We see this question a lot on forums and Google searches. The bottom line: Both the C5 and C6 Corvettes are great cars. They’re very well engineered and carefully built. We’re not going to defend everything GM has ever done – the company has turned out some real turds, but the Corvette has never been among them, even during its worst, lowest-horsepower days in the late 1970s. Every Corvette has contained the General’s best engineering, and for the most part the people building them have taken a lot of pride in the fact they’re assembling America’s Sports Car.
The C5 Corvette was a significant departure over the C4 before it, moving to a rear-mounted transaxle design and advanced substructure. The C6 Corvette is an evolution of the C5 (though it’s significantly improved), and benefits from lessons learned on the C5. Suspension tuning also improved, and the LS V8 engine found in all C5 Corvette models was further developed into what we all now know is an utterly reliable base for extreme horsepower.
Before we go too much further, let’s look at some of the changes between the C5 Corvette, built through 2004, and the C6 Corvette that took over in 2005:
What’s the Difference Between C5 and C6 Corvette models?
Engines and Transmissions: The C5 Corvette used the outstanding new LS1 V8 engine with 5.7 liters of displacement. For the C6 Corvette, Chevrolet installed the LS2 6-liter V8 with 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque. A 4-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission were available. Beginning in 2006, a 6-speed automatic option arrived. Then, in 2008, the LS3 6.2-liter V8 took over as the base engine, making 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. Of course, the massive 7-liter LS7 could be had in the Z06, and the ZR1 got the supercharged LS9 good for 638 hp.
Suspension: Keeping the C6 Corvette planted is a redesigned suspension and steering system. GM engineers redesigned the steering gear along with shocks and stabilizers to better plant the newfound horsepower on the ground. However, the Corvette suspension fundamentals remained the same: four-wheel independent suspension via wishbones, supported by transverse fiberglass mono-leaf springs. The C6 Corvette was offered with the standard FE1 suspension, firmer Z51 or F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control (Magneride).
Dimensions: Though the styling belies it, the C6 Corvette is actually around 5 inches shorter than the C5 Corvette: 174.7 inches vs 179.9. Wheelbases are similarly changed: The Corvette C5 rides on a 112.2-inch wheelbase whereas the Corvette C6 wheelbase is only 105.7 inches. Curb weight varies by source but most generally agree that the C6 is the slightly lighter car. Both weigh in around 3200 lbs, and equipment, modifications, etc will affect your Corvette’s curb weight.
Interior and Exterior design: Design being subjective, we’ll refrain from making judgments about either C5 or C6 Corvette styling. The most notable change is the switch to exposed headlights on the C6 Corvette for the first time since the C1. While the decision was decried by some at the time, the number of C5 headlight conversion kits on the market proves that the C6 headlight styling pointed the way to the future. Otherwise, C6 Corvette styling was really more of an evolution of the attractive C5 design versus a complete overhaul of the type seen between C6 and C7. Inside, the C6 Corvette really delivers a significant upgrade over the C5, with more premium materials and a driver-focused cockpit design that still feels modern. As good as the C5 is, some of the buttons and switches look sourced straight out of the mid-1990s Chevy Lumina. That doesn’t make the C5 Corvette any less of a driver, but it does date the design a bit.
Other C5 vs C6 Corvette Considerations
So, now you have a basic idea of the differences between the C5 Corvette and C6 Corvette. Which one do you want? Obviously there’s the issue of aesthetics. Fundamentally, do you prefer the exterior and interior appearance of the C5 or C6? The C6 Corvette is arguably the more contemporary design…it’s a newer car and looks it in several key areas. However, the C5 Corvette has a low, sleek appearance along with those classic pop-up headlights, and some Corvette enthusiasts think the C5 has a ‘lighter’ appearance, looking slightly sportier. As always, looks are in the eye of the beholder; you’re the one who has to (gets to?) see your Corvette in the garage every day, so which model will excite you more when you open the door?
