2013 SRT Viper

Charmed Snake - SRT Viper keeps its edge but adds refinement
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After a two-year hiatus, the 2013 SRT Viper looks to atone for some of the former Dodge Viper's sins while keeping its raw edge. Known as one of the more intimidating cars on the road for stupid power that led to unpredictable handling in the wrong hands, the Viper is more refined and easier to control this time around. It uses the same V10 engine, now with 40 more horsepower, but gets a far richer interior and more controllable handling. While the last Viper was simply too much to handle, this version is far easier to live with, but it still offers drag race power and road course handling. Isn't that what we want out of our sports cars?

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Driving Impressions: Taming the Beast

Throughout its run, the Viper has been one of the best handling cars on the planet... in the right hands. In the wrong hands, it was just plain dangerous. All the torque from the V10 made it far too easy to send the car into a spin with a touch of the throttle in the middle of a turn. Take my word for it. I spun two Vipers in S turns, luckily with no damage to anything but my ego.

While the new Viper uses essentially the same design as the 2010 model, the SRT team reworked the structure to save weight and improve rigidity. The tube frame is now high-strength steel instead of mild steel, a magnesium cowl cuts weight and acts as sturdy attachment point for much of the rest of the structure, and an underhood X brace helps improve torsional rigidity. The body panels are now made of carbon fiber and aluminum instead of heavier fiberglass. In total, weight is down by 100 pounds and torsional rigidity is up by 50 percent.

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A Raw But Premium Interior

One of the major complaints about the last Viper was its cheap, plasticky interior. Buyers who spend close to $100,000 expect more, and for 2013 SRT is giving it to them. Just about every surface in the car is wrapped in leather or vinyl (there's more leather in the GTS). The look is far more appropriate for the Viper's stratospheric pricing. Chrysler Group's 8.4-inch touchscreen is also standard, and it comes with a feature most owners will love: Performance Pages provides 0 to 60, 1/4-mile, lap and stopping times, as well as real-time horsepower, torque and G force numbers, so Viper owners can measure just how hard they drive their cars. While we like the touchscreen, we aren't happy that it doesn't include a navigation system in the base model. That seems like a way to pry another few hundred dollars out of customers' hands.

Getting into and out of the Viper requires a deep stoop and some core strength, and once inside occupants are enveloped by sport bucket seats sourced from the same company that Ferrari uses. Fire up the engine and it fills the cabin with its growl. Deeper in the soundtrack are various lashing and ticking sounds from under the hood, as well as plenty of tire noise from the oh-so-wide Pirellis. The GTS is slightly quieter, but all these noises make us appreciate the efforts automakers put into blocking sound in most vehicles. The cabin isn't very long-trip friendly, either. There are no cupholders or bins for holding keys and cell phones. It's just a place to concentrate on driving, which is wise with so much power on tap.

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Track Ready

To show off the capability of its new American supercar, SRT invited journalists to Napa Valley, California, to drive the Viper on the twisty and technical road course at Sonoma Raceway. On the track, the Viper proved to be much more controllable than the ill-mannered previous model. While it's still certainly possible to get the rear end to kick out, it's much easier to save, a level of handling control that eluded the last car. A 50/50 front/rear weight balance allows drivers to control the car with the throttle, making it push forward rather than rotate under throttle, and drift majestically if the gas is hit and feathered midturn.

Basically, the Viper is a racecar for the street. The wide Pirelli tires provide prodigious grip, and the car turns in quickly and rotates willingly through corners. The firmer setting for the GTS model's two-mode suspension makes the reactions even sharper, and eliminates almost all lean. We actually prefer the base setup, which has just a little lean that communicates better that the car is approaching the limits of grip. In either model, the steering is heavily weighted, quick and pleasingly direct. The brakes are strong, though a bit hard to modulate due to a high pedal. The brakes in one of the test cars also started to fade after three hours of constant track time. Most Viper owners will never treat their cars so harshly, so the brakes will be more than adequate.

Some Viper purists will object to the fact that the new car comes with electronic stability control. Never mind the fact that it is required on all cars sold after September 2012. Two versions are offered. The base version is fully on or fully off, and the GTS version adds Sport and Track modes. With any setting, SRT leaves a lot of room for drivers to play on the track without the stability control stepping in to put the car back on its intended path. I never touched the system and it never activated, even when I slid the rear end through corners. Based on that experience, the Sport and Track modes don't seem to be needed.

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Under the Hood: Ridiculous Gobs of Power

The Viper has always lived by the old adage that there is no replacement for displacement and this one is no different. The 2013 SRT Viper gets an updated version of the massive aluminum 8.4-liter V10 from the last model. A new plastic intake manifold improves airflow, a new radiator provides better cooling, and new forged pistons, steel rings and sturdier main caps make the engine more bulletproof. In total, the changes up horsepower from 600 to 640 and torque from 560 to 600 pound-feet. That makes the 2013 SRT Viper the most powerful American-made car. The transmission is a carryover Tremec six-speed manual. Closer gearing ratios mean the top speed of a whopping 206 mph comes in sixth gear instead of fifth.

On the road, the V10 is the driver's constant companion. If the revs are over 2500 rpm, it growls and purrs and spits and drones. It flat out roars when pushed, launching the car from 0 to 60 mph in about 3.4 seconds while knocking you back in your seat. That's Ferrari territory, and drivers can repeat that figure over and over thanks to a standard launch control system activated by a button on the steering wheel. Despite the ludicrous speed, the Viper is perfectly happy to toddle along in traffic without lurching and bucking like the beast this car really is.

The gearshifts are greatly improved this year. They are much shorter and fall into place with a satisfying mechanical feel. We find the position of the shifter to be a bit of problem, though. It sits pretty far forward and leans to the left, so it can be hard to tell which gear you are in at a glance. The clutch also has a rather long travel, but a natural feel makes for easy gearshifts.

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Bottom Line

The 2013 SRT Viper is offered in two models, base and GTS. The base model starts at $97,395, and comes standard with air conditioning, interior air filter, universal garage door opener, nine-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with satellite radio, UConnect 8.4-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, USB port, auxiliary input jack, SD card slot, power adjustable pedals, tilt/steering column, Brembo brakes with 14-inch front and rear rotors, two-mode electronic stability control, and P295/30R18 front and P355/30R19 rear Pirelli P Zero tires on forged aluminum wheels.

The $120,395 GTS gets leather upholstery on the seats and much of the interior panels, rearview camera, 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, navigation system, dual-mode suspension with Bilstein DampTronic adjustable shocks, and four-mode electronic stability control. Notable options include interior and exterior carbon fiber packages and an SRT Track Package with lightweight two-piece rotors, Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires, and lighter weight wheels.

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