The discovery of America, landing on the moon, migrating West; these were all significant milestones in this country’s history. However, the greatest achievement to date was making the 2013 SRT Viper livable—an everyday car.
Formerly the Dodge Viper, SRT (Street and Racing Technology)—now its own performance division within Chrysler—overhauled the brash, unapologetic, often misunderstood American sports car. The Dodge Viper used to wear a stigma the size of its 355-series rear tire: once a destroyer of a man’s will (it’s been rumored that several times, new owners crashed their Vipers just miles after leaving the dealership), the finessed 2013 snake has the same amount of venom, if not more, but in concentrated doses.
With 640 horsepower and an incredible 600 lb.-ft of crushing torque residing underneath the massively long clamshell hood, you’d think that a 40 horsepower increase over the outgoing Viper would continue to make the Viper even more dangerous when putting the power down. Not so. The newly added traction control systems comes in two versions: the base SRT’s either on/off while the GTS gets a four-mode system: Full On, Sport, Track and Full Off. Each reduction in the system allows for more lateral, or sideways, slip, with Full Off recalling the terror of the last gen Viper (though it’s more manageable than before thanks to motor and chassis improvements).
The new naturally aspirated, hand-built 8.4L V10 has 40 more horsepower and weighs 25 pounds less than the previous motor. (Over the course of five generations, they’ve managed to gut 100 pounds from the motor alone.) With a new air scoop, intake manifold and improved air flow front to rear, the SRT team has managed to boost power—in fact, they exceeded their original goal of 615 horsepower. The Viper was never a screamer at high rpm, but redline has increased to 6,200 rpm. A lighter flywheel—11-pounds less—offers increased throttle response as well as a quicker-revving motor. From a clutch standpoint, the release is extremely high for street driving; however, on track it seemed perfect, thanks to a quick release. It’s personal preference, but it could take some getting used to in order to drive smoothly.
(As a side note, the new Viper will not incinerate your right leg anymore, due to decreased engine temps at the rear of the block by as much as 40 degrees and better use of heat shielding. Your skin will appreciate it.)
Pulling together all the power so that your vertebrae, and Viper, doesn’t end up looking like tangled fishing line is a completely new frame: a steel tubular chassis with aluminum cross bracing, stiffening the chassis by an increase of 50 percent. In the end, 100 more pounds were shed from the outgoing Viper, with another 50 lost on top of that when ordering the optional Track Pack: StopTech brakes (Brembos are stock), lightweight Tanesia Sidewinder II wheels (at 23 pounds for a 19×13, it’s unheard of outside of racing) and stickier Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber.
The exterior is sensual, smooth, aggressive and bold. It has effeminate sex appeal that makes it subtly outspoken for a woman to appreciate, yet still retains that bulging, in-your-face muscular broad stroke that has men staring in appreciative awe. Think of it as a woman who has taken CrossFit but hasn’t turned into a ripped anatomical anomaly. They’re all functional changes, but they ooze maturity and the best possible evolution for America’s foremost sports car.
A revised steering gear offers pinpoint accuracy and lightning quick transitions, due to equalizing front and rear progression; as SRT Engineer Eric Heuschle, puts it, they “sped up the front of the car; [the] rear was always fast.” The steering is so fast that at first you might notice the car outpacing your haptic feedback. You’ll end up using less turn in and more finesse. Often times at first, I found myself creeping over the double yellow due to the fact that the steering was so quick. It feels 1:1 when in reality it’s a super fast 16.7:1.
Luckily, newly outsourced seats from Sabelt (the same supplier Ferrari uses) offer racecar-like support when testing out the revised steering. And now, the new interior isn’t somewhere you have to be, it’s somewhere you want to be. At first, the exclusion of telescopic steering seems to have been poorly forgotten, however, adjustable pedals and seat offer enough adjustments to find a fit. We’re still impartial on the seating position compared with steering wheel placement: instead of being perpendicular, your body is set roughly 5 degrees to the left. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, but once again, you get used to it. However, premium materials abundant throughout the cabin make you forget you’re in a 640 horsepower tire slayer.
The new 7-inch instrument cluster houses an encyclopedia’s worth of driver stats and information through its TFT (thin film transistor) screen. Scrolling through menus of SRT Performance Pages, audio, vehicle information and others allow vehicle changes to be made on the fly. Screens are configured and can be saved on each key fob associated with the Viper: two drivers, two different layouts, automatically. A trick new feature is the Viper’s ‘Stryker’ logo acting as an upshift warning: As you approach redline, the logo becomes increasingly red and pissed off. It definitely helps when you’re rattling off speed increments like a machine gun.
There is also an included launch control—available via button on the steering wheel—though on our pre-production test cars the system didn’t seem to be calibrated. What was supposed to be maximum traction and fastest possible acceleration often turned into a sideways smoke show. But, get it right and the Viper will accelerate to 60 in around thre seconds, hit the quarter mile in 11.5 seconds and run all the way up to 206mph.
Even the sound system is now on par with the price tag. A high-fidelity Harmon Kardon system in either an 18-speaker setup with Logic 7 is optional on both models, and a 12-speaker setup that is standard on the GTS and optional on the SRT. A nine-speaker setup comes standard with the SRT.
The SRT Viper isn’t perfect, but then again, few cars are. But what SRT has done to the 2013 Viper is outstanding. This is akin to the evolution that took monkeys and made them human, this is the future and benchmark for other sports cars. It’s still a handful, if you want it to be, but the civilized nature and satisfying driving dynamics offer a truly different and wonderful car. With only 2,000 units being built per year, there’s no doubt those 2,000 owners will have one of the best performing sports cars ever.