Viper Is pure, raw power

Nobody in the world makes a sports car like the 2004 Dodge Viper SRT-10 -- a venom-packed wonder with a slinky shape, a thundering 500-horsepower V-10 and a wicked exhaust note.

At least, that's what Paul says about one of the most polarizing vehicles we've tested this year.

Anita is happy that there are now adjustable pedals on the Viper, but little about the car pleases her beyond that detail.

The SRT-10 (the SRT stands for street and racing technology) we tested topped out at $84,795, including a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax.

SHE: I loved sitting in the Viper with you and going through our usual checklist that we compile before we give any car a grade. I started marking the Dodge down for lack of vanity mirrors and cup holders. In the middle of my sentence, you hit that big red engine start button, floored it and announced, "This is not about vanity mirrors and cup holders." As the Viper roared down the street, you sniffed, "That's what it's all about." I guess on a certain level, especially with the Viagra demographic, you've got to give the Viper credit. Older men hear it coming and it stops them in their tracks. The look on their faces is one of complete awe. Younger guys, too -- about the age of 12, which is where most men seem to be developmentally arrested.

HE: Cheap shot, sweetie. But I'm a guy. I can take it. Speaking of 12-year-olds, I wish I still had my scrawny preteen body because this Viper is one tight fit for some of us middle-age men. I constantly banged my head and knees getting in and out of the car. I could barely squeeze my fanny into the bucket seat and I had to scrunch my head down to see the stoplights overhead. But that's OK because everything else is just about perfect. I'm talking about pure, raw power and sex. I mean, with a Viper, who needs Viagra? That massive 8.3-liter V-10 -- something you can't get in a Corvette or any of the Japanese pretenders -- feels just like Thor's hammer when you mash the pedal.

SHE: So now you're working Viking mythology into the Viper test drive -- Viking mythology from a comic book, no doubt. I actually looked up Thor and discovered that the God of Thunder required "iron gloves and a belt of strength" to wield his weapon. Those would have been great options for the Viper, a car that is so uncomfortable, it feels like it's driving you, not the other way around. For $84,000, you get an extremely cramped and uncivilized cabin, a bouncy ride, limited safety features and a big insurance bill at the end of the month. No thanks.

HE: You didn't seem to think much of those Budweiser commercials during the Super Bowl either, did you? Sorry, kiddo, but I gave the Viper my highest rating, even though I had a short list of dislikes. I particularly despise the silly lockout feature on the six-speed manual transmission that prevents you from upshifting into second or third gear unless you're going just the right speed. It didn't have much impact on gas mileage either. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Viper should get 12 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway -- numbers that seem more appropriate for a big sport-ute, not a car. I also noticed some tire "steer" on rough pavement, which may have contributed to your feeling that the car was controlling you. And I think I left a few of my teeth back at the last pothole.

SHE: I felt like I was left out of some of the fun sitting in the passenger seat of the Viper. All the gauges, such as the tachometer, are angled toward the driver. Even the big bin between the passengers is for the driver only, due to the location of the hinge. When I drove the Viper, I was happy that it now features adjustable pedals and an adjustable footrest. It's good that antilock brakes are a standard item. But other things worried me, such as the lack of side air bags. Even the new location for the s de exhaust outlets proved worrisome. They are close to the doors and they get hot. I guess the next thing you'll tell me is that you'll need some leather motorcycle chaps to complete the picture if you buy the Viper.

HE: Actually, I'm waiting for Dodge to follow Harley-Davidson's lead, and bring out a line of leather underwear with the Viper brand. Snakeskin boots would also be a natural. But, honey, I think there's only one thing I really need for an extended trip in the Viper. Can I borrow your gasoline credit card?