To be polite about it, the old Dodge Viper was . . . difficult. In just about every way. That might have appealed to a limited number a hard-edged speed junkies, but to find an actual market of buyers with $100,000 to spend on something cool and drivable, the new SRT Viper has to be something much more. And it is. It’s a real car. With real seats. And real electronics.
The Viper now wears an SRT badge (no more Dodge) and returns following a two-model-year absence. During that time, the hot-handed coupe (no roadster yet) has been thoroughly reengineered with an eye not to softening the package, but to make it more useable. Kind of like putting a saddle on a dragon instead of riding it bareback.
The Viper moves into the realm of an exotic-supercar contender, no matter the competitor. An inspection reveals a car that has had its rough edges rounded off and deportment upgraded to finishing-school status.
Lacking any real iconographic background, the stylists could have taken any direction with the car’s shape. Yet, they produced a two-seater that pulls the very best styling cues from past Vipers. A significant improvement is a longer roofline that joins right at tail of the car, with a faux rear quarter “window,” which helps the car look longer and lower and not cobbled together like a store mannequin.
The body is made of carbon fiber and aluminum and is about 100 pounds lighter than that of the 2010 model, according to SRT. The shell sits atop a platform that is 50 percent more torsionally rigid (resistant to twisting). Assisting is a very obvious aluminum “X” brace that firms up the engine-compartment structure. Numerous suspension upgrades - many learned through the previous Viper’s racetrack experience - have been incorporated into the SRT.
The tale of the tape confirms the Viper’s nearly identical length and width, with about 1.5 inches added to the height. This aids entry and exit, as do the seats, which are positioned an inch lower than before.
Once aboard, knowledgeable Viper-ists will note a sophisticated cabin, including a high-style dashboard, large round air inlets, easy-to-read dials and a beefy flat-spotted steering wheel (for easier cockpit access). The standard interior is finished in vinyl and leather, with all-leather Nappa coverings just an option-tick away.
What’s standard is the Viper’s 8.4-liter cam-in-block V10. Displacement is unchanged, but output has been upped to 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque, from 600/560. At one time those numbers would have seemed inconceivable in a Dodge/Chevy/Ford production car, but the Corvette ZR1 makes 638 horsepower while the best Mustang makes 662. Wow.
A six-speed manual gearbox is the sole transmission offered for Viper while the critical addition of “launch control” should keep you safe and quick while making the 355-millimetre-wide Pirelli tires last longer.
Fuel consumption stats aren’t out yet, but expect the new Viper to slightly improve on the 2010 edition’s 13 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. The $100,000 payout for the base model - about a $7,000 jump from the previous model - includes a one-day SRT Track Experience to make sense of the car. It should be considered necessary for any new owner.
The GTS adds about $22,500 and a unique carbon-fiber hood with dual air extractors (the base car has six smaller ones). Also included is dual-mode (track or road) driver-adjustable Bilstein shocks, four-mode stability control (as opposed to on/off in the base car) with less invasive Sport and Track settings, premium 12-speaker Harmon Kardon-brand audio system and a navigation with voice recognition. There are also various wheel/tire package upgrades, an even better 18-speaker audio package and fancier trim bits that can be fitted to the Viper.
Despite its price, the Viper is actually one of the more inexpensive ways to pound the heck out of Italian and German exotics. And now that it’s a real car, perhaps some of those buyers will attempt to court the serpent.