A few jazzy rides from a down year.
By Isaac Bouchard
THE CHAOS OF COVID-19 affected the automotive sector as much as any other, but in some unpredictable ways. Sales were down, mainly due to a shortage of vehicles. However, this same shortage—inventory levels haven’t been this low since 2010—pushed prices for new and used vehicles up. Since car companies could reduce rebates and other incentives, many saw their profits increase. The end result was that several car companies made more money selling fewer cars. While many new vehicle introductions were delayed, some exciting new vehicles made it to market—if only in very limited numbers. Here are some of the best.
2021 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY
EPA Ratings: 15/27/19* 0-60mph: 2.8sec
Price as tested: $85,330 *2020 model year
SINCE THE 60s, rumors have circulated regarding plans for a mid-engined Corvette. A half century later it has finally arrived in the all-new, 8th generation model. This is undeniably the finest driving and best finished basic Corvette ever. In the way it rides and handles it feels like some of the best mid-engined Italian exotica made; there is a suppleness to how it deals with bumps that only a low center-of-gravity vehicle can achieve, yet the C8 Corvette contains body motions superbly. Chevy built in a little frontend push for safety, but with approved factory alignment changes, much of this can be dialed out, creating a ferocious track-day machine. The engine remains a classic, pushrod V8: compact, fuel efficient, and torquey. That’s what 6.2-liters of displacement will get you. And, with over 60 percent of the Corvette’s mass now sitting over the rear tires, there is more traction than ever before, so this base model can annihilate the 0-60 sprint in just 2.8 seconds—as fast as the previous gen’s top ZR1 model, which had 755 horses, compared to the C8’s 495. There’s only one tranny, and it’s a peach: a twin-clutch 8-speed that stands with the world’s best for instant shifts and immediate response to commands from the paddles mounted behind the groovy, trapezoidal steering wheel. Top down (the test car has a retractable hardtop that most people didn’t even notice when it was closed) you can even hear the pneumatic puffs as it swaps cogs.
The C8 interior, even in basic form, is the highest quality a Corvette—or any GM car for that matter—has ever had; in 3LT spec it matches cars costing twice its price. It is very comfortable for the driver, though the passenger is forced to put arms and elbows into somewhat awkward postures. While the chassis is superb, the Corvette lacks the steering feedback of a Porsche, McLaren or Ferrari. But that is a small deficit to contend with when one remembers that equipped with just the essentials the C8 Corvette can be had for just over $70,000.
2021 MERCEDES-AMG GLS63
EPA Ratings: 14/18/16 0-60mph: 4.1sec
Price as tested: $149,740
There’s seemingly insatiable demand for massively powerful, large SUVs. The GLS63 represents the current pinna- cle of this segment, with a 4-liter V8, hand built by one person, nestled into this 7-passenger rig’s engine bay. 603 horses and a massive 627lb-ft of torque ensure all family members will get pressed back into their seats, and that everyone inside and out can hear the glorious symphony that this lovely engine produces. It’s also a reminder that, no matter how fast current and future electric vehicles are, they won’t intoxicate those with gasoline in their veins like this. The GLS63’s giant 23-inch wheels look great, but make for a bit of roughness in ride quality over big bumps and holes. Loosening the suspension setting from Sport to Comfort helps, but leads to a small amount of float from the chassis. Steering feel is decent for the class—better than a BMW if not a Porsche—and brake feel and stoutness are excellent.
Inside, there is the wow factor of Mercedes’ current interior architecture, which is dominated by the horizontal plinth of black that seemingly floats in front of the stitched leather dash and above the wood trim and polished air vents. Inset are two 12.3-inch displays, with great graphics and touch-screen activation. The latter is critical, as the current MBUX interface buries many commonly used functions one or two layers deep. While removing buttons makes a cockpit look cleaner and more high-tech, it has a downside in that it takes the driver longer to do simple things like change music tracks or radio stations, or activate the wonderful massage feature for the front seats—which can also be configured for max comfort using algorithms Mercedes has laid out. Middle and even third row comfort is excellent, making the GLS63 a true family vehicle. Since Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators are so good, Mercedes had to make the GLS extra good, and—most especially in AMG form—they delivered.
2021 RAM TRX
EPA Ratings: 10/14/12 0-60mph: 3.7sec
Price as tested: $87,370
Who would ever need a 700-plus horsepower pickup truck that can heave its 6,900 pound bulk to 60mph in an astonishing 3.7 seconds? A lot of people, apparently, since the TRX sold out a year’s production almost instantaneously. The already-stout Ram’s frame, suspension and axles are beefed up, meaning the Baja-1000 ready TRX has over 13 inches of suspension travel and 11.8 inches of ground clearance. Combined with stout plates to protect vulnerable components, it can conquer any off roading situation that its widened body will fit through. Inside there’s the Ram best-in-class interior, a high quality affair that shames many so-called luxury vehicles. The TRX rides in a supple manner over crappy roads thanks to its adjustable, remote-reservoir Bilstein dampers and high-sidewalled, 35-inch BFG tires.
One could say the TRX floats like a butterfly, while its supercharger screams like a bee. The whole lot can be configured to be almost normal to drive, or wild and crazy, depending on the program one selects (or modifies) from various ones the talented Ram engineers built in. Baja mode makes it a crazy yet safe drift machine; the TRX is capable of devouring washboard dirt roads in a way nothing this re- porter has ever driven can. Economy is akin to a 3⁄4 or 1-ton truck, meaning single digits in town and a bit over 10mpg at a high cruis- ing speed. And cruise the TRX does; a long road trip emphasized its room and comfort, large windows and a seating position which puts occupants above most every vehicle out there. The electronics, including its adaptive cruise, lane assist and head up display are all superb in operation. It is hard to find anything the Ram TRX doesn’t do well, except perhaps blending in.
This article was also featured in the Spring Issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.