If you don't like the Corvette, you don't like cars.

How can you not love a $49k (to start) sports car that can match moves with $100k exotics? And which for a bit more money - not all that much, really - can take them to school and give them a lesson they'll not soon forget?


WHAT IT IS

The Corvette is famous for being America's sports car - in continuous production longer than any other model of car on the road, including other long-lived notables such as the Ford Mustang - which appeared 11 years after the first Corvette was launched back in 1954.


It has competitors - but its combination of exotic power/performance and accessible price puts the Corvette in a class by itself.


Base price for a coupe with 430 hp 6.2 liter V-8 and six-speed manual transmission is $49,045. A higher-performing Gran Sport with freer-flowing "dual mode" exhaust and other upgrades starts at $55,045 for the coupe; $59,045 for a convertible.


For even more performance, you can select the Z06 option, which replaces the 6.2 liter V-8 with a larger 7 liter V-8 that produces 505 hp - in addition to numerous other upgrades. Base price for the Z06 coupe is $74,375. This model is not available as a convertible.


For the Ultimate Corvette - literally one of the quickest/fastest cars ever built - there's the ZR1. Its 6.2 liter supercharged V-8 delivers 638 hp (38 hp more than the Dodge Viper's V-10), 10 second quarter mile times and 200 MPH top speeds. Base price for this one - also sold only as a hardtop coupe - is $110,300.


WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011

Chevy has added a new Z07 performance handling package to the roster of optional equipment you can order with the Z06 (505 hp) version of the Corvette. It consists of the ZR1's even more aggressive wheel/tire combo, plus its Adaptive suspension system and some of the ZR1's lighter-weight body panels.


The Gran Sport, meanwhile, can be ordered with the wheel/tire package used with the Z06, plus carbon fiber interior accents.


One unusual option that Chevy offers Z06 and ZR1 buyers is the Corvette Engine Build Experience. You get to visit the Wixom, Michigan plant and help assemble your Corvette's engine.


WHAT'S GOOD

$200k performance at a Chevrolet price.


Everyday drivable - even in heavy traffic.


Best-looking body since the '68 Sting Ray.


Own a legend.


WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

Legend has a rep - good and bad.


Lower cost pony cars such as the Ford Mustang (and the Corvette's Chevy cousin, the Camaro) are nipping at the 'Vette's heels, power and performance-wise.


Interior layout doesn't rise to the High Coolness of early Corvette interiors - or the price tag of the Z06 and ZR1.


UNDER THE HOOD

Base Corvettes come with a 6.2 liter V-8 rated at 430 hp. You can choose either a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic. All Corvettes are - of course - rear wheel drive.


It is a measure of how high the horsepower waters have risen that such a spectacular number is almost ho-hum, in part because 300 hp family cars are now common.


That's why Chevy offers upgrades.


The first step up is the Gran Sport, which can be ordered with a dual-mode exhaust that's quiet around town but when you punch it, opens up to let the 6.2 liter V-8 breathe easier - and produce an additional 6 hp.


Not enough? Then opt for the Z06. Engine size increases to 7 liters and horsepower climbs to an uncommon 505. THe car's 0-60 time also drops from a merely asphalt searing 4.5 seconds to an ashpalt-ripping 3.9 seconds. The Z06 is a 12 second quarter-mile car, with a Ludicrous Speed top end in the 180s.


For $74k - the base price of the Z06 - this is untouchable performance, unless you include high-performance motorcycles.


And if you want to beat them?


Chevy's ultimate Corvette - the ZR1 - stands ready. It has a hand-built and supercharged version of the 6.2 liter V-8 which produces 638 hp and delivers unto you 10 second quarter-mile capability.
Madness.


But the right kind of madness.


ON THE ROAD

What can 430 hp do? This car - the standard Corvette - will do 120-plus in third gear, easily. You have three more gears to go. Fourth will get you close to 150 at redline.


Now imagine what 505 hp can do.


Or 633 hp.


Even just a few years ago the standard Corvette's 430 hp would have been looked upon as exotic. A 2001 Ferrari 456M, for example, had a 442 hp V-12. Just slightly more power than the current Corvette's 430 hp V-8. And the Corvette's MSRP is not a quarter-million bucks.


So, it's all about perspective. All 2011 Corvettes are quicker and faster than most six-figure exotics of the past 40 years - and have twice (or even three times) the power of the Corvettes of the '70s and '80s.


The 2011's Corvette's only real problem is that the extremely high level of power/performance it offers is also now being offered by even lower-cost cars, among them the Ford Mustang GT and of course, the Corvette's in-house cousin, the Camaro SS.


True, those are 2-plus-2s and the Corvette is a two-seater. But people will cross-shop anyhow, especially given the closing gap between the MSRPs of these cars. The almost-here 2012 Boss 302 Mustang, for example, will have 444 hp - and cost about $40k. And the 2011 Camaro SS has the same 6.2 liter engine as the base 2011 Corvette (officially downrated slightly to 426 hp) but nonetheless, it's close.


That's why Corvette keeps the Z06 and the ZR1 in reserve.


