2013 SRT Viper Review
We drive the revamped super snake.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: June 3rd, 2013
Ever since its introduction in 1992, Dodge's Viper has been considered one scary snake. Its brutal simplicity and gobs of power have always made it a treacherous companion -- it's fast, but one wrong move can send it into the weeds, with expensive repair bills to follow.
Thanks in part to government mandate and in part to a tacit acknowledgement by Chrysler that some potential Viper buyers were turned off by the car's rawness, the Viper has been de-fanged ever so slightly. Traction control is now standard, thanks to the feds, and the car's interior is no longer a torture chamber, thanks to designers at SRT (SRT is the new Chrysler performance brand, and the Viper is now an SRT Viper, not a Dodge Viper). We had a chance to wrangle both snakes -- the base, more performance-oriented Viper and the higher-trim GTS (which promises a bit more creature comfort) -- at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Chrysler designated the base model for track duty and the GTS for on-road driving only, and chaperoned journalists with pro instructors riding shotgun. Our total seat time on a day in which the heavens decided to open up would be about 20 minutes, just enough to get a sense of the car, if not the full scoop.
We took our first turn in the GTS, on public roads. This would be a good chance to see if the car was more tractable than the previous generation. If so, SRT could maybe woo some more Chevrolet Corvette, Audi R8, and Porsche 911 buyers.
More civilized or not, the Viper remains a brute. It's still loud and crass once the engine's fired, and it still defaults to a super stiff ride. The 8.4-liter V-10 under the hood drones at cruising speed and burbles like a bad industrial marine motor under heavy throttle. But the experience is less elemental than before.
The car, as stiff as it is, has a more acceptable ride than what we remember for the previous car. Still rough, still far from luxurious, but much more suitable for trundling around town.
The clutch and shifter are muscle-car heavy, as one would expect, but not difficult to use around town. Indeed, except for the endless droning noise and the bumpy ride, the Viper feels obedient at slower speeds, even in the wet. Unlike the previous car, which always felt like a handful even at trawling speeds in the dry, this one seems almost docile.
Almost. Once we cleared the city limits, we cautiously got on the gas and were reminded what 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque can do. Instant thrust ensued, making the ride and comfort trade-offs worth it.
Thanks to the stability control and conservative driving, we never worried about the car cutting loose in the rain, even in brisk cornering. Admittedly, we were on good behavior due to the weather and the tendency of pedestrians and police to pop-up unexpectedly on public roads -- returning the Viper to the track in one piece with our driving record unblemished was the goal.
Even at a somewhat relaxed pace, we could tell a few things about this new-generation Viper. For one, it's big, at least as seen and felt from the driver's seat, which negates some cornering confidence (especially on narrow roads), since caution is needed regarding placement. Also, as stable as it felt, there was still a sense in the back of our mind that it wouldn't react well to too much sudden movement or careless throttle inputs. It was less scary than the last-generation Viper, but that didn't mean we forgot the car could bite us in the proverbial ass should we overdo it.
What does inspire confidence -- other than the Hand of God thrust of the motor -- is the big brakes. Come in a little too hot, and a long stab of the pedal will be your salvation. Had the weather been better, we would've liked to have pushed the car a little harder -- we felt our initial unease at taking the wheel of such a beast fading as we worked up to harder driving efforts. We can't say that about the previous Viper.
Of course, the GTS we drove has a dual-mode suspension, which helps set the car up for spirited on-road driving. The base car we drove didn't have that, and by the time we found ourselves climbing in, the rain had picked up. Driving a six-figure sports car in the rain at speed on a track is nerve-wracking in any car, and the Viper started to seem downright terrifying, even when motionless.
On track, the Viper's mission is clear: big power and brute force. That served it well in the straightaways, even if we did have to wait to get on the gas due to the wet weather. Keeping the car pointed straight required the wait, an early application of the throttle might lead to fish-tailing and a premature exit from the track.
Even at conservative cornering and braking speeds, the Viper felt ready to break loose at any moment if we made the wrong move, yet it also felt stable enough to tamp down our fear. Basically, we were aware of what would happen should we make a sudden move, but the car wasn't totally terrifying at the appropriate speed.
That doesn't mean we could ever let our guard down. We made the basic mistake of lifting suddenly mid-corner after carrying too much speed, and the Viper got squirrely enough to give us a bit of a secondary morning wake-up call. No harm done, though, thanks mainly to stability control.
SRT's newest creation is still crass and crude, but its on-road behavior is just slightly more civilized than before. This car can still bite you -- and bite hard -- when you mess up, but at least the drive to the track will be a little gentler and a little less scary.
SRT modernized the Viper's classic shape, rounding out some of the rough elements of the previous car while getting the overall look back to the curvy sexiness of the first-gen car. Gone are the weird ridges in the hood, back is a long, fluid hood that stretches out in front of the driver. It's a timeless -- and sinister -- look.
One reason the Viper feels just a bit more civilized is the interior, which has been brought into the modern era, and then some, with much better materials and control layout.
It's not perfect. Taller drivers won't fit well or at all -- headroom was tight for our test driver's six-foot-one frame -- and those wide of foot will find the left side of their foot rubbing the car's sidewall while the right side butts up against the clutch, even when their foot is on the footrest. That happened to us -- when we weren't shifting, our foot was pinned between the clutch and sidewall.
One cool feature of the interior is the snake logo in the gauge cluster that lights up as the car nears redline. One not-so-cool feature is the exhaust note -- it just drones on and on, never sounding any better than bolts rattling around a coffee can.
SRT's super snake can still be scary -- speed and inclement weather don't mix in this car -- and it still has all the raw power of its forebear. It's also still somewhat uncomfortable inside, depending on your body size.
Yet, something's changed. While the Viper is still rough around the edges, it's civilized enough that it no longer possesses quite the same level of annoying harshness at around-town speeds. You can actually drive this thing to dinner and not be fatigued.
For all that, it's still a beast on the track or a back road. SRT blended the Viper qualities of old with modernity for a result that impresses. The brute is still a brute, but it's learned some basic manners.
Specs, Features, and Prices
Engine: 8.4-liter V-10
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive Wheels: Rear-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway
Base Price: $97,395 (SRT), $120,395 (GTS)
As-tested Price: $105,490 (SRT), $152,090 (GTS) (includes $1,995 delivery charge)
Available Features: Two-mode suspension (GTS), launch control, power adjustable pedals, navigation, rearview camera, Bluetooth, performance brakes, USB, satellite radio, leather interior (GTS), power seats (GTS)
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Dodge Viper, click here: 2013 Dodge Viper.