2013 SRT Viper: A slightly more civilized beast
The 2013 Viper is making its return with all new sheet metal and more creature comforts than ever. But if you're worried that extra niceties have defanged this famously wild creature, take comfort in the fact that the new Viper packs a potent bite in the form of an 8.4-liter V10 that sends 640 horsepower to its seemingly street-width rear wheels.
Last seen in 2010, the Viper is no longer under the Dodge brand but is now the flagship car for the newly formed SRT brand, which stands for Street and Racing Technology.
SRT invited us to be among the first to test the 2013 Viper as a regular driver on the road and as a racecar on the track. The media preview included time in both the "base" version that will start around $100,000 and is meant for those wanting the Viper in its rawest form, and the more amenity-filled GTS that starts at over $120,000. Both trims are set to arrive in dealerships in December.
For the first part of our journey, we hit the winding roads around Napa, California. We won't lie: As a daily driver, this coupe will take commitment even in its more modernized form. Once you awkwardly clamber over the wide doorsill and settle into the low seat, you'll find the Viper's interior is still cramped, visibility is limited, and even with the extra 40 pounds of insulation in the premium GTS model, its cabin is filled with engine roar and the whoosh of wheels. If you're not a fan of hushed conversations as you vaporize asphalt, the Viper is a good choice.
The Viper's handling lives up to the legend. The steering is heavy but sharp, and just centimeters of right-foot travel will send you hurtling to jail speeds in seconds. A 6-speed manual transmission is still your only choice, which we found a bit notchy but with nice, short throws. We are happy to report that the clutch is surprisingly light and grabs well.
The Viper can be used as a daily driver if your commute is relatively short and/or you're willing to compromise comfort for head-spinning performance and head-turning looks. With its 8.4-inch touch screen, the latest version of Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system, and available leather-trimmed interior, the Viper is more livable than ever, but it's no cushy coupe. Then again, driving to the market and back is not why you buy a Viper. Though it's been modernized, the Viper's focus rightly remains on performance to the extreme. It's a car that can tame tracks in stock form.
To prove that point, the SRT team had us test the 2013 Viper on an autocross course and on Sonoma Raceway's main circuit, which our race instructors described as one of the most technical in America. It was here at the track that the Viper unleashed its venom.
For a car with a 0-60 mph time in the low 3-second range and a top speed of 206 mph, the Viper was a blast on the lower-speed autocross. Here we got to test its new, defeatable electronic stability-control system, which SRT Vehicle Development Manager Erich Heuschele described as "very free."
"It will save you from getting hit by a bus," he said, "but it won't walk you down the sidewalk like mom." When taking corners with gusto, the Viper's tail slid out and allowed us to enjoy the moment before traction control kicked in. In other words, it worked just as intended.
On the track, you see the Viper for what it really is: a street-legal racecar. Its V10 engine just keeps on giving, encouraging you to run it up to its 6,200 rpm redline. Its brakes, too, back up the Viper's performance cred with the ability to stop the car from 60 mph in just 106 feet. But perhaps most surprising is its grip. The Viper is not just a straight-line performer. Between the overall chassis width and the vehicle's standard Pirelli P-Zero, Z-rated performance wheels, this snake sticks.
After our time in the 2013 Viper, we can attest to SRT's claim that its team aimed to make the all-new Viper a bit more comfortable but, most importantly, still a Viper. Defanged, it is not. It certainly wouldn't be our choice for a daily commute on the freeway, but if you desire a handmade American icon of muscle with jaw-dropping looks or a car that can rattle rivals on the track in stock form, the Viper's roar will be music to your ears.