Convertibles get denounced by enthusiasts for being less pure. There’s some truth to that: installing the hydraulics to retract the roof adds weight, it usually makes the car look like a plank of wood, and it comprehensively ruins the handling by sacrificing structural rigidity.
See. Less pure.
Only, Chevrolet doesn't agree. It claims the 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible is just as good as its hardtop twin, and can even outdo a McLaren 12C in its in-house stiffness tests. Come again?
Not all convertibles are bad handlers; cars like the Mazda Miata are universally treasured. But a Miata didn’t have its roof chopped off; it never had one in the first place. And perhaps that's why it’s so adored—we don’t fully appreciate that, with one, it could be even better.
Convertibles have come a long way from the roofless variants of the Geo Metros and Pontiac Sunfires—cars so soft they make Drake look tough. But as a general rule, if a performance enthusiast has the choice between coupe and convertible, they’ll pick the better handling hardtop over its flimsy headless twin. And they’ll save money doing it.
There are exceptions, however: most notably, the McLaren 12C. The Spider is indiscernible from the coupe in terms of handling, and yet it defies rule #2 by appearing more attractive. The McLaren is the only real convertible that isn't a sacrifice; all others sell because a buyer is willing to give up performance in return for fresh air. (L.A. smog never tasted so good.)
The 12C Spider works because it was designed from scratch without a roof, much like an open-top race car. But it doesn’t need the heavy structural braces to strengthen the platform like most convertible sports cars; its rigid carbon chassis has all the strength it needs. It’s a masterpiece—one that's so good it's cannibalizing sales of the 12C coupe.
April December fools?
Corvette convertibles are not known for being on par with the hardtop variant. They are known, however, for being the preferred midlife crisis car for portly gentlemen that dye their hair and wear Rush t-shirts. As any gearhead will tell you, if you want to experience the full capabilities of a Corvette, you must drive the coupe, not the floppy soft top. So what’s the deal?
This is the figure Corvette’s chief engineer Tadge Juechter told us during a recent drive event in Palm Springs. Compared to the C6 soft top, the C7 convertible is “40-percent” more rigid. That’s a ridiculous claim that you’d rule out as PR speak, hearsay, or one too many Fat Tires over dinner. But it was neither. Juechter reiterated: “We believe this to be the most rigid convertible in the world.”
How does he know?
Simple, according to Juechter: “We have physically tested other cars' rigidity.” This includes the mighty McLaren, analyzing its structural stiffness on their scale and comparing it to the Corvette convertible. Juechter admits that the difference is small, but in their testing, they came out on top.
Taking a leaf out of McLaren’s book, the 2014 Corvette was designed first to be a convertible. All the necessary stiffness was incorporated prior to the roof going on, making it nothing more than a fancy umbrella. It’s an interesting approach, spending the initial months only thinking convertible despite knowing that a hardtop will be the car you'll debut first. You’d figure more manufacturers would do this, but for most, the coupe is for the performance-minded and the convertible is for those that want to cruise with the top down listening to Jimmy Buffett. It makes sense, too: Who’s going to track a convertible, unless you want to invest in a roll cage or shave a few inches off your head? So get it as close as possible to the hardtop and be done. Move on. Have a drink. Chillax.
Is it really as rigid?
It’s all well and good listening to the man who built the new Corvette convertible tell me how good it is: In high school, I made a model airplane that I thought was brilliant—only it didn’t fly, its wing fell off and the paint smudged. Still, if you ask me about it, I’ll tell you it made me the coolest kid on campus.
But Juechter let us drive his machine for hours on some truly magnificent mountain roads to verify his lofty claim. Admittedly, if you truly want to test its rigidity versus the coupe, you'd need to back-to-back them both on track—something I’ve done with the McLaren 12C.
However, I can officially declare that Tadge Juechter is not a liar: During aggressive driving on twisty roads, it feels identical—despite the convertible being 60-lbs. heavier due to its retractable roof. With the Z51 pack, you get the full 460 horses Chevy offers—and the most aggressive suspension settings. You can also add Magnetic Ride Control, which in any other GM product I’d say is a must. But if you can’t stretch the additional $1,800 for MRC, amazingly, you’re not missing that much.
That’s how well-balanced, composed and sorted the 2014 Corvette convertible is.
Aren't you forgetting something?
While I personally prefer the look of the hardtop, the convertible still draws a mass of attention. And yet you can feel the wind in your un-dyed hair and hear the 6.2-liter V-8 rumble in all its glory. It’s evocative. And you’re compromising precisely nothing.
However, some of you may have smashed your screen in frustration, declaring that the Corvette coupe comes with a removable hardtop, making the soft top effectively pointless.
That it does. But as anyone who has driven a removable hardtop knows, you don’t get the same sense of openness as you do with a true convertible. And if it rains, you're left scrabbling like an idiot. (The Vette convertible's roof goes up and down at speeds of up to 30 mph, making you appear far less of an idiot.)
In my eyes, the 2014 Corvette convertible boasts a more visceral experience than the coupe. It may even be the car I’d buy. And better still, now I won’t look stupid doing it.