2013 SRT Viper / Viper GTS Coupe - First Drive Review
All the venom with a little less sting. By Michael Austin
The Viper is back, new and vastly improved after more than two years in stasis. Chief among the tweaks to the fifth iteration of the new SRT brand’s headline supercar (it’s no longer a Dodge) are a more upscale interior and increased creature comforts. Has the Viper gone soft? In a single word, no. But after a half-day sneak preview at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan—where we previously captured some shakedown images and video—we can say with confidence that the new Viper is not only better than ever, it’s finally as appealing in person as it is on paper.
A Quantum Leap, Albeit Without Scott Bakula
At a distance, the Viper looks a lot like the previous car, and the two even share the same windshield. But up close, the new car is far more elegant. There are no hard creases despite some sharp-ish features, and the hood gives off a menacing vibe reminiscent of something dreamt up by H.R. Geiger. In comparison, the previous-generation Viper looks dated, even clumsy. There are two Viper models, base and GTS, most obviously differentiated visually by the number of hood vents; the uplevel GTS has only two versus the regular car’s six. Every vent or scoop is functional on both models, from the rear-brake ducts behind the side windows to the outboard inlets in the front fascia that funnel a drag-reducing curtain of air around the front wheels.
The old Viper SRT10 is on hand to help make dynamic comparisons, and driving it definitely brings back memories, the most dominant of which is that it was kind of a pain in the ass. You don’t get behind the wheel so much as you contort your body into something resembling a driving position. Visibility is poor, and the passing of time has only made the rental-grade interior look even more appalling. As for the chassis, a few laps around GingerMan remind that the old Viper’s high limits are best approached with caution.
Slide into the new Viper and it’s hard to believe it’s just three model years removed from its predecessor. Soft leather and vinyl replace hard plastic. The thin, firm seats (supplied by Sabelt, which also counts Ferrari among its customers) immediately feel more comfortable, and are more adjustable than before. They’re also mounted an inch lower, resulting in more headroom and a roomier overall feel. The center tunnel also is lower, putting the shifter in a more natural position that allows you to change gears more with your wrist than your forearm. And the cabin is less of a sweatbox now that the exhaust doesn’t cross over below the occupants, although the threat of seared calf flesh remains—while the pipes now run only along the side of the body, the still heat up the rockers and terminate behind the doors.
As Able as Ever—and Less Intimidating
Improvements extend beyond ergonomics and into the chassis. A revised steel frame and an extruded-aluminum X-brace that spans the engine bay increase stiffness by a claimed 50 percent. The front track is pushed out, and the front tires are wider by 20 mm. At the rear, rubber engorged by 10 mm (Pirellis that now measure 355/30-19) shrouds a revised suspension with a relocated toe link and softer anti-roll bar. The changes are immediately noticeable on the track. Steering loads increase more naturally in concert with cornering forces, and turn-in is more immediate. But mostly the Viper feels more stable, more confidence-inspiring. The front now leads the rear axle through a corner, a contrast with the impression in the old Viper that the two are fighting each other for control of the car’s vector. Breakaway behavior, both via brake-induced understeer or throttle-induced oversteer, is now entirely predictable. The limits are even higher than before, but this Viper is easier to drive quickly.
The dynamic improvements are underscored by the safety net of stability control, which now is essentially required by the government for all cars. Retired Viper chief engineer Herb Helbig used to opine that a good right foot was all the traction control anyone needed, and Viper purists might be understandably annoyed by the presence of electronic driver aids, but we doubt it will hamper sales. Plus, as it can in the rest of the SRT vehicle lineup (which retain Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep branding) the system can be fully switched off.
Further niceties like launch control (enabled by the stability-control computers), cruise control, and available satellite navigation are more a sign that the Viper has stepped into the 21st century rather than a transgression against its original intent as a modern Shelby Cobra. With a sticker price close to $100,000, a certain level of luxury is expected, especially if Chrysler is to succeed in attracting new buyers. As such, all Vipers come with a leather-topped dashboard, an 8.4-inch infotainment screen, and a digital IP display shared with the Dart that shows an analog-style tachometer. Plastic and fiberglass body panels give way to carbon fiber and aluminum, which not only save about 60 pounds but also yield more consistent panel gaps. (Or will on the final production version, as Chrysler stressed to us that the prototypes we drove were not representative from a fit-and-finish standpoint).
Viper die-hards might take solace in the base model, which comes with manual seats and simple on-off functionality for the stability control. The GTS is lined with more leather, and an optional Laguna interior raises the cowhide grade to something approaching Italian. Commanding a premium of roughly $20,000, the GTS also has a high-threshold Sport mode and traction-control-free Track mode baked into the stability control, along with two-mode cockpit-adjustable shocks. Those dampers, supplied by Bilstein, straddle the single tune of the base car’s and adjust both jounce and rebound rates for their respective street or track settings. The other main option is a Track package that yields lightweight wheels, two-piece aluminum-hat StopTech brake rotors, and stickier P Zero Corsa footwear. The pack was fitted to one of our preview cars, and the tires improve grip and feel so much that we wish they were standard. The cars can be outfitted with carbon-fiber trim inside and out, and all Viper buyers will get a one-day track experience.
Chrysler’s quest to turn the Viper into a true GT—that is to say a car that can be driven across the country and then straight onto a racetrack—has not diminished its ferocity. The old 8.4-liter V-10 is massaged to 640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, increases of 40 in both categories. Curb weight is down by about 100 pounds in the base model, and the track package drops about 40 more. The power-to-weight ratio of the Viper is as low as 5.2:1, on par with the Corvette ZR1 and better than the Lamborghini Aventador. And more evenly spaced gear ratios take better advantage of that power: We estimate a 0-to-60-mph run of 3.4 seconds and the 206-mph top speed is now reached in sixth gear, which previously only existed to boost highway fuel economy. That said, EPA ratings will be lower on this Viper, not that anybody will care.
Some might still wonder if any essential Viper-ness has been lost. Many of the traits that gave the Viper its charm were also glaring faults, though, and, as a rule, we’re not sad to see them go: At some point, a car’s essence transcends design and engineering peculiarities carried out in the name of heritage. The new car is more comfortable and easier to drive, but still feels authentic—you can tell it’s a Viper because of the way it is.
Read more at Car and Driver:
Impressive numbers, along with affordability, and I'm a muscle car guy, but...
I think it's too cartoonish-looking; very "bubbly" from the side. I like the last generation better.
That's interesting, they say the new Viper has a better power to weight ratio (5.2 lbs/hp) than the Lamborghini Aventador, which has a ratio of 4 lbs/hp. MSN Autos didn't do their research again.
For those mentioning price, these cars are going to be over $100,000 with dealer markups, which you know they're going to do. Even though I would never own one, I am a fan of the first generation of Vipers (1992 to 2002), I don't mind the looks of this generation compared to the last generation. However, I am waiting to see the new 911 Turbo myself.
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