What is it?
It may look the same as it always has, but this is a comprehensively re-engineered version of the Dodge Viper supercar. And we should count ourselves lucky, because it nearly didn’t happen at all. The Viper came close to going down the same path as TVR.
Chrysler was going through bankruptcy in 2008 and they didn’t feel a 600bhp sports car was good PR. The V10-powered American icon was put up for sale. Then Fiat came along and saved Chrysler – and the Viper.
It has taken Chrysler 20 years to offer stability control, navigation, cruise control, automatic climate control and decent seats on the Viper, but it has finally happened, promising to make the new car more refined and more usable than any of its predecessors.
Previous-generation Vipers were known as the Dodge Viper, Chrysler Viper, or Dodge SRT-10, depending on your country. This new version is called the SRT Viper because Chrysler’s in-house ‘Street and Racing Technology’ division is now a brand.
SRT can produce 2200 cars a year, but official European sales aren’t planned at this time. That doesn’t mean a handful won’t make it across the pond, starting in early 2013.
What is it like?
Those who do go to the trouble of importing a new SRT Viper will immediately feel a newly refined but still very raw American sports car. Our press drive was limited to near-production spec development cars on a racing circuit—no street driving was offered.
In case we doubted the latest improvements, Chrysler offered us a handful of laps in the old Viper. This comparison reminded us just how far the brutal beast has come. Chassis developments give the Viper depth and balance around the circuit that previous versions lacked.
The Viper has always been fast but they were also unrefined and, frankly, a bit lethal. The new Viper’s updated steering - still hydraulic - is far more linear and offers good feel and accuracy.
A close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox and shorter final drive ratio liven up the 631bhp, 8.4-litre V10. It’s a transmission that’s now a pleasure instead of a chore to row through the gears. An aluminium flywheel and well-tuned drive-by-wire throttle also contribute to that excellent engine response.
A tweaked exhaust system results in a raspier, more aggressive sound instead of the delivery truck note of past versions. Just remember not to put your hand - or leg - on the door sill as the side-exit exhaust gets very hot. There’s no doubt this is still a Viper.
Unlike in the old Viper, we quickly got up to speed at the circuit. The nicely judged stability control system helped, allowing a large amount of fun even in the default setting. The base Viper, known somewhat confusingly as the SRT, has two stability control settings - on or fully off.
The more luxurious GTS model offers two additional settings. There is a more lenient sport mode and a track setting that keeps yaw control but disables the traction control. All settings are quickly and easily toggled via a simple button on the steering wheel. The standard launch control is just as quick to activate.
A speed-sensing limited-slip differential and 355-section rear Pirelli tyres give the Viper impressive traction, even with 600 lb ft of torque – the highest output of any normally aspirated automobile engine.
The GTS model also adds Bilstein Damptronic shock absorbers paired with 10 per cent stiffer springs. These are not adaptive dampers but offer two modes. The road setting is softer than the base car’s non-adjustable Bilstein units and the track setting is firmer.
Bigger news, given the Viper’s lineage, are the GTS model’s luxury features. A full leather interior – with leather covering nearly every surface – is standard, and gorgeous ‘SRT Laguna Premium Leather’ is an optional extra.
The GTS also includes additional sound deadening and NVH treatment. A 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system is standard on the GTS and you can pay extra for an 18-speaker setup.
These extras increase the reach of the Viper to less hardcore buyers but likely more interesting to Autocar readers is the optional ‘SRT Track Pack’. Standard Brembo brake calipers stick around but upgrades include 355mm two-piece slotted discs, lightweight forged alloys with black finish, and Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres. Ticking this option box drops an additional 26kg off the SRT model’s 1521kg kerb weight - which is already 45kg lighter than the old car.
The stickier and stiffer Corsa tyres increase front-end grip and steering precision around the circuit. The brakes were slightly less impressive but are still under development. We hope engineers sort out the less-than-confidence-inspiring initial bite as well as the fade.
Remember, this is an extremely fast car. The power-to-weight ratio is superior to a Lamborghini Aventador – at nearly a quarter of the price – and the Viper tops out at 206mph.
Should I buy one?
So, the new SRT Viper, Dodge Viper, Chrysler Viper, or whatever you choose to call it is still over-the-top and wickedly fast. But it’s also the first Viper with potential to be of interest to European buyers beyond just Americana fun.
It’s a Viper that should actually be usable on the road. This is more likely the case in mainland Europe as the lack of right-hand-drive versions and the unique roads in the UK make the Viper less appealing in Blighty.
The interior no longer feels like a dark cave littered with last decade’s plastic scraps and the new Sabelt (supplier to Ferrari) seats are wonderful. More importantly, the refinements and luxury touches don’t dilute the Viper from being an extrovert and extremely fast American sports car.
It makes you wonder where TVR could be today if the cards were dealt differently.
SRT Viper GTS
Price: £75,000 (est) 0-62mph: 3.4sec (est) Top speed: 206mph Economy: na CO2: na Kerb weight: 1521kg Engine: 10 cyls, 8390 cc, petrol Installation: Front, longitudinal, RWD Power: 631bhp at 6200rpm Torque: 600lb ft at 5000rpm Gearbox: 6-spd manual