By David Thomas on April 4, 2012
It's not really an auto show unless you have rip-snorting, all-American sports car to unveil. The SRT Viper fits the bill with a radical new take on its iconic design, but this Viper only returns to the market thanks to Chrysler merger with Fiat and studying that brand's own muscle car, the Alfa Romeo 8c.
Italian heritage in a sports car can't be a bad thing, but first let's focus on what makes this American car great: 640 horsepower through a normally aspirated V-10 engine with 600 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers almost make you forget that it's still the same basic engine as the last Viper, which was phased out in 2010.
Zero to 60 mph times for the new model weren't listed in the press materials, but the previous-generation Viper had a remarkable 3.8-second figure. We expect the 2013 SRT version to top it.
That's due in part to the added horsepower and torque — torque is up from 560 pounds-feet and Chrysler says it's the most torque from any naturally aspirated engine — as well as weight savings.
This snake's skin — sorry — is made out of lighter-weight materials with carbon fiber making up the roof for the first time and the rest of the body and chassis using materials like aluminum, magnesium as well as carbon fiber to keep weight to a minimum. The base Viper's weight is 3,354 pounds and lightens to 3,297 with an SRT Track Package. That's 105 pounds lighter than the previous model.
There will also be a Viper GTS for owners who are serious about taking it on the track.
What no one will likely be marveling at is the six-speed manual transmission. It's a Tremec TR6060, which is used in other high-powered cars like the Chevy Corvette ZR1, and it's not known for the smoothest or lightest of shifts. It's often used in these applications because it can handle all that power, but automakers like Nissan, with its GT-R, have foregone the manual transmission altogether to make their cars even faster.
Not being able to shift a new Viper yourself with a stick and left pedal would likely turn off the loyal Viper owner community, but the Viper does have cruise control ... for the first time.
Tires are vitally important to keeping this beast on the road while owners try to shift through the gears. Pirelli P-Zero tires are standard, with P295/30ZR18 in front and P355/30ZR19 in the back. Maybe this will inspire Chevy and other muscle-car makers putting 20-inch wheels on as many trims as possible. The Rattler wheels are available in either polished aluminum or painted Hyper Black or low-gloss black. Who's not picking one of the black options?
The interior will likely be welcome by previous owners who were treated to the most bargain basement of surroundings as the Viper aged. At what will likely be near six-digit prices, the interior should be covered in leather, and the SRT team says it is with accent stitching standard, too. The seats focus on racing so we expect they won't be too comfortable, but the company says it is the most spacious interior of the line.
There's also a 7-inch digital gauge cluster that is fully customizable. In the center stack, there's a standard 8.4-inch touch-screen with two available levels of multimedia options as we've seen in other Chrysler vehicles with the Uconnect system. There will also be a range of Harmon Kardon stereos from which to choose.
The SRT Viper is a special vehicle with only one distinct purpose: Go fast. Secondarily, it may be to look menacing. It seems it will achieve both.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David