What is it?
The original Dodge Viper was rough as sandpaper and had the kick of fresh moonshine. But that’s precisely what the folks at Chrysler had in mind when they introduced the car two decades ago. There was nothing refined about it. The original roadster’s roof was barely functional and after a long run you were all-but certain to burn your legs on the side-mounted exhaust pipes. ABS, electronic stability control and airbags? Forget about it. What mattered was the massive V-10 engine under the hood and the Viper’s uncanny road manners.
So there was much sighing when the near-broke Chrysler tried to sell off the Viper 'brand', then decided to put the beast into hibernation when Fiat, the maker’s new master, came in post-bankruptcy. The good news is that the Viper is back, this time under the umbrella of Chrysler’s newly created SRT brand.
The preview at last spring’s New York Auto Show drew a mix of responses. Many expected something entirely different, an all-new design and a platform derived, perhaps, from Fiat’s Alfa Romeo. There were even rumors of a Ferrari engine. But what rolled out on stage was a two-seater fire-breather looking much like the previous-generation GTS coupé using a Detroit-derived platform and a familiar, if upgraded, V-10.
What is it like?
We expect there will still be some 'purists' who turn up their noses at having the latest electronic chassis and brake systems, never mind niceties like an audiophile-level sound system. But what it came down to, after spending much of a day behind the wheel, is that the new coupé will do anything that past generations of Viper did, but it will do them so much better.
Yes, the new Viper looks a lot like the old car. Well, sort of, for the closer you get the more dramatic are the differences. Indeed, there have been significant changes made since the Big Apple preview last April, and there are more to come before the formal production launch. The good news is that every tweak is functionally derived, which includes the marginally wider front fascia and the air curtains in the front wheel wells that minimise aerodynamic drag around the tires.
Perhaps appropriately, you slither into the new Viper. Do so and you’re greeted with a far more handsome and refined interior, especially if you opt for the GTS package, which is designed more for day-to-day driving than the track-tuned SRT Viper package. An 8.4-inch multimedia screen, along with a second, smaller data display, are standard, as is the now leather-lavished dash.
But the vast majority of changes are meant to be functional, sucha s the extruded aluminium cross brace that reportedly increases chassis stiffness by 50 per cent, the wider tires and the way the wheels have been nudged ever closer to the corners.
It doesn’t take long to feel the difference. On an aggressive slalom and cornering course we got to compare Vipers old and new and even the GTS maneuvered the course far more nimbly than the old track-edition Viper ACR. Steering is race-car responsive and you can readily use both brakes and throttle to induce some desired under or oversteer to wiggle your way around a line of cones. The electronic stability control system now mandated by U.S. regulators is relatively benign, even in full-on mode. But you can phase it back or shut it off entirely if you really want to toss the car around.
Driven less aggressively, we found that the Viper really could transform itself into a reasonable proximity of a daily drive,r as long as you don’t spend too much of your day bouncing along badly rutted roads.
Of course, the original appeal of the Viper was that 8.4-litre V-10, now getting an extra 40 horsepower and more torque, at 640bhp and 600lb ft respectively. Even a firm squeeze of the throttle, never mind an aggressive stomp, will push you deep into the well padded sports seat. Meanwhile, the new, short-throw six-speed manual helps you get the most of that raw power.
With the Viper still a work in progress, its makers are cautious about providing quotable numbers but we hear whispering in the low-3.0sec range for 0-60 mph, with top speed likely to nudge 205mph. With the curb weight of the GTS down by about 45kg, the Viper is expected to finish up with a better power-to-weight ratio than the Lamborghini Aventador, and possibly come in as best in its class.
Should I buy one?
You’ll be paying for the refinements, which now include lightweight carbonfibre panels, likely in the range of £75,000. But for those who don’t think a supercar has to come from Europe, this new snake could bite hard. It’s been a long wait for the new SRT Viper, but it appears to have been worth it.
2013 SRT Viper GTS
Price £75,000 (est); 0-62mph 3.5 seconds; Top speed 205mph; Economy 22.8mpg (US highway equivalent); CO2 na; Kerb weight 1497kg (est); Engine V10, 8390cc; Power 640bhp at 6400rpm; Torque 600lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual
Paul A. Eisenstein