New Car Review

2013 SRT Viper New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Basem Wasef January 2013

Pros: Thundering personality; hair-raising performance; interior refinements finally reach luxury car territory

Cons: The GTS package is desirable, but at $23,000, mega-priced; though driver feedback is vastly improved, at-limit handling can still be dicey; a one-note performance personality gets tiresome during prolonged seat time

What's New: The redesigned and freshly styled 2013 SRT Viper sees more power -- 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque, to be exact -- from its gigantic 8.4 liter 10-cylinder engine. The Viper also enjoys chassis refinements, three digit weight loss and an all-new interior that's far cushier than previous iterations, especially with the optional GTS package.

Introduction

After the 2010 model year, the Viper was shelved while engineers reconfigured the notoriously brutish sports car for everyday usability, sharper performance and greater comfort. The changes were so radical that the bulbous beast shed its Dodge moniker and was re-branded under the SRT banner -- sort of like an American muscle car equivalent of Mercedes-Benz opting for the performance-focused AMG badge.

The revisions are a welcome addition to the iconic 2-seater; after all, few sports cars possess such a notorious identity and charismatic personality, and as the Chrysler Group continues its recovery from bankruptcy, halo products like the Viper cement the automaker's big picture relevance.

The Viper has ballooned in price, starting at $97,395 and swelling to $120,395 for the GTS package, which includes electronically adjustable suspension, niceties like a leather-wrapped dashboard and standard amenities like navigation and a 12-speaker sound system. But most crucially, the Viper has grown in sophistication as well, finally making it a viable competitor to well-rounded sports cars like the Corvette ZR1 and Nissan GT-R.

Comfort & Utility

What a difference a redesign makes: the new cabin retains its famous view over the long, V10-housing snout, but positions the occupants in less of a cocooning posture that offers a more ergonomically agreeable interior. The Viper has also become easier to climb in and out of, without entirely ditching its sense of muscle car occasion. It's still a daunting ride and requires a bit of dexterity for entering and exiting, but the Viper now invites daily driving (though its loud engine exhaust and stiff suspension still favors enthusiasts).

Also gone is its stripped-down equipment list, replaced with a menu of options such as a choice between three stereo systems, high-end Sabelt seats and an exterior carbon fiber package. While the $23,000 GTS package adds virtually everything you'd crave in a high-end performance car, we'd say the base model at least deserves the $2,500 Grand Touring Package, which includes an upgraded infotainment system with GPS, Bluetooth and satellite radio.

Though more livable than before, don't expect to haul anything greater than a few bags of groceries in the Viper, as its hatchback-enabled cargo area stores only 14.7 cu ft of goods.

Technology

While the all-new Viper gains many of the features you'd expect in a modern premium car such as the availability of an advanced infotainment system and a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, the real highlights of this low-slung 2-seater focus on performance. Take, for instance, the aluminum and carbon fiber body panels and updated chassis that helps reduce curb weight to as little as 3,297 pounds while boosting stiffness by 50 percent. Or the engine's re-worked internals which ditch 28 pounds of mass and which work in conjunction with the available Bilstein DampTronic suspension to increase agility. All in all, these tech features make the Viper's raw engine and unrefined road manners incrementally more manageable.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Viper buyers are unlikely to be concerned about the 12 miles per gallon city/21 mpg highway fuel economy figures, and far more enthralled with this sled's performance capabilities, which have become even more impressive thanks to the mechanical updates. Now that the Viper is graced with stability control and traction control systems, there's a reassuring safety net to rein in the shenanigans if they get out of hand. But even with all systems in Sport Mode, things can get rather squirrely before the computers kick in; such is the reality of punching 600 lb-ft of torque through the rear wheels, the most twist produced by any naturally aspirated automotive engine. Though the available launch control system makes off-the-line acceleration a no-brainer (and capable of catapulting the Viper to 60 miles per hour in the low 3-second range), the real fun comes from manhandling this big-engined, fat-tired bruiser that delivers head-snapping acceleration, stomach-churning grip and violently effective braking. Given enough tarmac, this bad boy will even hit 206 mph, putting it in rare company alongside quarter million dollar cars from the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Safety

Though the Viper is equipped with a pre-collision system, electronic brake force distribution and a healthy dose of garden variety safety features, the single most significant addition to its repertoire is traction and stability control. The electronic aids are available in 2- and 4-mode settings, both of which can be switched entirely off for foolhardy adventure seekers. But a bit of fair warning: doing so usually doesn't end well.

Driving Impressions

The world seems like your personal drag strip from inside the Viper cockpit: a new virtual tachometer and sub-menus offering data analysis reveal that the poisonous snake has assumed new technological aptitude, but one stab of the right pedal offers a not so subtle reminder that this is still a screaming, snarling hellion of a car.

It's not just the mammoth 8.4 liter V10 or the notchiness of the 6-speed manual shifter (auto gearbox seekers are out of luck), but the brutishness that emerges while hustling the Viper across city streets. Even in its soft setting, the suspension still hops around and has trouble tracking straight on bumpy roads. Forget about the track setting for real world driving; it's simply too stiff for use, unless you actually enjoy the sensation of teeth rattling.

The Viper seems more in its element at the track, and capable of fully delivering its intended goals of automotive shock and awe. Grip from the Pirelli tires is considerable -- especially when equipped with the $3,500 track package, which wraps special Corsa rubber around lightweight wheels for even more handling prowess. The tires' steep drop off of adhesion during high g-force driving will put hair on your chest, though, as will the locomotive-like acceleration and the glued-down handling, which enables direction changes with considerably more feedback and intuitive steering than was offered by Vipers of yore. And once again, the suspension's Track setting proves too stiff for off-road use, as it results in twitchiness that ultimately diminishes confidence, rather than boosts it.

Gut punchingly potent and impressively capable, the Viper offers a challenging and ultimately rewarding experience for drivers bold enough to explore its limits.

Other Cars to Consider

Audi R8 5.2 Quattro: Also powered by a V10 powerplant, Audi's top dog $149,000 2-seater takes a more technologically finessed tack to the supercar formula. It delivers a balanced mid-engine configuration that, unlike the Viper, pulls few punches when it comes to tackling road courses and twisting highway.

Chevrolet Corvette ZR: Though the current Corvette has recently been overshadowed by its just-unveiled seventh generation replacement, the outgoing supercharged 638 hp $111,600 ZR1 is still a mighty force to be reckoned with. In fact, we'd venture to say the 'Vette is easily the closest competitor to the Viper in terms of irascible oomph and outright performance.

Nissan GT-R: Godzilla may have a lot in common with the Viper when it comes to spec sheets, but this $96,820 Japanese 2+2 goes about its business in an entirely different way. It allows the driver to lean on fighter jet-like electronics and all-wheel drive in order to wring maximum performance from its twin-turbocharged V6, without the terror.

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The 2013 SRT Viper's new lease on life draws primarily on extensive chassis and interior refinements that makes it a vehicle that's comfortable enough to drive every day. But don't let those civilities fool you: the Viper is still a serious handful that commands respect, especially when tapping into the vast reserves of power produced by its monstrous 10-cylinder powerplant. It's those unapologetic character traits that keep the Viper on our short list of sports cars that stand out from an increasingly homogeneous crowd, and one that makes this brash 2-seater a fabulously entertaining, love-it-or-leave-it alternative in the supercar microcosm.

What do you think of the new Viper? Let us know in the comments below. 

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2013 SRT Viper New Car Review - Autotrader