Driving the new 2013 SRT Viper is like being in a bar fight — brutal, violent and loud, but undeniably exciting.
After a brief production hiatus, the Viper has returned for 2013 a badder, louder, faster and yet more sophisticated model than the one it replaces. But did the addition of electronic stability control, a far more luxurious interior and a once-over by Fiat's high-performance experts dumb down the finicky, temperamental, American personality of the car?
For 2013, Chrysler separated the Viper from the Dodge brand and made it the star of the newly created SRT brand — short for Street and Racing Technology. This is where Chrysler now intends to sell its most outrageous, specifically formulated high-performance goods, starting with the revised Viper. Under the skin, the 2013 Viper is not hugely different from the previous model, last sold in 2010. The biggest changes are to styling, electronics, passenger comfort and material quality. See the previous and current Viper compared side-by-side here.
The Viper has always been a visually stunning car and one of the most unique shapes in the automotive landscape, but this latest update adds finesse and proportion to some of the styling elements. All the bodywork is new, and while the car is instantly identifiable as a Viper, it somehow also looks more contoured, more muscular. The wheels appear to be massive thanks to the bulbous fenders, but they're only 18 inches in front and 19 inches in the rear. Xenon headlights with LED running lamps grace the front end, but the nose itself seems oddly similar to the new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, though the Chevy was introduced eight months later.
Perhaps the most extraordinary exterior feature, at least on my test car, was the paint job. My Viper was coated in one of the most striking pigments I have ever encountered, something SRT calls Stryker Red Tinted Pearl. During my week with the Viper I received half a dozen comments from strangers on how beautiful the car was — and twice that many on its paint. This is the most amazing red I've ever seen; when parked in sunlight, the whole car glows with a luminosity that sets it apart from anything else in a parking lot. And it had better be special, as SRT charges (get this): $14,600 for the option. That is not a typo. It's a fourteen-thousand-dollar paint job.
How It Drives
I feel like I've just been to Fight Club (and in defiance of the first rule, I'm going to talk about it). My head is spinning, my ears are ringing, I'm sweaty and overheated, my back aches, my leg's been scalded, I'm having trouble forming complete sentences and I'm grinning like an idiot. That's what a high-speed jaunt in the SRT Viper does to you — and just like Fight Club, you can't wait to go back for more. It's brutal in ways no other production car on sale today is; it's the closest thing you can find to buying a turn-key racecar for the street. That's the ultimate effect of the Viper, but how does one arrive at such a place?
Squeeze into the cramped, low-roof cabin with its surprisingly tight confines, press the heavy clutch pedal and hold down the bright red starter button. What happens next will startle you and your passenger if you're not ready for it: With a bellowing mechanical roar, 8.4 liters of barely muffled 640-horsepower V-10 grumbles to life, filling the cabin with a din more suited to a pit lane than a drive-through. Side-exit exhaust pipes that run along the sills exit just behind the doors, and even with the windows up the sound is awesome, in the original sense of the word.
Slide the notchy and direct six-speed manual transmission into 1st, give it revs, let up on the clutch (which is less stiff for 2013) and acceleration comes in a furious rush. Sixty mph arrives in a hair over 3 seconds — a number that's hard to believe until you experience it firsthand. Keep your foot planted and row through the gears, and eventually you'll top out at 206 mph (not recommended on public roads, or for average drivers).
Everything about driving the Viper is exotic-car special. Handling is sharp, but the car is heavy — and the quick-ratio steering requires more effort than most modern sports cars. The brakes are firm and massively powerful, far more capable than you're ever going to need in typical street driving. They're made for track abuse, so you never approach the limits of their capabilities cruising through the suburbs, as is the case with most of the Viper's equipment. For the first time ever, the Viper is available with electronic stability control, with four settings that allow for various levels of intervention when the car loses traction. It also has a two-mode selectable sport suspension, which you will almost certainly leave in Touring mode after briefly sampling Sport mode and bruising a kidney. There's even a Launch Control function to help with consistent drag-strip launch times. On a track, all these parts come together in a powerful, scary, yet highly entertaining supercar that is only mildly tamed by its newfound electronic minders. On the street, the heavy steering, constant engine heat and roar, and stiff ride could become tiresome after the Viper's novelty wears off. I can't confirm that, however, as the novelty of driving a wolf among the sheep never wore off for me.
A discussion of fuel economy is ridiculous, but in case anyone cares, the Viper is EPA-rated at 12/19/15 mpg city/highway/combined. Unfortunately, that means the car is saddled with a whopping $2,600 gas-guzzler tax.