Interior comfort is another area of consideration between C5 and C6 Corvettes. We’re not talking about the design here – the actual interior dimensions and seat designs are different between the two. The C6 Corvette interior is generally more comfortable for drivers of larger build, including heavier drivers. There’s more legroom and the interior is a touch wider in the C6 Corvette as well. In the case of interior comfort, you really need to ‘try on’ the Corvette model you think you’re interested in. Like checking out shoes, there’s no substitute for actually putting on the car and feeling how you fit, where the shifter and steering wheel fall, and how well you can adjust the Corvette’s seat to reach the pedals. The critical thing here is to be honest with your comfort level. No matter how much you like a particular Corvette, if you’re not comfortable when you drive, you’ll rapidly tire of the car.
C5 Corvette vs C6 Corvette Parts and Maintenance
Unlike many performance cars, the Corvette as a model is a relatively affordable car to maintain. Sure, you can spend as much as you want on performance parts and upgrades, but for the most part C5 and C6 Corvette parts are reasonably priced and readily available (we do recommend Vette Lab for all your Corvette parts purchases, of course!) Since the C5 Corvette and C6 Corvette use different generations of the same engine family, parts costs and maintenance needs between the two are remarkably similar.
Both C5 and C6 Corvette models also use a torque tube and rear transaxle design, so parts like clutches, automatic transmission components and shifter pieces all share some commonality and similar prices. The one exception to this rule is if you’re looking at a C6 Corvette ZR1 with carbon ceramic brakes. Brake rotors and pads for these exotic systems are horrendously expensive, but if you’re shopping for a ZR1 you’re probably prepared to pay for some of that car’s additional needs.
When budgeting for Corvette parts, again, whether C5 or C6, your number one expense is likely to be TIRES. Obviously, we’re not counting fuel here, but as far as consumables go your Corvette will eat up its high-performance rubber in a matter of 20,000 miles or so. That number will shrink exponentially if you’re driving hard, using your Corvette for track days or high-performance driving events or simply making smoke at a stop sign on a Friday night. We’re not trying to scare you away from Corvette ownership by mentioning the tire costs, but it’s important to be realistic. The good thing is most everything else involved in keeping your C5 or C6 Corvette running smoothly is easy to get your hands on and reasonably priced. We’re not responsible if you put $20,000 into a supercharger, alcohol injection kit and E85 conversion...but we’re certainly happy to help!
So, C5 or C6 Corvette? IT DEPENDS!
Now that you know the basic similarities and differences between the C5 and C6 Corvette, which car is right for you? They’re both outstanding machines, and you’ll get respect among all Corvette circles no matter which one you drive. But that’s a wishy-washy answer, so we’re going to try to give you a definitive ‘go/no-go’ way to measure which Corvette is right for you:
If getting the nicest car on a modest budget is the key consideration, the C5 Corvette is right for you. The C5 is an absolute performance bargain right now. While some of the interior design elements might be a bit dated, C5 Corvettes are brilliant performers even stock, and the basic package is imminently upgradable. You can spend a minimum amount on a great C5 Corvette then add parts and updates as your budget allows.
If you can spend more up-front and want a truly modern, world-class sports car, the C6 Corvette is right for you. Yes, you’ll pay more for a C6 Corvette than a C5, but the horsepower and performance parameters are in line with what the C7 is capable of. The updated C6 Corvette interior is also a more comfortable place to spend time. Best of all, base C6 Corvette models are also outstanding performance bargains, just not quite as affordable as the C5.
There you have it. The not-quite-definitive guide to choosing a C5 or C6 Corvette. Our closing advice is buy the Corvette you love, and don’t be afraid to shop around for exactly the color and package you want. Chevrolet made plenty of these fantastic sports cars, and your new-to-you Corvette is out there. Once you find it, be sure to let us know how we can help you maintain and upgrade your Corvette: Vette Lab is here to help!