The Corvette wasn't around 100 years ago when Chevrolet was born. But for 2012, the iconic two-seater gets a Chevrolet Centennial Special Edition package that founder and racing pioneer Louis Chevrolet could have loved.
The Centennial package of suspension control, special graphics, badging and interior comes on Corvettes in only one color _ black inside and out. The first Chevrolet built in 1911 in Detroit was black, too.
But the 2012 Corvette Centennial Special Edition's sinister look, created by modern Carbon Flash metallic exterior paint accented by satin black exterior graphics, is anything but old. Applied to the low-slung, pavement-hugging Corvette, the look can appeal to drivers wanting a distinctive, edgy appearance on a car with ample power.
And the package comes as the Corvette is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine with a predicted reliability of average.
Priced as a $4,950 option, the centennial package is available on various 2012 Corvette coupes and convertibles, starting with the Grand Sport 3LT coupe with six-speed manual that has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $61,995. The lowest starting retail price for an automatic-transmission, 2012 Corvette that can add the Centennial package is the Grand Sport 3LT coupe automatic at $64,220, according to the Chevrolet consumer website.
High-performance competitors tend to be higher priced.
For example, the 2013 Nissan GT-R has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $97,820, and the 2013 GT-R's Black Edition _ with black wheels and paint and carbon fiber spoiler _ starts at $107,320. Meantime, the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S starts at $91,450.
Corvettes have long had their fans and collectors, and U.S. sales in calendar 2011 rose 4.3 percent, to 13,164 from a year earlier. But annual sales totaled 30,000-plus in the mid 2000s. Blame it on the depressed economy, gasoline prices and parent company General Motors' financial problems.
While competitors have a relatively skimpy selection of powerplants, Chevrolet offers many versions of Corvettes.
They range from the base 1LT with 430-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 to the Z06 with 505-horsepower, 7-liter, naturally aspirated V-8 to the ZR1 with 638-horsepower, supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8. The breadth of performance, and car personality, is impressive.
Base Corvettes are suited more for regular roads, while the test Corvette _ a Z06 coupe with centennial package and ultimate performance package _ was a machine looking for a racetrack.
The tester's overhead valve V-8 had monstrous power that made merging into highway traffic seem like launch mode. Torque rises to 470 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm in awesome fashion, accompanied by throaty engine sounds coming out of the two-mode muffler system with four tailpipes.
The Z06 is a lightweight, 3,200-pound car, so it reacted fast. The tester, with optional carbon fiber body pieces, often pushed the driver's head and back into the seatbacks as it thrust forward forcefully in even mild maneuvers. But there was some shake in the body as rolled over road bumps. The ride was stiff in touring suspension mode and harsh in sport mode.
Either way, the Corvette was intimately in touch with the pavement.
Fuel mileage isn't usually something to boast about in high-performance cars. But in 65 percent city and 35 percent highway driving, the test Z06 averaged a surprising, real-world 18 miles per gallon. This is spot on with the federal government's posted combined mileage rating of 15 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on highways.
In comparable driving, a 2012 Volvo S60 averaged only 19.4 mpg from a 3-liter, turbocharged, six-cylinder engine.
The Corvette has seats only for two, but the Z06 seats were the best Corvette resting spots to find in years. They were well-padded in the right spots and nicely sculpted, though not to an extreme.
Inside, the red stitching on the seats, steering wheel and dashboard was aligned and attractive, and fit and finish was excellent overall. But the navigation system display is small and seems outdated by today's nav system standards. It was disconcerting to see the screen surface push inward, rather than hold solid, when the radio's touch screen was used.
Passengers must drop down onto the low seats and then climb back up when they exit. Some had to put hands on the door sills to lift themselves out of the Corvette.
Views out back are severely obscured by the large metal pillar around the rear window glass.
Driver and passenger can't see much in front of them, either, because the Corvette sits so low to the pavement. With a Range Rover in front of the Corvette, the driver was at eye level with the lower part of the sport utility vehicle's rear bumper.
The tester came with optional low-grip, wide performance tires that made such a racket on grooved concrete pavement, the audio was drowned out. These Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires also complained loudly during U-turns _ enough that the driver pulled over to be sure nothing was wrong. The driver also fights to keep the car on a proper course if the pavement has defined grooves, because the tires wander into the grooves and try to follow them, instead.
Items must be lifted way up, over the car's body, to get them inside our out of the 22-cubic-foot cargo space.
Also, the front spoiler is just 5.5 inches from the ground and can scrape on even mildly sloped driveway entrances, not to mention concrete parking lot curbs.
There has been one safety recall of the 2012 Corvette. Some models could have liftgate hinges that don't meet required load requirements and the liftgate could separate during a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.