For all the work SRT has done to make the 2013 Viper more refined, most of what the buyer will notice has been done in the cockpit. It's still just a two-seat affair, and there isn't much more room in the 2013 than there was in the 2010 model. For 2013, everything inside has been changed. Gone is the Power Wheels-grade interior plastic, replaced with high quality plastics and soft-touch materials. My test car had the GTS Laguna Interior Package, which covers the seats, doors, floor console, parking brake lever, shifter, instrument panel and steering wheel with high-grade leather. It may not be all that comfortable inside, but it looks, feels, and smells like an expensive car should. The switches are from the Chrysler parts bin, but that's not a bad thing these days.
The highly reclined seating position is still canted inward slightly, there isn't much width for wider people, and the windshield cuts off so low that anything more than 50 feet in front of the car is simply not visible to taller drivers. Traffic lights must be seen by looking at their reflection in the long, curvaceous hood. Visibility out back isn't much better, but a backup camera is thankfully standard; it saved my bacon more than once when backing out of a parking spot. Blind spot detection is not available, and it is a sorely lacking omission; with visibility to the sides compromised by small mirrors and enormous B-pillars, the best way to ensure nobody is traveling in your blind spot is to simply make sure you're going faster than everyone else.
Optional sport seats by Italian company Sabelt are available and were present in my test car. I suspect Sabelt must be the Italian word for "backache," however, as their minimal adjustability and odd lumbar shape made them anything but comfortable.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Interior technology gets a big bump in the 2013 Viper, starting with Chrysler's excellent Uconnect 8.4-inch touch-screen in the center console. It includes navigation and all the SRT Performance Pages we've come to expect in an SRT vehicle: screens that deliver complete vehicle information, from engine, transmission and oil temperatures and pressures to timer screens that can be used to measure zero-to-60-mph runs, g-force in corners and more. It's fun to play with, but also useful — I used it to monitor the big V-10's temperature while negotiating several miles of Detroit's Woodward Dream Cruise stop-and-go traffic in summer heat.
Nestled behind the steering wheel is another 8.4-inch display — reconfigurable and highly customizable to the driver's tastes — in place of a traditional set of gauges. It debuted in the Dodge Dart but has since begun to find its way across the Chrysler lineup. In the Viper it works well, allowing the driver to change what information is displayed and presenting it in a clear and concise fashion.
The audio system is deserving of mention, as my test car was fitted with the optional 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium system. I'm not entirely sure how SRT managed to pack 18 speakers into an already-cramped cockpit, but it most assuredly did. Just when you thought nothing could possibly be louder than the V-10 engine filling the passenger space with mechanical cacophony, you fire up the stereo. It may be one of the most impressive sound systems I've yet heard.
Cargo & Storage
This won't be the car you take to Costco. Storage in the passenger compartment is fairly limited, with not much in the way of cubbies and no storage at all in the center console. Cargo room under the carbon-fiber liftgate, however, is not bad, with room at least for a small set of golf clubs, some soft duffel bags or possibly a small roll-aboard suitcase or two.
Value in its Class
The latest Viper can be optioned up to be considerably more expensive than previous models, reflecting its newfound technology and luxury appointments. Two trim levels are available: The base coupe starts at $101,990, including a $1,995 destination charge and a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax. My test model was the more luxurious GTS trim, which starts at $124,990. This represents a significant jump over the 2010 model, which started in the low-$90,000 range, and makes the Viper the most expensive American-brand production car available today. Options on my test car included the GTS Laguna Interior Package for $7,500, a track package that added performance brakes and tires for $3,500, the upgraded stereo for $1,000 and special "Venom-Hyper" wheels for $500. But the real shocker remains the Stryker paint package for $14,600, bringing the total for this SRT Viper to an alarming $152,090. Equip a Viper how you like it here.
Even at that price, there are still plenty of competitors. Matching up powertrains would put you in an Audi R8 with the V-10 option. That car is a far more civilized, comfortable, mid-engine, all-wheel-drive German exotic that will run you $152,450. The R8 is much easier to drive and a more livable daily-driver than the Viper, but it still has the speed and outrageous style that turns heads. A more conventional choice is a Porsche 911 Turbo for $138,450, featuring a turbocharged flat-six engine; a much more spacious, upright cockpit; and all-wheel drive, as well. Or if you want a little Italian flair, Maserati's GranTurismo coupe can be had for $127,500 equipped with a sonorous V-8 engine. Compare them yourself here.
None of these cars can match the raw power and visceral roundhouse punch of the Viper, however. The 2013 Viper is improved, but it's safe to say that its mission is to provide a more modern, more comfortable version to owners of the previous car, not to bring in new owners. The brutality of the Viper versus more refined choices like the Audi R8 means buyers will really have to want a Viper specifically, not just a fast, expensive coupe.