a longer wheelbase. The effect is that the tires are pushed out further towards the corners, which gives the C6 a tauter, more muscular and aggressive appearance.

That new appearance is easily and immediately recognizable. Chief Engineer Dave Hill stated, "We wanted the '05 Corvette to say 'Corvette' at 100 yards," a goal that was accomplished by looking forward while retaining what C6 Chief Designer Tom Peters calls, "basic aesthetic attributes that form the foundation of Corvette design...best exemplified by the classic mid-year Corvettes of 1963 through 1967." Traditional Corvette design elements like side extractors and paired round (or in some instances roundish) taillights are coupled with dramatic new arching fenders and an egg-crate front grille--an element that hasn't been seen for decades. The grille is fully functional; unlike the C5 (and C4), which was 100-percent a "bottom breather;" the C6 relies on the front grille opening for 60 percent of its air intake requirements. From some vantage points, I see strong C3 influences in the contours of the front fenders, particularly as they transition inward toward the hood and in the hood lines as it tapers toward the front fascia.

Perhaps the single most noticeable change for the '05 is the exposed headlight modules. Each fixed headlight enclosure contains three lighting elements, a HID Xenon low-beam/projector-beam lens, a tungsten-halogen high-beam projector lens, and a combined outboard parking light/side and turn-marker light/daytime running light. The lights are covered by a clear polycarbonate shell over a body-colored housing, and both headlight lenses are encircled by chrome trim rings.

The side of the C6 is dominated by the large, crisply defined side vents, the harder-edged fender lines, and 1 inch-larger diameter, five-spoke flangeless wheels at all four corners. External door handles have been replaced by membrane switches hidden in a pocket behind each door. The roofline is highly reminiscent of the C5, but with a trace of a jet fighter canopy in the profile and a more pronounced double-bubble effect when viewed from high angles.

The rear of the C6 follows the theme of evolving and refining the C5. The new taillights are round rather than oval, with a lights-to-license plate relationship that's very close to the Fifth-Gen. Corvette, and four round exhaust tips are at the bottom center. A new black "diffuser" surrounds the exhaust outlets and contributes to a visually narrower cross-section. The license plate holder is more smoothly integrated into the rear fascia and was designed specifically to accommodate the relatively tall and narrow rectangles seen in North America, the long and narrow plates of Europe and the UK, and the tall, wide plates used in Japan. Overall, the C6's rear looks somewhat busier and much less ponderous that the C5's bustle.

The icing on the design cake is that the new body offers improved aerodynamics, with a remarkably low .28 coefficient of drag (the sleek C5's drag coefficient is .29). The new design also offers both reduced lift and increased high-speed stability relative to the C5. The cockpit of a C5 is an exceptionally hospitable place, with acceptable--for a sports/performance car--ingress and egress and superior ergonomics. It is a comfortable abode for spending extended hours on the highway, something I can attest to after my "Funfest or Bust!" road trip last September. On the other hand, the C5 interior is, how can I say it diplomatically, not up to the standards of the rest of the car. I'm saying this as a C5 owner; there are aspects of the C5 interior that, for the price level of the car, border on cheesy. It was well-styled, but the materials, finish, some switches and controls all conspired to remind you that you were in a corporate sibling of Cavaliers and Monte Carlos. It seems, well, plasticky (is there such a word?). That's all changed for the better in the C6.

Anyone who has spent time driving a C5 will feel at home almost immediately. There are no drastic changes in control or instrument locations; as the "laced gloves" magazines used to say, everything falls readily to hand. But then it did so in the C5, too. The difference is that it feels and looks better in this next-generation Corvette.

The materials used in the C6 interior have received significant upgrades, most notably on the instrument panel and doors. The covering on these components is "cast-skin foam-in-place," which is soft to the touch, low gloss, and has the appearance of genuine leather. Chevrolet claims that this new and advanced material has double the life of conventional panel materials, and it better resists fade and sun damage. There is also aluminum trim to accentuate the features and details.

The C6 seats will be both more supportive and comfortable while becoming slightly lighter-weight--thanks to an aluminum base--than the C5 seat. The Sport Seat will have adjustable lumbar support plus head and torso side-impact airbags that are built into the side bolsters. One feature that will be warmly welcomed by anyone who lives in regions with "real" winters is heated seats, which will be available for the first time in a Corvette.

