2013 SRT Viper
by John Davis
Even after Chrysler began building the first Dodge Viper sports car in 1991, I really don’t think their executives realized the staying power of this crude, in-your-face, two seater, the likes of which had never before rolled out of an American auto plant. The Viper was more than just a long overdue answer to Chevrolet’s benchmark, and by then highly civilized Corvette. It was, and in many ways remains, the quintessential definition of American performance; raw, raucous, and unpredictable. That Dodge Viper would bite the hands that steer it when they were least expecting it, just like its namesake.
But, times have changed, and the all-new third generation Viper has changed with it. Most obvious is the fact that it is now wearing an SRT badge rather than Dodge. Still, in ways that are important, the SRT Viper continues its heritage of rising to its own tune.
On a recent weeklong outing at Savannah’s Roebling Road Raceway we got to know the new Viper well. While in some ways it is a kinder and gentler reptile, it’s not exactly a household pet either. It certainly felt a lot more forgiving on our initial laps at Roebling and it had no problem holding a line. But, make a mistake, or take your driving chores too lightly, and the Viper’s bite brings back painful memories. This is still a car you must work hard to control. Yes, Viper now has traction control to help, but the electronic nanny can only go so far. The rest of the time Viper is looking to you to be its master.
After all, there’s still a nasty amount of power from 8.4-liters worth of V10 under the hood. Horsepower is up to 640, and the sole transmission remains Tremec 6-speed manual. It too, however, is improved, working far more smoothly than before. Combined, they spring the Viper to 60 in under four seconds. Launch Control now makes takeoffs a lot easier. Burnouts are fun, but they always leave a lot of costly tire tread behind.
If you spent any time driving previous Vipers on the street, you know it just wasn’t that pleasant. Jarring is a good word. Well that’s no longer the case. The new Viper is much more enjoyable to city drive than before. A good deal of that credit also goes to a vastly improved interior with more sound-deadening, nicer leather, and a pretty decent base audio system.
Exterior design is an updated version of the original, a little more serious and a little less cartoonish, with every scoop and vent having a real purpose.
Quite simply, the 2013 SRT Viper delivers. Its civilized interior and huge improvement in everyday livability go a long way in removing it from the “toy” category. Still, the SRT Viper is a beast to be reckoned with, only now it comes with a longer leash.
For our exclusive road test of the 2013 SRT Viper, be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #3224 which begins airing on February 16, 2013. For a complete listing of the public television stations carrying MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on cable’s Velocity.