Autobahn Dreaming

September 2009

We've had a Miata since we came back from Germany in 1991. The first one was a '90, which we finally sold when we bought a new one in 2003. However, I wasn't as happy with its 6-speed transmission – it wasn't as smooth-shifting as the previous one's 5-speed. Also, although I always thought a sports car should have a stick shift, all the stop-and-go traffic we have around here finally wore me down, and I decided that the next one would be an automatic.

So we checked out the new Miatas, and found them even better than the previous models, particularly the one with the power convertible hard-top that doesn't take up any more space in the than the soft-top version. But then we tried the Corvette, and there was no comparison – it's a fun car that you can also take on a trip.

In fact, we found it offers a surprising amount of cargo space – the trunk is just wide enough to hold two carry-on size bags next to each other, which many of you know is our normal quota. And, since high-speed travel is pretty noisy with the top down, more room is opened up when the top is raised. Even more space is available in two bins under the trunk floor, and in a cavity running behind the seat backs, although items stored there can muffle the speakers somewhat.

Costco's $100-over-invoice deal was with Criswell Chevrolet in Rockville, Maryland. The ones they had in stock all had several thousand dollars worth of extras that I didn't want, most of which also could result in future maintenance problems. Also, this was already mid-June, and if I bought from what they had available, it would soon be last year's model. Sure enough, when I said I'd order one, they said it would be an '09. Most of the options had prices listed as "W/A": "Will Advise." Fortunately, we discovered that prices were not that much different from the previous year when we picked it up the beginning of August.

It's the base model – "only" 430 hp. (There are also 505 and 615 hp models.) It isn't even subject to a gas-guzzler tax since it's rated at 25 mpg highway. When we took a trip to Annapolis a month later, I noticed one reason why. At 65 (legal) mph, it was only turning over at 1400 rpm – I've had cars that idled almost that fast! The automatic is a 6-speed, with paddle shifters if you want to shift manually. In fact, during several extended trips on interstate highways, 27 mpg and more has been attained.

While perusing the user's manual, I noticed that it mentioned that Z-rated run-flat tires are provided, with tire pressure monitoring viewable on the "Driver Information Center." Of course, many other parameters, e.g., oil or transmission fluid temperature, also can be selected for display.

The manual also suggested what air pressure to use if you intend to drive at speeds above 175 mph! It did add "where legal." So I searched the Internet to find some performance data: 0-60 in 4.3 seconds, top speed 189! Obviously, no speed limiter here. (In case you wondered why I didn't check the top speed myself, the car wasn't sufficiently broken in yet. Also, I didn't know of a nearby "where legal" site.) However, as you can see, the speedometer is a little optimistic – no doubt it's the same one as in those really hot models.

A cool feature is the Head-Up Display that shows rpm and mph on the windshield, above the hood but below oncoming traffic – very handy for a quick check when spotting a suspicious-looking vehicle. (Some have dubbed Corvette's classic "Victory Red" as "Arrest Me Red.") Other modes can be chosen to display various gauge readings – even G values. In case you wonder why the engine is turning over at 1400 rpm at this "low" speed, it's because the transmission is still in 5th gear – it can't even be manually shifted into 6th yet.

Upcoming turns are also displayed when the navigation system is operative.

Another appreciated feature is Electronic Stability Control, which has already saved me some grief. One day I was hurrying to an appointment with a new doctor whose exact location I wasn't sure of. I was driving down I-395 in the rain amongst semis throwing up clouds of spray, when I suddenly saw the exit. As I darted into it, I saw that it was a downhill decreasing spiral and I was traveling too fast!

I gingerly applied the brakes and hoped I wouldn't slide off the side. Nothing – it just tracked around the curve like the road was dry!

I'd really have liked to have had this car in Germany – let's see, 189 mph is 304 kmph. Of course, that also would have required a time machine!

While living in Germany we had an '83 BMW 323i which did occasionally reach 180 kmph, but it wasn't air conditioned and the wind noise got too loud for sustained driving above 150 – about 95 mph.

© Copyright 2009 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved