In early 2009, when GM and Ford were stumbling toward uncertainty and the Detroit auto show had all the glitz of an insurance convention, no one could have imagined that the Motor City would ever again produce cars like the GT350 and the Grand Sport. But it’s well known that car companies can be at their best when they’re anxious about keeping the lights on. Both of these cars came from a hunger to prove that world-class virtue can be more than marketing talking points. And so, eight years after the doom and gloom, we have these two unimaginably good V-8 machines and a $64,000 question. Believing that there’d only be space for one of these cars on the list, our staff was divided, with the GT350’s backers on one side and the Grand Sport’s on the other. In the final summation, each car had the votes to clinch its spot, but the rift helped us arrive at a deeper understanding of both. Last year, the Corvette missed the 10Best cut after the C7’s two-year run. Perhaps the intoxicating influence of the 650-hp Z06 would have helped the Corvette gain enough votes for another year, yet by then GM had raised the price above our $80,000 cap. Enter the Grand Sport, which mates the regular Corvette powertrain to the chassis of the mighty Z06 while avoiding a major price increase. You can park a GS in your driveway for as little as $66,445, exactly $10,000 more than the base car and nearly $15,000 less than the Z06. To keep the price semi-attainable, the Grand Sport uses the Corvette’s naturally aspirated small-block V-8. A dry-sump 6.2-liter unit with 460 horsepower, this pushrod engine spins to its 6600-rpm rev limiter with ferocity. It has gobs of power. Every stomp on the accelerator requires you to take in a lungful of air to counteract the shove of the V-8’s fierce torque and instant response. Celebrate it. Hear it transform organic molecules into motion, warmth, and smooth purrs. It’s a welcome reprieve from a world turning to narcoleptic turbo fours that refuse to redline.
Painted red with big white stripes running down the center, the Grand Sport and the GT350 might as well be draped in Old Glory. Both models differ from their lesser kin with broader fenders that cover up wider tires. Neither car has many surprises inside. We’re accustomed to both, from the Corvette’s smell of polyester resin to the Mustang’s huge touchscreen and toggle switches. Ford uses standard Recaros that fit as if they’re custom-made. Chevy asks $1995 for its Competition Sport seats, but we prefer the standard chairs.
While some seats may be optional on the Grand Sport, the serious hardware—magnetorheological dampers, an electronically controlled differential, and the Z06’s larger brakes—comes standard. For the rare occasions when Michelin Pilot Super Sports aren’t enough, the track-ready Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and carbon-ceramic brakes of the Z07 package will knock your cochlea into the creek. Even without the Z07 package, stops from 70 mph take 136 feet, and grip on the skidpad is an unbelievable 1.13 g’s. These are supercar numbers that move into the hypercar realm when the Vette is equipped with the Z07’s exotic rubber and brakes. In the real world, it’s nigh on impossible to regularly tap the Grand Sport’s potential.
A GT350R is a 1.10-g car, but the plain GT350 that Ford sent us this year has less cling, just 0.98 g. But this “low-grip” GT350 has more than enough stick to eviscerate our 13.5-mile loop. Its handling limits are approachable and usable. Perhaps you’ve seen videos of Mustangs leaving car shows with disastrous results. Chalk it up to lack of skill. If you know what you’re doing, there’s simply no treachery to this chassis (or that of any new Mustang); it does what you expect of it safely, predictably, and obediently.
Part of the appeal of the 10Best loop is that it’s as unsettling as stepping on a Hot Wheels in the dark. In short order, the lumpy and bumpy asphalt exposes chassis-tuning compromises. To get a Mustang to 0.98 g, Ford fits stiff springs and adjustable dampers and steamroller-wide rubber. The resulting ride is impossible to ignore in this setting. Deputy editor Daniel Pund, who placed the GT350 just outside his 10Best list, said: “I may have been more willing to accept the GT350’s overly stiff ride when it was the hot new thing last year. But I can’t ignore that it was actively trying to throw me off the road.”
Even with a 1.13-g chassis, the Corvette’s magnetorheological dampers and spring rates offer more compliance and a slightly calmer experience. It’s gifted—possibly too gifted—with grip and composure that can make it seem aloof. Throwing this supercar down a narrow byway like our 10Best loop requires a frustrating amount of restraint. The solution is to go faster, but what this car really needs is a track. It’s the complete opposite of a narrow-tire car like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which slips and grips and remains engaging even at lower speeds. “Too much for the road,” became a common refrain as editor after editor stepped out of the Corvette. Life beyond 1.10 g’s is both a blessing and a curse.