Saturday, February 23, 2013
2013 SRT Viper Test Drive
Just three short years ago, the Dodge Viper's days were numbered. Production had ended, and only a sprinkling of cars remained on dealership lots. But thanks to the hard work of SRT president and CEO Ralph Gilles and his team, a new Viper now lives under the banner SRT.
Under that long hood is, of course, a V-10. The 8.4-liter is similar to the outgoing motor, though SRT now employs a lightweight composite intake manifold, new engine internals, high-flow catalytic convertors, and a lightweight aluminum flywheel. All this work saves 25 pounds, and the resulting motor produces some gaudy stats: 640 hp at 6200 rpm, and 600 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. Like every Viper before it, this one pairs its V-10 to a six-speed manual. SRT says the Viper will run to 60 mph "in the low 3-second range" and keep on running to a top speed of 206 mph. SRT upgraded the standard 14-inch brakes with StopTech slotted rotors, replaced the standard wheels with lighter ones, and shaved a full 57 pounds from the base Viper's 3354-pound curb weight.
Under the snake's skin, the chassis remains largely the same. However, engineers were able to modify and upgrade many of the components, shaving weight and adding stiffness as they went. The Viper is 50 percent stiffer, and the chassis is about 100 pounds lighter. To sharpen handling and improve high-speed stability, the team widened the front track and reengineered the rear suspension. They carved out more room inside, too, and it's a welcome addition. The new adjustable Sabelt racing seats sit lower to provide more headroom.
The Viper's interior is far more luxurious, well-crafted, and better equipped than ever before. The information display in the gauge cluster that displays your performance stats is reconfigurable, but it's the standard 8.4-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash that brings the Viper into the 21st century.
The Viper comes in two trims: the base and the GTS. The GTS wears a unique hood, a more upscale leather-wrapped interior, and about 40 pounds of acoustic noise-damping material. Most importantly, the higher-end Viper comes with Bilstein Damptronic Select two-mode shocks that let the driver choose between a soft and a firm setting. Check the Track Package on the options list—you'll be glad you did.
Driving Character: The Viper has always been a little bit dangerous, with the power from its massive V-10 unchecked by stability control. Vipers were incredibly capable on a racetrack, but without the right skills, they would bite you.
Well, the Viper now has a safety net. There's a two-mode stability system (and a four-mode one on GTS models with launch control). But even with the system, SRT has managed to retain the Viper's rawness. Punch the throttle to the floor and the Viper is fiercely quick. The six-speed's shifter has been redesigned for shorter and more precise throws. But it's notchier, so you've got to really direct the lever with a meaningful shove. It takes practice to be quick, but get it right and the Viper moves (and howls) like nothing else.
The Viper is so raw that it's a challenge to drive on the streets. This is not a delicate instrument. The steering is heavy, and it's hard to place in traffic. On a challenging road, the stiffened chassis and old-school (thank you) hydraulic steering are a dynamic duo. The front end turns with incredible quickness. But bumpy corners will upset the standard chassis, which is very firm.
On most twisty ribbons of road, the Viper is simply too fast and just a little too wide. But mostly it's frustrating to drive this thing in polite society because it's always hinting to you about what it could really do. The car conquers a good road at such an insane speed and such a low engine rpm that it's like the Viper isn't even trying, zipping from around 30 mph all the way up to 118 mph. So it's best to explore the limits of these cars on the racetrack. Which we did.
Favorite Detail: The Viper's skin is a stunner. And its features aren't simply ornamental. One of the subtlest parts are the brake cooling ducts. Placed right above the door, ear level with the driver and passenger, are two black scoops that gobble up fresh air and shoot it down to the rear brakes. It's a smart use of real estate that looks tough too.
Driver's Grievance: The new SRT Viper is not an inexpensive car. It starts at $99,390, but few buyers will leave SRT dealers paying anywhere close to that—after all, the GTS will deplete your bank account to the tune of $120,395. Our complaint: For 100 grand, you'd think a navigation system would come standard. This is the top machine in Chrysler's corral.
The Bottom Line: At a time when the automotive industry is focused on saving fuel and digitizing the driving experience, the Viper stands in rebellious contrast. It's about muscle and style. It's rough-hewn and proud to be so. The Viper isn't for everyone, and that's exactly what makes it so appealing. Welcome back.