Aside from the panoply of power, perhaps the most impressive thing about the Corvette - all versions - is how everyday drivable they are. Most true exotics are not. The Dodge Viper is hell on wheels but it's also hell to drive it for more than 30 minutes at a time - if you're not doing a track day.


Ferraris and Maseratis and even Lotus (Loti?) are not your best friends outside of the race track, either. Just figuring out the controls - how to get the car in gear - can be very intimidating if you're not familiar with exotic cars. Driving them is no simple thing, either. Driving them fast almost requires some previous track time or professional training.


Porsches are very civilized but boy, do they make you pay for the privilege. The only Porsche that can muss the 'Vette's hair - the 911 Carrera GTS - costs $50k more - to start.


Forget about it.


The Corvette is deceptively wife-drivable. In fact, it is anyone - and anywhere - drivable. Even manual transmission versions. The big V-8 produces so much low-end torque that shifting mistakes are muted if not covered up entirely. Stalling it out is actually quite hard to do; you almost have to be deliberately trying. Visibility's good, the steering's not too heavy - or too twitchy. As a result of all this civility, the Corvette can even be used as a commuter, in part because of its forgiving nature and also because it's not too exotic. People notice, but crowds don't gather (unless it's a ZR1). You can risk on-street parking.


Even valet parking. (Remember Ferris Bueller's Day Off?)


People who own current-generation Corvettes also know something else. These cars are capable of 30 MPG on the highway, if you drive them right. The six-speed's top gear is a deep overdrive. Cruise control it at 70 and the engine's turning less than 2,000 RPM. That and the 'Vette's slippery aerodynamics gives you what may be the most fuel efficient supercar V-8 ever made.


Just another perk... .


AT THE CURB

The current generation Corvette is already six years old but like most Corvettes ever built won't ever really look old. That's one of the many perks of owning a pedigreed car such as this. The same is true of almost any Porsche or Ferrari. 20 years old? So what. It's still cooler than most brand-new cars. That's staying power.


There have been a few discreet tweaks since 2005 (when this generation Corvette was launched) including almost unnoticeable but extremely practical rubber "mud flaps" fitted to the rear wheelwells - which keeps the paint on the rear quarter panels largely free of ugly stone chips (and melted tire debris). A similar-in-concept flexible rubber lip skirts the lower perimeter of the nosepiece. Savvy.


I do miss the pop-up headlights, which have been gone for years but used to be a Corvette signature feature; the current car's thee-pod projector style headlamps under clear plastic look a lot like the old Mitsubishi 3000GT's "eyes." Not ugly - but not as distinctively Corvette as the previous pop-ups were.


The convertible top is extremely well-fitted (when up, it's tight as a snare drum; no leaks of water or outside noise) and simple to operate. Pull and rotate the grab handle up by the top of the windshield to release the lock; the windows roll down automatically and now all you have to do is press the Top Down button to finish the process.


An available military-style Heads-Up (HUD) display projects a digital image of important readouts such as your current speed, engine RPM and other operating parameters directly in the driver's line of sight. It can be toggled through several different display modes, including Track - which emphasizes engine RPM with an enlarged tachometer as the primary readout shown.


Though no one buys a car like this for practical reasons, the Corvette actually has a decent-sized (11 cubic feet) trunk and is road-trip viable for two people - provided they don't need to be on the road for more than a couple of days.


My Supersonic Blue Metallic Gran Sport convertible had the optional Custom form-fitted leather interior which includes the aforesaid plus cross-flags embroidered emblems on each seat and "Corvette" stitched onto the passenger side dashboard, just above the glovebox. The package also gets you gunmetal-finish console trim plate and contrast-color stitching.


That stuff's up to snuff. But there are a few areas where the Corvette comes up a little short inside. The steering wheel, for example. It looks like what you'd find in a 2006 Cobalt. No special effort went into the design or the materials - and that's iffy for a $49k Corvette - and a bit glaring in a $74K (let alone $110k) Corvette.


The GPS unit looks a little crickety, too. The display is fuzzy and the unit lacks the functionality you find in more technologically current stuff.

But these are minor faults when the Corvette is viewed as a package - as the performance steal that it is.


Especially the Z06.


THE REST

I've test-driven dozens of Corvettes over the years and love them for the big lovable lugs that they are. The only downside is that some other people don't like them much - including most women and pretty much all cops; both view the Corvette - and its owner - with suspicion.


The cop thing can be a hassle. Even when you are doing the speed

limit, if there's a cop around, he's looking for some - any reason - reason to pull you over. If you're not "buckled up for safety," you're 3 MPH over the limit... anything. You're gonna get pulled.


And you're not gonna get a break.


It is unpleasant to be the constant focus of traffic enforcement attention. But on the upside, the huge sums you saved by purchasing a Corvette rather than a 911 GTS, Viper or Ferrari will pay for a lot of speeding tickets - and insurance surcharges.


I recommend a top-flight radar detector (the Valentine 1 is my personal favorite) and a more subdued exterior color, like the muted metallic blue that draped the Gran Sport convertible I recently tested out.


THE BOTTOM LINE

MC Hammer - if he's still out there, somewhere - said it best:


Can't touch this.