It’s all coming together. I’m spending the week in one of my personal dream cars, the mighty Corvette Stingray. This is the 2016 version of the Stingray, complete with the Z51 performance package and a short-throw seven-speed manual transmission.

Corvette Stingray
The 2016 Corvette Stingray in front of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

What’s it like to spend a week behind the wheel of a 2016 Torch Red, convertible Corvette Stingray? It’s just as awesome as you would think it is. The C7 Corvette, the latest evolution of America’s true sports car, just may be the last with the traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration. For this enthusiast, the combination is the ultimate set-up for true sports car performance and the 2016 Corvette delivers serious supercar performance at Chevrolet pricing.

The technology and build quality of the Corvette have finally caught up to the power and styling and it comes together for a car that well-optioned for $80K will deliver a serious threat to similar two-seaters from Jaguar, Aston-Martin or Ferrari, at sometimes a fraction of the price. For the sheer joy of driving factor, it’s hard to beat the top-down, music-blasting experience of a drive in the car, it never fails to bring a big smile to your and your passenger’s faces.

2016 Corvette Stingray
The styling is modern, yet still classic Corvette

In the real-world setting of car ownership, the Stingray is also very usable over a wide range of driving techniques and conditions. In Economy mode, with relatively careful driving and Chevrolet’s cylinder deactivation technology, 29 MPG is possible. On the other end of the scale, with the car in Track mode and the HD video-recording Performance Data Recorder capturing lap times and g-forces, the car comes quite track-ready right from the dealership and will do 0-60 in under four seconds.

Reagan Library
Day two of my All-American Corvette getaway took me to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Corvette at Beverly Hills HOtel
Everywhere I went, people loved and gawked at the Stingray. Even the jaded valets at the Beverly Hills Hotel

The road trip
This writer took the Stingray out and about in Los Angeles, where it sure gets a lot of thumbs-ups and positive attention. Going with the American icon theme, a trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley and a trip to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda were next on the agenda. The car even made a lunchtime appearance at The Beverly Hills Hotel for a visit to the Polo Lounge. Even the jaded valet team, who regularly drive the world’s most exotic cars, all loved the Corvette. The final test was a grueling, bumper-to-bumper drive to Palm Springs on a Friday afternoon, testing the car’s clutch, 7-speed manual transmission and this driver’s left leg strength.

Corvette at Beverly Hills HOtel
Rolling up to the Polo Lounge

Even with the manual transmission, the Corvette was a pleasure to drive both on the open road and in traffic. The speed and power are quite amazing and the physical experience of driving the manual version is very visceral and race-like, no matter how short the trip.

Corvette trunk
Yes, it does have a trunk!

Interior comfort
The materials, craftsmanship and fit and finish of the interior are all appropriate for a car that costs $80K. The test car had the upgraded, $9,745 3LT Preferred Equipment Group option with Nappa leather competition seats which were both stylish and very functional in aggressive driving. Other goodies like Apple CarPlay, OnStar and an in-car, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot complete the luxury experience.

Corvette interior
The optional leather GT sport seats (image courtesy of Chevrolet)

The power
With 455 HP coming from the engine on a car that weighs just over 3,000 pounds (3,362 to be exact), it’s incredibly fast and accessible, especially with the manual transmission. When driven seriously, the car requires your total attention and both hands and feet, it’s a great thrill to want to turn off the phone and even the stereo to just focus on driving. The power is manageable and lacks the soul-crushing force of the Z06, which has a super-charged version of the 6.2L V8 putting out 650 HP.

Corvette engine
It all starts here with the latest version of the classic small-block Chevy engine

The performance
The Corvette turns any road into a racetrack, which isn’t always a good thing. It’s just hard to drive it slowly. The ride is well-controlled by the five drive modes, each of which tailor 12 of the car’s attributes to fit the requested setting. These include everything from the look of the dashboard display to the engine management and exhaust flow. The Weather mode provides traction, the Eco mode allows the car to achieve almost 30 MPG, the Tour mode provides a general setting for most driving conditions while Sport and Track modes increase the car’s intensity and ferocity accordingly.

Corvette Stingray
First stop on my road trip, the Palm Springs Art Museum

The price
The 2016 Corvette Stingray convertible, with the Z51 performance package starts at $64,400. The press car had the $9,745 3LT Preferred Equipment Group, the $1,795 magnetic ride control, the $995 carbon fiber interior package, the $595 custom-painted red brake calipers, $495 black-painted aluminum wheels and the $395 custom red leather stitching on the interior. With a $995 destination charge, the total price was $79,415. A check of local dealerships in Los Angeles show lease rates in the $550 per month range with a $5,000 down payment.

2016 Corvette Stingray
The rear-end is instantly recognizable as the 2016 model

The Corvette lifestyle
More than just buying a car, Corvette owners get access to the iconic Corvette lifestyle, which is heavily supported by Chevrolet. Buyers can take a tour of the Corvette factory in Kentucky to watch their own personal vehicle in final assembly. For buyers who can’t make it in person, there’s a $200 option to have photographs taken of the car’s assembly, and presented in an album with the car’s delivery. Corvette buyers can also attend a special driving school also on the grounds of the museum and factory.