I stay well ahead of the curve on digital technology, right up to the moment I slide behind the wheel of my 2002 Ford Taurus. Suddenly, it’s automatic transmission and manual almost-everything-else. My wife, proud of every last gadget in her late-model Kia SUV, watches with pity as I drive away.
But for a few days last week, I surged into the lead.
Thanks, General Motors Corp., for the use of the Corvette Stingray . It was a 2015 model with a bronze carbon-fiber body, a 6.2-liter, 460-horsepower V8 engine, and, of course, computers — lots of them — along with a 4G LTE connection to GM’s OnStar driver-service network. The Vette was a rolling smartphone, the biggest and fastest I’ve ever tried, and at $65,000 the most expensive.
The ultimate in smart automotive technology will of course be one of those self-driving cars that Google, GM, and so many others are working on. By that standard, the Corvette isn’t bright at all. Between its robust response to the gas pedal and the complexities of a seven-speed manual transmission, the Corvette demanded nearly all my attention. I had to idle in the driveway or halt at a red light before rooting around in the car’s electronic goody bag.
It wasn’t quite full. One version of this car can project speed and other vehicle data just in front of the windshield. My Vette didn’t have this feature, but there was plenty to see on the dashboard’s instrument cluster.
An old-school analog speedometer to the left, analog gas gauge and engine temp pointer to the right.
And in between, one of my favorite toys, the Driver Information Center. It’s a video screen that reconfigures at the touch of a steering wheel button to give you different views of the car’s performance, or lets you control various automotive systems without turning your head. You can put the radio, Bluetooth telephone, or GPS navigation control screens right under your eye.
But I chiefly enjoyed having such deep access to the inner life of the vehicle. One setting gave a digital readout on coolant and oil temperatures, for instance. In my old Ford, I’m careful not to push things until the oil heats up, but am never quite certain when it’s ready. In the Vette, I was sure.
By rotating a knob on the center console, I was able to switch the display from Tour mode, for casual driving, to Eco, which can shut down four of the engine’s eight cylinders to save fuel, or Sport mode, for the kind of hard-core driving I never tried.
In this setting, special baffles open up in the exhaust system and the engine sound transforms like Optimus Prime, from a purr to a growl.
The screen served up still more esoteric data — the lateral G-forces on the car as I rounded a corner, for instance, or the speed limit on a particular road, based on GPS location data.
Then came the message that really mattered, the one that told me my left rear tire was flat. A stray nail had pierced the tread.
Lots of cars come with tire-pressure warnings, but don’t tell you which one to check. The Corvette has separate pressure and temperature readouts for each wheel. Good thing, too. If it weren’t for the on-screen warning, I might not have noticed. My loaner was wearing Michelin “run-flat” tires, and they worked. The ride to a nearby Chevy dealership was smooth and steady, with none of the “whump-whump” of a typical flat.
Officially, you’re not supposed to patch run-flat tires, but the dealership didn’t have a $500 spare, and neither did the Vette. So they made an exception and told me to take it relatively slow.
I behaved myself, and can prove it. With the Corvette’s Performance Data Recorder, I shot video of my drive through a dashboard-mounted camera, with car performance metrics laid over the picture. Every gearshift, every tap on the brake or gas pedal, was highlighted on the screen, proving that once upon a time, I was cool.
I’m back in the Ford now, rejoicing in its stodgy comforts. I don’t miss the Stingray’s finicky manual transmission, the cramped feeling of the race car seats, or the limited visibility that made each simple lane change feel as perilous as the car chase in “The French Connection.” But it was nice to take a brief drive through the 21st century.Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.