“Screw you, Steve McQueen and your fancy Mustang! I wanna ‘Vette!” I shouted (to no one) while tearing a rift in the space-time continuum through the peaceful pastoral Texas countryside. Clearly, I was imbibing heartily from a bottle of Chateau Corvette, vintage 2008. But I forgot myself. And my objectivity. I was there to perform a head-to-head comparison between said ’08 Chevy hardtop and an ’08 BMW 335i. Unlikely rivals, to be sure. But both are answers to the same question spoken in the quintessential voice of their respective source countries, America and Germany. Both are powerful sports cars designed to appeal to aging upper middle class drivers that can afford to treat themselves to something sporty and nice, just not too expensive. In this case, both cars were available at CarMax for just under $40K.
The 2008 model refresh does little to distinguish my tester from the original C6 introduced in 2005. In fact, discerning ‘Vetteophiles would need to speak Chevy five-spoke to correctly distinguish the ‘08 from its predecessors. Otherwise, it’s the same clear-headlight, large-radius wheel well, sleek built-for-speed affair.
I hesitate to accuse the Corvette of being outrageously styled; it is appropriate to its purpose. However, it does have a certain officer-come-hither quality that a driver should never forget. Additionally, every wannabe Jeff Gordon wants to challenge you in his homebrew racer. Drive the ‘Vette as intended, and you’d soon pack your glove box with pink slips and speeding tickets.
The two-seat coupe’s black leather clad interior is a comfortable place to spend time. The seats offer terrific lateral support and the enormous transmission tunnel never encroached on my knee or leg room. Just don’t expect the milled aluminum gauges and binnacles you find in [opulently priced] Aston Martins or Jaguar-quality English leather. The placement of the radio buttons was the only real ergonomic disaster; they’re lined above the radio display so that your hand covers the channel readout while you are changing stations.
The noteworthy change for 2008: the replacement of the admirable 6.0-liter LS2 engine with the barbaric 6.2-liter LS3 powerplant. The LS3 utilizes higher flowing intake manifold and cylinder heads, a revised camshaft, offset intake rocker arms and 47 lb/hr fuel injectors– to create a naturally aspirated 436 hp and 428 ft-lb of torque (with optional dual-mode exhaust package).
The result is massive right here, right now raw power. Mash the go pedal and you’ll wish there was a button for Matrix-like slow mo. Flip the traction control off, and you’ll be sideways in a heartbeat [of America] over the protestation of a pair of Eagle F1 P285/35ZR19 run-flat tires. The Corvette and I performed before an audience of curious cattle on abandoned rural farm roads: launch, rage up to speed, hurl through corners, slam of the brakes, rinse, lather, and repeat. Never did I feel that I approached the edges of the car’s performance envelope.
For ’08, Chevy also cinched the slack out of the Vette’s steering to improve feel and accuracy. Although the Vette has greater total lateral grip than the 300 lbs heavier 335i, the BMW remains eminently more flickable and precise. Nonetheless, the Vette makes for an easy daily driver with a surprisingly smooth ride.
While few doubt Corvette’s commitment to performance, the model has suffered a less than sophisticated reputation as a midlife crisis mobile for men with bloated bellies and expanding prostates. To gauge the new Vette’s level of social refinement, I drove the car through Southlake Town Square, an upscale north Texas shopping and dining district.
As I idled past the Apple Store, I wondered what Steve Jobs would think of this machine with its glorious engine. Not much, I suppose. Despite improvements in virtually every regard, the ‘Vette is still a ‘Vette. Every bump in the road is heralded by pronounced popping, like the snapping of a Styrofoam board behind my head. Surely Steve Jobs would wrinkle his nose at any device constructed like a cheap ice chest.
Overall, the ’08 Corvette walks comfortably through the playgrounds of the mass affluent. I perceived only one jaundiced look– and that from a fellow driving a BMW 335i.
When exiting Southlake. a Maserati Quattroporte rolled up behind me. “I own you, sukka,” I thought. “Anywhere you can go I can go faster! And for that matter,” my fevered torque-intoxicated mind continued, surveying the surrounding plethora of BMWs and Mercedes, Audi’s and Porsche’s, Lexus’ and Infiniti’s, “I own you, and you, and you, and you…”
Don’t forget that Chevy’s flagship costs a small fraction of the Maser in my mirror. With a scant 1855 miles on the odometer, my tester rang in at $38,450. Talk about bang for the buck! If it weren’t for the infernal popping noise emanating from the lift back hatch, it might have won this comparison.
[CarMax provided both vehicles reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas.]