crankandpiston.com takes on an epic challenge to find seven of the greatest driving roads in the United Arab Emirates, with the help of the new Corvette C7 Stingray.
One of the problems with living in the United Arab Emirates – aside from the unforgiving heat – is its highway-heavy road network. Unlike in my native UK, where country lanes and B-roads are ten to the dozen, the distance town-to-town and the relevant lack of life in the desert means winding ‘driving’ roads are a rarity. Every so often though, magical stretches of tarmac appear as if on cue, and since we’re coming close to exhausting our regular supply, we thought it time to head out and check what driving roads the region has to offer with the new Corvette C7 Stingray?
Why the Corvette I hear you ask? A muscular alternative to track day favourites like the Ferrari 458 Italia? Numerical convenience for one thing: whilst spending time in the Camaro Z26 would have been a riot, finding more than two dozen epic driving roads in the UAE would have been tricky. Seven with a C7 on the other hand…
The other slightly more media relevant reason concerns the seventh generation Corvette itself. The V8 remains under the bonnet, packing both sizeable girth at 6.2-litres and a hardly shabby 455bhp. But alongside awesome power comes more aero-efficient bodywork, an all-new gearbox, a new lightweight aluminium frame, and revised double wishbone suspension. Unlike – arguably – its illustrious predecessors, the new Stingray has been designed to be more driver-focused, more on the nose, and as good through the turns as it can be on the drag strip. Where better to put this to the test than on the finest driving roads the UAE has to offer?
Five under-rated driving songs:
– ‘Let’s Go’, Calvin Harris
– ‘Livin’ for the weekend’, Hard-Fi
– Song 2’, Blur
– ‘F***in’ in the bushes’, Oasis
– ‘The way you move’, Bodyrockers
It’s 6am on a Monday morning, and our convoy – that’s myself and photographer Hari in the Corvette, which flanks crankandpiston’s digital team in the camera car ahead – is heading out of Dubai towards Hatta. With endless stretches of mountain terrain that spans sweeping lefts and rights as well as hard-braking hairpin bends, the region is one of our regular test routes, and therefore an obvious place to start our search for the region’s best driving roads. Ironic then that for our first road, we avoid the mountains completely.
For nearly 10km, our first destination spans desert and nothing but desert (aside from the occasional camel farm). Whereas most of our epic roads will focus on tight twisting asphalt, the ‘desert road’s main features are its long, sweeping corners that allow drivers to feed in the power. Given that the Corvette’s V8 kicks out 460lb ft of torque alongside that 455bhp and can hit 100kph from standstill in under four seconds, putting such awesome power to the test was priority number one.
Which is just as well. Since it turns out, the Corvette is quick. Really quite quick.
The sports/muscle car heritage of the Corvette remains off the line, courtesy of a deep resonating boom from the exhausts as we leap from 1000rpm at idle to 5000rpm in a time that’s barely comprehendible. It’s an energetic launch, lumps of power being thrown to the road as the right pedal is mashed. Hardly surprisingly in itself (this is a Corvette, y’know), what does raise an eyebrow or two is the Stingray’s lack of violence. Oh there’s aggression as blips of the throttle feed power in quickly, scooping me back and forth in the GT, Napa leather seat as it does so. But it doesn’t feel violent. The aggression for instance that came with 580bhp in the sister Camaro ZL1 has been throttled back, allowing power to be fed to the rear wheels without the sudden jerk of momentum upsetting the balance. And as we wind our way through the desert, it’s clear already that ‘balance’ in the Corvette is going to prove impressive during our epic, stagnated journey.
‘Stagnated’ is the word too. We’ve been on the go four hours – after a mind-rottingly early 5am call time – and though our first road has been a rousing success, static and detail shots (as well as a ‘track invasion’ by a few camels) mean we’re already running behind schedule, bringing with it a few chewed fingernails and varied topics of conversation on the way to our next driving road…
Five best movie car chases:
– Ronin (1998)
– Bullitt (1968)
– Vanishing Point (1971)
– The Bourne Identity (2002)
– The Italian Job (1969)
I’ll admit that compared with the majesty and auburn-coloured sand we discovered at our first road, the second – deep in the heart of Fili where nary a mobile phone reception can reach – is not quite as picturesque. Although we’re surrounded by kilometre after kilometre of striking mountain scape, the condition of the road itself puts a dampener on the whole thing. That’s not to say that the twists and turns, forks and chicanes, on offer doesn’t make for an entertaining drive. It’s just a shame that we didn’t hit the ‘Fili’ road earlier, since the heat haze bouncing off the tarmac isn’t really helping.
Happily though, the Corvette itself throws a refreshing air of Torch Red our way. The bulbous wheel arches of the 1968 third-generation Corvette – the second iteration of the legendary ‘Stingray’ name – may be no more, but the newboy is still a handsome brute. The oval headlights of the C6 have gone the way of the dodo, in place of sleeker, more aggressively carved alternatives with black chrome surrounds, as well as a new jutting bonnet scoop and vented wheel arches (zoom in to find that tell-tale Stingray logo). Cycle round to the back – past that carbon fibre roof panel – and this apparent aggression has ironically been toned down, save the bank of centre-mounted four exhaust pipes and dual-element taillights. Naturally the look would not be complete without a sloping roofline and that low, low stance.
I imagine that hardened Nissan Micra drivers who eat plenty of vegetables and drive 10kph below the speed limit might find the look over the top, but I rather like it. Our test model even comes with Chevy’s Z51 Performance Pack, offering as it does larger alloys (19in at the front, 20in at the rear), ‘aircraft-inspired air deflectors’, and grippy Pilot Super Sport ZP tyres. It’s a far cry from the convertible roadster that sparked the Corvette phenomenon way back in 1953 and brings a fresh aggression to Chevy’s flagship sportscar, one born from the windtunnel rather than the fevered drawings of an eight-year old. The air vents around the front wheels for instance are designed to feed cooling air to the brake discs, while the astonishingly subtle tail-lip spoiler has been moulded for added traction, and thus grip, out of the corners. It’s another sign that Chevrolet has taken this exercise very seriously. Against an unapologetic sea of beige on ‘the Fili road’, the Corvette has made a striking mark.
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