DETROIT (AP) -- Now that every American taxpayer is an investor in the parent company of the Chevrolet Corvette, maybe the American sports car icon will rebound from its worst sales in 11 years.
The Corvette, which dates to 1953 and is the only remaining V-8 powered two-seater built in the United States, offers a lower-priced convertible this year, new standard features as well as a new ZR1 model that's the fastest and most powerful production car ever from General Motors Corp.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $49,415 for the base 2009 Corvette Coupe with 430 horsepower, LS3 V-8, while the 2009 Corvette Convertible is $54,070, or $1,355 less than the comparable 2008 model. The convertible has the same 430 horsepower V-8 of the base coupe.
The top and much anticipated 2009 Corvette is the ZR1 Coupe with 638 horsepower, turbocharged, 6.2-liter V-8 and $104,820 price tag, while the mid-range Corvette is the Z06, starting at $74,775, with a 7-liter V-8 putting out 505 horsepower.
The rear-wheel drive Corvette has a niche all its own these days. The other American sports car with a V-8 and a convertible version -- the Ford Mustang -- has more than two seats and a $28,005 starting retail price with V-8. The two-seat Dodge Viper is powered by a 600-horsepower V-10 and starts at $88,271.
Imported sports cars with convertible versions and prices under $100,000 include the 2009 Porsche Boxster, starting at $46,660, and the Nissan 350Z roadster and 370Z coupe, with starting prices in the $30,000s. But these vehicles have six-cylinder engines providing less than 340 horsepower.
No one can argue that the Corvette is one of the most instantly recognizable cars around. Its styling hasn't changed much over the past decade, with tweaks here and there for the large, round taillamps, short, tall rear decklid and long hood.
Indeed on my test drive, the 2009 Corvette Convertible drew attention from boys and young men, and the reason wasn't just because of the bright, Jetstream Blue metallic paint.
Driving a Corvette is a curious mix of old-school flavor and new, modern sophistication.
The raw engine power is palpable as the V-8 roars to life when a driver touches the ignition button. Yes, the Corvette has a start button now, not an ignition key switch. Tap the accelerator and the car bolts from the garage and down the driveway.
This is one car where it pays to have an optional head-up display, like I did on the tester. The display projects pertinent driver information -- like speed -- onto the lower part of the windshield in front of the driver, so he doesn't have to take his eyes off the road to check the speedometer and other gauges that are lower down in the instrument cluster.
Indeed, the head-up display can even show g-force as a driver accelerates or rounds a curve. G-force is a unit of acceleration measurement, such as what's measured on rollercoasters and space rockets.
The large blue-green numbers on the windshield glass helped me keep my speeds down to the legal residential street limits, though the low-to-the-pavement Convertible often felt like it was merely crawling at these times. The car and I were much happier on highways and country roads, where speeds were higher, straightaways were frequent, and the engine sounds became stronger and louder.
The tester was a base convertible with optional less-restrictive exhaust system, so it had the base 6.2-liter, overhead valve, LS3 V-8 generating a forceful 428 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600 rpm.
At 3,222 pounds, the two-seat Corvette felt a bit like a rocket ship when I'd push the accelerator down and merge swiftly into highway traffic. There was no lag, no hesitation -- just my head going back into the head restraint as the car zoomed ahead.
I won't call it awesome because that's the word now used for the top ZR1 Corvette. But the get up and go, even in a base Corvette, is ample for all real-world road conditions.
And my experience came in a Corvette with an optional six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is the standard tranny.
The suspension and tires on a sports car like this can convey a lot of road bumps and vibrations to driver and passenger. The seats are low to the floor and sculpted, and I honestly never saw the front of the hood from the driver's seat.
Some older riders may find they need to scramble a bit to get up and out of the seats. They also may find they need some flexibility as they lower themselves inside.
There's a plentiful 43 inches of legroom in the Corvette, which makes it comfortable for 6-footers.
Surprisingly, the trunk space is exceptional for a convertible like this, too, with 11 cubic feet available with the fabric roof up and 7.5 cubic feet available when the roof is down and stored. Just be aware that items have to be lifted up quite high above the rear body before they come to rest in the cargo area.
The base convertible top is manually operated but can be optioned up for power operation.
The ride is loud -- not just because of the engine sound but the road noise from the tires. This is definitely not a retiring kind of ride.
Standard safety equipment includes traction control and electronic stability control. But side-impact air bags were an option, not standard, in the base convertible.
Corvettes are built in Bowling Green, Ky., and U.S. sales last year fell to 26,971 -- the lowest since 1997.