For months, I'd heard about the refinements that were going into the reborn-for-2013 Viper and my greatest fear was that the iconic American supercar's unruly character would be squeezed out. After my first brief drive—and discovering wheelspin at highway speeds before it was caught by the traction control system—I knew the Viper DNA is still here.
I've long been an admirer of the Viper for is pure, raw, unapologetic character. There's nothing like being in control of a car that can give you the biggest rewards, but also bite you if you're not careful and committed. This new Viper picks up where the old one left off: starting with headline-grabbers like 640 horsepower from an all-new V10, officially dropping the Dodge badge for a home at Chrysler's hailed SRT performance division.
Supercars are all about the numbers—top speed, acceleration, horsepower, torque—and the Viper has some very big ones.
Top speed is an insane 331 km/h (206 mph). At Speedway Sonoma (formerly Infineon) north of San Francisco I couldn't go any faster than 233 km/h with the space given, despite the Viper achieving that speed in what seemed to be a couple of heartbeats.
With the widest rear tires I've yet seen on a car (355 millimetres—or 14-inches across!) helping out, 0-96 km/h (0-60 mph) comes in just over three seconds. Quarter mile time? Around 11.5 sec. By even Euro-exotic car standards, that's quick. A launch control function is original equipment on all 2013 Vipers and delivers reliable holeshots every time.
The aluminum V10 is all-new, top to bottom. By the numbers, it makes 640 horsepower at 6,200 rpm. This engine likes to rev all they way to the 6,400 rpm fuel cutoff. Peak torque is a massive 600 lb-ft at 4,950 rpm. To put those numbers in perspective, a top-spec last-generation ACR-X racing Viper made 640 hp and 605 lb-ft of torque.
Acceleration is simply violent in the lower gears. Even in fourth and fifth, the V10 shoves you back in your seat. Few cars—at any speed—can do this.
Litres per hundred kilometres? Who cares... the Viper is all about smiles per hundred. In total, I think I personally burned through almost two full tanks of fuel, during a full day of on-road and on-track testing.
The shift action of the new six-speed transmission was immediately impressive. I recalled how slowly and deliberately the old ACR-X had to be rowed, but this new SRT doesn't display any of that reluctance, due in part to the flywheel—lighter by 12 pounds—as well as the short throw shifter. (A lighter flywheel means the engine spins up and down the rev range faster.)
Steering response is immediate, undoubtedly due to the massive, 295 mm (11.6-inch) front tires—the widest available for a production car. It's almost racecar-quick. Good thing as you'll want responsive steering in a car as quick as this. Feedback is well above average, but not quite as communicative as, say, the last generation Porsche 911. The thick rim feels great in your hands, and you'll want to keep both on the wheel because those wide front tires like to follow the contours of the road.
The brakes are massive too: 355 mm (14-inch) diameter rotors clamped by big, red four piston calipers. The Track Package rotors are two-piece, slotted items that are lighter than the standard steel pieces and have directional internal cooling vanes. Over one four-lap track session at Sonoma, the brake pedal started to feel a little soft as a result of a little overheating, though admittedly those conditions were very extreme.
Significant revisions to the suspension geometry, at both the front and rear, have refined the Viper's handling to the point that it's now entirely predictable in all situations. One key difference I noted is that I could accelerate more aggressively and confidently out of corners in the new SRT Viper than I could in the old one.
The improved handling allowed SRT engineers to set up the traction and stability system's involvement closer to the absolute limits. These systems are new for Viper…now required by law in the good ol' US of A . But much like Porsche's PSM system, the Viper's seems to rarely get involved.
The GTS (the more premium model) gives you four modes of system involvement: on, off, sport and track. During my test, I left systems on initially to understand how they function. I had two interventions on track that were due to some less-than-smooth driver inputs and one on the open road when the tires and the road surface were cold. Still, when the systems do engage, they're not abrupt and don't spoil the fun.
One key feature of the GTS is its two-mode Bilstein shocks with settings for Street and Track. Note that there is no "Comfort" mode...
Last but not least, the Viper went on a diet. Spec for spec, the new Viper is more than 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter than the previous generation. In addition, the Track Package option will lighten the Viper by another 50 pounds (22 kg), by way of lighter wheels and brake rotors.
Ergonomics / Comfort / Quality
The changes to the interior are extensive and include a more modern and refined dash with a new infotainment system and, gasp, navigation. Viper owners were vocal opponents when air conditioning was added in the '90s and still are resistant to new technology spoiling the charm of their snakes. Speaking of offending the Viper faithful, cruise control is now standard too.
The instrument cluster includes more tech, like a seven-inch TFT display for the tachometre. Since it's digital, it does more than just show engine speed. As you near redline, the entire tack glows red. It's bright enough that you see it without taking your eyes off the road. Brilliant.
From the driver's perspective, the biggest improvement is the new seat. Sourced from the same supplier that Ferrari uses, these buckets have superior bolstering for support during high-speed cornering. They're full power in the GTS and a manual/power mix in the SRT.
The driver's footwell is still small but, thankfully, there's a tiny deadpedal for your left foot. It's best to wear small, racing-style shoes when piloting the Viper—chances are that potential owners and poseurs interested in cars like this already have a few pairs…
The GTS' interior is decidedly more premium than the SRT model, with leather surfaces everywhere. Upgraded leather that rivals top European marques is also available.
Functionality / Usability
Harmon Kardon supplies the sound system, but it has to fight a battle with drivetrain noises. It's not great for listening at casual levels, but is exceptional at higher volumes. Truth be told, the Viper's mechanical sounds are the kind you should be enjoying: the thunderous acceleration and the burbling and popping exhaust on deceleration are your rewards.
Cargo capacity is above average for a supercar. There's a deep and wide cargo well at the back of the car with a shelf immediately behind the seats. Great for a weekend getaway, not-so-accommodating for a two-person, cross-continental drive.
The performance of the Viper is only matched by cars that cost a multiple of its price. These days, to get this kind of power, you have to ring up Ferrari for their new 730 horsepower F12 Berlinetta flagship…which will set you back nearly a half-million-dollars. At $119,995, the GTS is a relative bargain. The SRT model is just $99,995, without the fancy shocks and uprated leather interior.
The SRT Viper is an unabashed, American supercar. It makes no apologies for being loud and not very refined, but makes up for it with brutal acceleration and exceptionally high limits of performance. Limits are so high, that testing them is an act of bravery in itself.