The flip-up headlamps are gone. But there's still no mistaking the Chevrolet Corvette.

One of America's most recognized and long-lived sports cars, the Corvette debuted a sixth-generation, more-sophisticated model for 2005.

With a fresh, streamlined look, this Corvette is the first since 1962 with exposed headlights. It's also 5 inches shorter and 1 inch narrower than its predecessor and weighs a bit less.



BASE PRICE: $51,445.
AS TESTED: $61,110.
TYPE: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger roadster.
ENGINE: 6-liter, overhead valve, LS2 V8.
MILEAGE: 18 (city), 26 (highway).
TOP SPEED: 186 mph.
LENGTH: 175 inches.
WHEELBASE: 106 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 3,199 pounds.
BUILT AT: Bowling Green, Ky.
OPTIONS: Preferred equipment group (includes head-up display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power telescoping steering wheel, Bose premium audio system with seven speakers) $2,995; power convertible top $1,995; DVD-based navigation system $1,600; polished aluminum wheels $1,295; OnStar emergency notification system $695; XM satellite radio $325.
A new, 400-horsepower V8 makes this the first production Corvette capable of going 186 miles an hour.

And there are high-tech features now such as keyless access that lets a driver enter and start the car without using a traditional key. In fact, the car is turned on and off with the push of a button. An easy, power-operated and completely lined soft top is a $1,995 option for the 2005 model.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $44,510 for a 2005 Corvette coupe and $52,245 for a convertible, which was the test car.

Competitors include the 2005 Dodge Viper SRT-10 convertible, which starts at $85,745, and the 2005 Chrysler Crossfire convertible, which starts at $35,110.

Dating to 1953, the Corvette has blended a bold, uniquely American appearance with a two-seat sporty image.

The car also is known for American-style power. Indeed, Chevrolet's first small-block V8 was introduced in Corvettes in 1955, and Corvettes have a long racing heritage.

The 2005 Corvette, also known as the C6 by aficionados to denote it's the sixth-generation model, has a showy, streamlined, aerodynamic body that, like its predecessors, sits low to the ground.

In fact, I looked up at passengers inside a Chrysler PT Cruiser that was in the lane next to me.

I couldn't see much of the traffic in front of me, because so many vehicles on the roads today are taller than the 4-foot-tall Corvette. For example, a Cadillac Escalade stands 6.1 feet tall.

But the agility of the new Corvette, plus ample power, meant I didn't have to stay behind the traffic too long.

The new engine - a 6-liter overhead valve V8 - rumbled to life the second the ignition fired. It's a low, almost sinister sound that had me fighting the urge to gun the engine a few times.

Horsepower is up from last year's 350, while torque has risen to 400 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm. Chevy officials estimate a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.2 seconds, which is in the range of many well-known sports cars.

The test Corvette had a four-speed automatic transmission, which made driving in rush-hour traffic less of a chore than the six-speed manual would.

But I still found myself managing the Corvette's power carefully, because it was very easy to get up on the bumper of the car ahead, with just a nudge of the gas pedal. It also was easy to get up over the speed limit and not realize it.

The power was so much at the ready, it didn't take much to push my head back into the head restraint.

And always there was the wonderfully rich-sounding V8. Indeed, some pedestrians turned to look at what kind of muscle car was nearby.

Dodge's Viper SRT-10 convertible has a deep, expressive engine note, too, but it's from a 8.3-liter V10 with 500 horsepower and 525 foot-pounds of torque at 4,200 rpm.

The Crossfire's top engine is a less-throaty and less-powerful, 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 with 229 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm.

Thankfully, the Corvette's fuel economy isn't as bad as I had feared. The government rating is 18 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. And during the test drive, which had a majority of highway miles, I averaged 24.9 mpg.

This compares with the Viper's government rating of 12/20 mpg and the Crossfire's 21/28 mpg.

The new Corvette body structure, even on the convertible tester, had a rigid, solid feel. I didn't notice cowl shake, for example, on the car. Cowl shake, or the vibration or shaking of the windshield glass and supports, can be a factor in some convertibles.

The Corvette moved through curves and mountain twisties with an ease that I don't recall from earlier models. The low car stuck closely to the pavement, with no sense of tippiness or unsettling weight shifts.

The longer I drove, the more I realized the Corvette provides fun, comfortable driving on challenging roads. Brakes were strong, too.

The speed-sensitive, magnetic power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering had a precise feel, even if it wasn't quite as crisp as I had expected for a powerful sports car.

Traction control, side airbags, tire pressure monitor and an Active Handling safety handling system are standard features.

I appreciated the optional head-up display that projected my speed and other pertinent information onto the lower part of the driver windshield. This reduced my need to scour the closely grouped gauges below.

Seats are low to the floor, so driver and passenger must drop down into them. They provide good support, though large people may want to test the comfort of the form-fitting buckets.

Storage space is still a drawback, as it has been in earlier Corvettes.

Cargo room under the large rear window is just 5 cubic feet with the top down, 11 cubic feet with the top up, for example. And people have to hoist items up and over the rather high-sitting rear deck lid, which was at waist height on my 5-foot-4 frame.

Map pockets on the two large doors also are shallow, and I feared each time I opened the Corvette doors that items I had in the pockets would fall out.

The center console's storage spot is shallow, too.

Chevrolet officials are looking for about 33,000 sales of Corvette convertibles and coupes annually. This would be an increase from the 30,856 sold in calendar 2004.

Through June this year, Corvette sales totaled 16,634, or right on pace with the forecast.

The vast majority of Corvette convertible buyers are men, and two-thirds are married, according to marketing research.

Some 70 percent of buyers are between 45 and 64 years of age, and household income is in the $100,000-plus range.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported one safety recall of the new-generation Corvette, and it came early in the 2005 model year. The agency said 5,225 cars were recalled because brake lines might be exposed to exhaust heat and reduce brake power.

NHTSA did not report crash test results on the 2005 Corvette.

Because the vehicle is new, Consumer Reports does not provide a reliability rating.