After several days testing a 1998 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, a 1998 Dodge Viper GTS coupe arrived for a swap.

Corvette versus Viper is the proverbial day versus night.

'Vette is for those who relish performance but want to be pampered. Viper is for those who want performance and want it crude. No pain, no gain, leave your ferns at the door.

'Vette is a work of art, Viper a workout. Viper is at the stage of crudeness that the 'Vette was before Chevrolet shelved the buckboard and brought out a civilized rendition of America's sport car, starting with a new coupe for '97, a convertible for '98 and, soon, a hardtop for '99.

Viper started life as a concept car in 1989 and went into production as a roadster in 1992. The GTS coupe arrived in 1996.

'Vette/Viper comparisons are simple. With 'Vette you slip in, with Viper you plop. 'Vette has a bigger cabin, Viper's is more confined. 'Vette holds a golf bag, Viper the scorecard.

Viper wins the styling contest, though the side exhausts that used to be exposed along the rocker panels are now hidden. Reportedly, the pipes were covered after Chrysler executive Francois Castaing stood near the car after a heated run to address the media and left with one pant leg shorter than the other.

For raw power, the edge goes to Viper for its 8-liter, 450-h.p. V-10 that slams you back in your seat; the 'Vette's 5.7-liter, 345-h.p. V-8 gives you a good nudge.

However, the 'Vette rear end doesn't do the Macarena when leaving the light on a power run as the Viper sometimes does.

Ride and handling is 'Vette's strength. Its suspension holds you in place. It is more stable in and out of the corners and more comfortable over the open road than Viper's, which is a tad bouncy.

'Vette gets the nod in terms of value at $39,000 (coupe) to $45,000 (convertible) compared with $70,700 for the Viper, $3,000 of which is a gas-guzzler tax from the V-10's 12-m.p.g. city/21-m.p.g. highway rating.

Of course, these were somewhat different animals. The 'Vette was a squeak- and rattle-free, tight-as-a-drum convertible, while Viper was a closed-top coupe.

Dodge tried to civilize Viper by adding air bags, power steering, air conditioning, power windows, remote keyless entry, tilt steering and push-button door handles, butts sports suspension makes the package rough around the edges.

A warning: Viper's wide-profile 17-inch tires tend to find the grooves worn in the road and surf left or right when enough tread wanders out of the groove. More than a bit disarming.

The 6-speed manual is smooth in both, but finding the gears in the 'Vette is much easier than in Viper in which 1/3/5 and 2/4/6 seem to run together.

While the pedals in the '98 Viper are still out of plumb and lean to the left as they did in '92, Chrysler made them easie r to reach by making them adjustable. Twist the dial under the steering column, and the pedals move out to meet you. Look for that system on more cars to satisfy those who complain they are too short and sit too close to the steering column, where the air bag is housed.

And a tip of the hat to the engineers who designed the passenger-side air-bag cutoff switch allowed by law in two-seat vehicles. When you disable the bag when the seat is empty or a child is there, the "off" light is not obstructed. Corvette doesn't have a cutoff switch. Won't in '99, either.