DETROIT – It’s faster, shorter and narrower. It’s the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette, unveiled here at the North American International Auto Show.

“Our goal is to thrill Corvette loyalists and capture new enthusiasts,” says Dave Hill, Corvette chief engineer.

The ’05 Corvette thrills and captures the attention of the media attending the car’s debut.

Chevy shows only the coupe, which will go into production at General Motors Corp.’s Bowling Green, KY, assembly plant during the third quarter as an ’05 model. The convertible will be unveiled at the Geneva motor show in March. Ragtop output will begin in the fall.

The ’05 Chevy Corvette goes on sales later this year.

The C6 Corvette offers an eye-catching design change from its predecessor, arguably the most significant styling metamorphoses in the car’s history since the C2 replaced the C1 in 1963 or possibly the transformation from C3 to C4 in 1983.

Exterior design is tense and aggressive – nods to classic Corvette cues mishmash with styling reminiscent of the Dodge Viper and some Lamborghinis.

There are fixed headlights for the first time since 1962. The arching fenders feature a beltline crease and recall Stingrays of years past. C6’s egg-crate grille design suggests Corvettes from the ’50s as well as the mid-year cars.

The center of the hood is raised slightly, creating aerodynamic gullies between the nose and the headlamps. The forward-hinged hood hides the most powerful standard engine in Corvette history: the 400-hp 6.0L LS2 small-block V-8, which replaces the 350-hp 5.7L LS1 V-8.

Corvette’s new powerplant is part of the fourth generation of GM’s small-block engines. The small-block debuted in 1955 with 195 hp. Since then, the legendary family of engines has been an integral component of Corvette’s performance history.

“It’s almost impossible to talk about Corvette without the small-block,” says Dave Muscaro, GM Powertrain’s assistant chief engineer of small-blocks for cars. “As Corvette has grown into a world-class sports car, the small-block has grown with it.”

Gearbox offerings include the revised Tremec T56 6-speed manual (standard) and the updated Hydra-Matic 4L65-E 4-speed automatic (optional). The manual’s gearshift lever is now 1 in. (2.5 cm) shorter, GM says, and travel for all synchronizers is reduced by 10%. Shift linkage and shift-rail bearings are all-new.

C6 sits on hydroformed steel rails and standard wheels that are 1 in. (2.5 cm) larger than the C5’s. The short-long-arm and transverse-leaf-spring independent rear suspension design remains, but the control arms, springs, dampers, bushings, stabilizer bars and steering gear are completely redesigned.

The brake rotors also have been overhauled. There are three suspension choices – standard, Magnetic Selective Ride Control and the Z51 performance package.

C6 is 5.1 ins. (13 cm) shorter and 1.1 ins. (2.8 cm) narrower than C5, cutting a tauter exterior appearance. But the wheelbase is 1.1 ins. (2.8 cm) longer, allowing C6 to maintain current levels of interior room and cargo space. The lean and tapered rear end features round taillamps and integrated exhaust tips. The removable roof panel is 15% larger.

There are no visible door handles on the ’05 Corvette. Keyless entry and engine start up, which debuted on the ’04 Cadillac XLR, are standard. The system detects the proximity of the key fob and unlocks the car doors and allows it to be started. With the key fob in a pocket or purse, doors are opened via a touch pad located on each door. The ignition is operated via a rocker switch located on the instrument panel.

The interior features a dual cockpit and 2-tone styling. For audiophiles, Corvette offers Bose stereo and XM Radio. Technical-savvy items include OnStar, a head-up display and a DVD-based navigation system and screen. The dashboard gauges feature white-on-black numerals. And, as if driving the Corvette wasn’t already hot enough, heated seats are available for the first time ever.

bcorbett@primediabusiness.com