The steering wheel has been redesigned as has the instrument panel. The dual-cockpit theme has been retained, but the grab handle on the passenger side is history. A full-function OnStar onboard navigation system is finally an option for Corvette. Instrument lighting is provided by hybrid (and highly trick) organic light emitting diodes (OLED). DIC, Driver Information Center, readouts will also utilize OLED technology for better readability. The optional Heads-Up Display (HUD) now has street and track modes; in "track" there is a large tach and a real-time lateral accelerometer that will display maximum Gs achieved in turns.

Other changes and improvements include a decent-quality cupholder that actually holds two cups and more stowage space in the center console. The console lid also receives a much-needed upgrade in latch and hinge quality. Storage pockets will be found in the door panels, and the hinges on the glovebox door are damped so the door doesn't flop open like the C5's (or a Cavalier). The side storage pockets in the rear cargo area are now hinged and better integrated into the floor; the capacious centerwell is gone--sacrificed to make room for the new exhaust system with mufflers that run front-back rather than across as in the C5.

There is a plethora of subtle but significant upgrades to the powertrain and chassis. Most notable, in my humble opinion, is the changes/additions to the Z51 Performance Package-- which will no longer be "just" an upgraded suspension. Z51-equipped C6s will also benefit from new Super Car (a la the current Z06) tires, in an extended-mobility configuration. The brakes are significantly larger than standard to better handle thermal events (a polite way of saying they'll be much less prone to warping under severe usage than the C5's brakes). Six-speed Z51s will receive the same more aggressively geared T56 as the current Z06, and all six-speeds get improved synchros that are claimed to reduce throws by 10 percent. All automatics will be an improved and beefed-up 4L65-E with "Performance Algorithm Shifting," which is purported to make an automatic-equipped C6 a "willing accomplice for performance driving and hard cornering." As the owner of an automatic C5 (six-speeds suck in Los Angeles area commuter traffic), I say, "It's about time!"

This is by necessity an overview of the new Corvette. As Chevrolet releases more information and finalized details, we will publish them. And as soon as we are offered an opportunity to drive the new C6, we will give you a comprehensive report. From what I have seen and heard to-date, I am very optimistic about and quite impressed by the next-generation Corvette. It's not "all new," and it's not revolutionary. It strikes me as a highly evolved C5, and, in some respects, seems like a C5 3/4. But whatever one chooses to call it, the C6 promises to set a new and higher standard of all-around excellence as the first 21st-century Corvette.

  C6 COUPE C5 COUPE
Wheelbase 105.7 104.5
Overall length 174.6 179.7
Overall width 72.6 73.6
Overall height 49.1 47.7
Track, front 62.1 61.9
Track, rear 60.7 62.0
Curb weight 3,245 (est.) 3,214
Weight distribution, % front /rear 51/49 51/49
Wheels, front 18 x 8.5 17 x 8.5
Wheels, rear 19 x 10 18 x 9.5
Tires, standard front 245/40ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility 245/45ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility
Tires, Z51 front 245/40ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 SC Extended Mobility 245/45ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility
Tires, standard rear 285/35ZR-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility 275/40ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility
Tires, Z51 rear 285/35ZR-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 SC Extended mobility 275/40ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS Extended Mobility
Brakes, standard front 12.8 x 1.26 12.6 x 1.26
Brakes, Z51 front 13.4 x 1.26, crossdrilled Same as above
Brakes, standard rear 12.0 x 1.0 12.6 x 1.27
Brakes, Z51 rear 13.0 x 1.0, crossdrilled Same as above
Engine 6.0-liter LS2 V-8 5.7-liter LS1 V-8
Displacement 364-cid / 5,970cc 346-cid / 5,665cc
Bore and stroke 4.00 x 3.620 3.900 x 3.620
Horsepower 400 @ 6,000 rpm 350 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque, lb-ft 400 @ 4,400 rpm/360 @ 4,000 rpm (automatic) 375 @ 4,400 rpm (6-speed)
Compression ratio 10.9:1 10.1:1
Maximum engine speed 6,500 rpm 6,000 rpm
Fuel tank capacity 18.0 gallons 18.5 gallons
Engine oil capacity (inc. filter) 5.5 quarts 6.5 quarts
Cargo volume (hatchback area) 22.4 cubic feet 24.8 cubic feet
Interior head room 37.9 inches 37.9 inches
Interior leg room 43.0 inches 42.7 inches
Interior shoulder room 55.2 inches 55.3 inches
Interior hip room 53.7 inches 54.2 inches