Recently, GM's press-fleet reps asked us to get behind the wheel and experience the thrill of the substantially revised '08 Corvette. All we could say was, "430-plus horses in an entry-level Vette? Where do we sign up?"

Our Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat coupe came to us equipped with the standard LS3 powerplant, advertising 436 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque. It featured new heads and a block similar to those found on the top-of-the-line LS7 (505 hp), but in a mass-production-friendly package. This engine was mated to the brand-new T6060 six-speed manual transmission, which permanently replaces the venerable T56 in all stick-shift Corvettes, including the Z06.

Our test car was equipped with the heavy-duty MZ6 variant of this trans, which is only installed in cars ordered with the Z51 performance package. It housed a unique gear set optimized for performance use; wider gears to increase torque-handling capability (to 428 lb-ft); a stronger, one-piece countershaft; a strengthened housing to minimize flex; and a double-cone reverse-gear synchronizer.

With the new transmission also came a revised shifter assembly, which delivered on its promise of shorter throws and a quicker gate response than last year's model. Chevy says this newfound slickness is attributable to a redesign of the shifter, revised gate-to-gate locations, and less 12 percent rail travel than the old unit. We found it a breeze to accelerate through the six forward gears; it was nearly impossible to miss a shift.

The Z51 option brought larger (13.4/13.0-inch), cross-drilled brake rotors; performance-tuned P245/40ZR18 and P285/35ZR19 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar EMT tires; 30.7 and 25.2mm stabilizer bars; 86 N/mm and 135 N/mm-rate springs; passive shocks that offer increased damping over the stock units; and a 3.42 gear ratio. Allied with the potent LS3 engine, the Z51 gear helped our test Corvette feel as close to a Z06 as its 50-something price tag would allow.

We were also pleased with the 3LT Preferred Equipment Group, which returns this year with an upgraded six-disc CD changer, a Bose premium seven speaker system, heads-up display, a power telescoping wheel, heated seats, a memory package, a universal home remote, and a host of other luxuries.

Also new in '08 (and included on our test car) is a polycarbonate version of the optional transparent roof panel, replacing the glass roof used on previous models. In addition to offering a weight savings over its predecessor, the new top is designed to be virtually unbreakable under typical-use conditions. On the downside, it had a much cheaper feel than the old glass unit.

As you may have deduced from the output figures cited earlier, our test car was equipped with the new-for-'08 dual-mode performance exhaust system. According to Chevrolet, this 2.5-inch exhaust is similar in design and function to the 3.0-inch system used on the Z06. It features vacuum-actuated outlet valves that remain shut to control engine noise during low-load operation, then pivot open for maximum performance during high-load operation.

Our test of the '08 Corvette in a variety of conditions yielded a significant thumbs-up as compared with the '07 model. We were especially pleased with the LS3 and the performance it produces for a standard engine. We were equally impressed with the handling characteristics of the Z51 suspension, which makes the car fully track-capable without any tinkering. At a base price of $45,170 ($56,185 as tested), the '08 Corvette continues the marque's longstanding tradition of delivering world-class performance in a relatively affordable package.