by Hib Halverson
copyright 1997 Shark Communications
Used by permission.
My first drive in a 97 Corvette was actually a short one...from the facility that maintains Chevrolet's LA media fleet to my office, a run of 32.2 miles. The car is VIN 00063, a Torch Red (of course!), six-speed, Z51. The car has an emission exemption sticker so it probably is a non-saleable, pilot car.
This part of my test gave me my initial impressions of the interior and allowed me to analyze the car's ride quality over the sometimes tilt-slabbed Los Angeles freeway system.
The first thing I noticed as I walked up to the car is the keyless entry is a dual-mode (ie active or passive) system that is user-selectable. I like the idea of a "P/AKE system. PKE in C4 did not have the option of an active mode. Interestingly, if there is a problem with keyless entry or other parts of the "Remote Function System" (RFA) such that a fault code sets, you find out about it when the "service tire warning sys" light comes on. The diagnostics in the 1997 Corvette Service Manual, according to my preliminary "white" copy, must be used to decide if the problem is truly with the LTPWS or with RFA.
The next thing anyone will notice when they get in the car is how much easier you can ingress. No more high sill height! Hooray, hooray. No more semi-contortionist body English needed to get in a Corvette. Now, if you have the seat moved up (like I do for my short little legs) and seat back side bolsters set in tight, those side bolsters my tag your back as you slide by, but even that slight annoyance is much improved over C4.
I love the look and feel of the interior. I also like the placement of controls a lot. Everything you want to see and touch is in the right place. The so-called soft touch controls on the left door that operate the windows, mirrors and locks are just a bit different to me. I found the more blocky, notchy feel of the later C4 switches and controls to be easier to find when you are not looking. However, I agree that the soft-touch are more user friendly to feel and I am sure, given a longer stay in a C5, that I would get used to them.
Yep, the key is on the dashboard. I have heard some people whine about that but, personally, I can think of no more logical place. I understand that the new Chevy Malibu is like that, too. Hopefully more cars will go what way.
Once you are rolling for a first drive in a C5, you will notice right away that the view out the back is much more limited than it was out a C4. No matter though, good drivers use their mirrors and there are a pair of very substantial and quite good looking sideviews to augment the view out the back though the rear view. The view out the front is more "comfortable" because of the lower angle of vision you get with the sloping nose. You can see about 18 feet closer than you could with C4.
As I got on the SR91 freeway headed back to my office, even thought the engine was not fully warmed, I had to jump on the LS1 just a bit. One thing I noted was that this drive-by-wire throttle feels very similar to the cable throttle in my 95. People that do not know this car has no direct connection between the driver's foot and the throttle plate will never know.
To an enthusiast, a performance car must have a distinctive sound. Usually this sound is mostly exhaust, but it can be a combination of that, induction noise and transmission noise. Trying to explain how something sounds in an article is very subjective, but I will take a shot. The C5 certainly has a distinctive sound. At idle and low speeds, it sounds just like a C4. The quality of the sound is a bit more throaty in the mid-range near peak torque. Gone was the accessory whine I noted while driving 96s with LT1/4 engines. At high rpm, the LS1 and C5 exhaust sound more racy than does the LT1/4 engine. In fact, from about 4500-6000 it sounds almost as good as a LT5 Another cool sound you hear with C5 is more pronounced induction noise that is very pleasing. What I don't like, is the same thing I disliked with C4s and that is that the pleasing exhaust sound is sometimes too quiet. I like my Corvettes just a bit louder, thank you very much. Unfortunately, because of 1) Chevrolet's expressed intent to begin to widely market the Corvette to people who, to date, would have never considered buying one and 2) the Federal pass-by noise regulations, I suspect that exhaust sound is something we will not hear louder from any Corvette. Clearly, with C5 there will be a great opportunity for the aftermarket to step in and offer lower restriction, slightly louder mufflers. In fact, I made an appointment with Flowmaster's R&D facility in Southern California. They want to get measurements and take photos of the OE mufflers. My guess is Flowmaster will try and be one of the first in the aftermarket with an aftermarket, lower restriction exhaust for this car. Hopefully what ever exhaust products the aftermarket produces for C5 will do away with the cute little four tailpipes. Give me two, big fat outlets.
Once I was up on the freeway and rolling at 65-70 through the typical near bumper to bumper late morning traffic of the industrial heart of LA, I began to feel for the car's ride. First of all, it is quickly apparent that the C5s much better structure and its decoupling of ride from handling has a dramatic effect on ride and noise, harshness and vibration (NVH). As this car is a Z51, the ride over tilt-slab roads is firm and noticeable, but not objectionable. High frequency impact harshness is about the same or perhaps a bit less than a 96 Z51. All 97 front lower control arm bushings are the same. With C4, FE3 suspensions used specific and more aggressive bushings than base. Of special note is that, on the C5, ride and handling are decoupled by design and component selection. All the control arms in the car have both a ride bushing and a handling bushing. Ride bushings are aft of wheel center and quite compliant to allow longitudinal movement to reduce impact harshness. Handling bushings at wheel center and are much less compliant to prevent lateral movement during performance driving.
Low frequency movement of the Z51 suspension for 97 is not too aggressively damped as was the ride of Z51s before 1996. That that makes the ride much more pleasing. However, the ride is also appropriately firm, which one expects in a car with a performance suspension option. The C5s vastly improved structure allows for reduced damping while preserving wheel control. The structure also does wonders for the feel a of the car on rougher roads. Even though the car was a Z51 it felt more solid and had far less noise and vibration over when driven over rough roads.
The LS1 is a phenomenal engine. It pulls really strong to its 6200 rpm redline. Its ample torque and great sound make it downright thrilling as it pulls through the midrange.
A couple of problem areas...first this car idled rough. It was had an obvious intermittent miss, however, as soon as the engine was off idle it cleared up. The whole idea of changing the firing order and going to throttle by wire and no IAC was to make the idle more stable, but I don't think this is an inherent difficulty. This particular car, a pilot with about 4800 miles on the clock, may have some kind of reliability/durability problem with idle...maybe a bad ignition or a problematic injector.
Secondly, every time I got on the car hard and got up to 60 mph or so, I saw little drops of water spattering out from underneath the hood. At first, I thought this was left from the car's wash this morning but more investigation showed that a full windshield washer bottle under acceleration forces the wash water out through the nozzles. That is the only thing I can say is annoying.
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