“No-no-no, slow-down, slow-down, slow down!”
I cut my eyes over to my passenger. We’re only in first gear, but I let off the gas pedal and the gnash of the V-10 motor quickly winds down. The 2013 SRT Viper is an intimidating machine, capable of hitting 60 miles per hour in 3.4 sizzling seconds. Still, we are only doing about 35 mph when my companion’s panic kicks in.
He grins weakly. “That was just like a roller coaster.” (Pause) “I hate roller coasters.”
I’ve been giving Viper rides all afternoon to an assortment of supplicants, but this is the first one who didn’t begin giggling when the 600 pound-feet of torque kicked in, mashing them into the thin sport seat.
Meekly motoring, I head to another pal’s house in the hills of San Clemente, about an hour south of Los Angeles where three others will get turns.
I too, have been waiting a long time to get my hands on the new Viper, which is arguably one of only two supercars on the market from a major American manufacturer. (The other is the Corvette ZR1.) The coupe certainly looks exotic enough to qualify as a supercar, and it boasts a top speed of more than 200 mph. Mine is a gorgeous red GTS model.
The Viper was first released by Dodge in the early 1990s, but got the ax during Chrysler’s financial crisis in the late 2000s. None were produced in 2011 or 2012. So the 2013 model, now under the SRT brand and not Dodge, was not a foregone conclusion.
It was never a sophisticated car. It offered two seats, a manual transmission and an engine so gargantuan that it was known for superheating the cabin. It lacked common safety features like traction and stability control, thereby earning a reputation as a car that bit back. The Viper has always been a handful.
The new model offers the same basic configuration as the previous iteration: six-speed manual, two seats and an enormous motor, a 8.4-liter V-10. The interior and exterior have both been reworked and this time the car has all of the requisite safety features required by U.S. law.
The base price is just over $100,000, and there’s a GTS version with a more upmarket interior that’s more than $120,000, including a hefty $1,995 delivery charge and $2,600 gas guzzler tax. My test model cost more than $151,000, including a ludicrous $14,600 charge for a special “Stryker” red paint. (The metallic color is quite cool, but not worth the price of an economy car.)
The new Viper was designed under the helm of SRT chief executive officer Ralph Gilles, and it still looks mean as all get out, with design flourishes that hint at an Italian sensuousness.
The hood is extra-long and the cabin located in the extreme rear. The clamshell-shaped bonnet is festooned with a series of functional vents; side scoops along the doors suck in the sides severely, making the car seem as if it were wearing a corset.
While you can dress up the Viper with leather, automatically-adjusting seats and a GPS navigation system, it will never be a car you want to commute in. This became abundantly clear driving in Los Angeles rush-hour traffic, where the Viper’s massive horsepower propelled me forward tens of feet per minute, and the heat from the power train broiled the interior.
The leather is cheesy, the rear hatch doesn’t close securely and details like the overhead light feel like an afterthought. This is a car best served on the racetrack or on the open roads of Nevada or Utah.
Or, surprisingly, on narrow roads bounded by cliffs, where I would never have had the gumption to take the older Vipers. The latest model turns with wicked finesse, has firm, well-aimed steering, and clings resiliently to the road.
Leaving all of the safety controls on (it has four modes, including full-on, sport, track and full-off), I arced down an extremely long, cambered C turn as elegantly as any European sports car.
It’s nice to have a six-speed stick at your right hand. This one’s gears are close together, and along with the easy-to-use clutch, shifts are snappy. The sound of the engine is impossible to escape, which is great in short bursts but onerous on the freeway, where the sixth gear produces a tinnitus-inducing drone.
Neither Viper lovers nor I wanted a practical or neutered version of Dodge’s legend. And this one isn’t. It looks outrageous, drives better than ever, and is just as raucous as the driver wants it to be.
The 2013 SRT Viper GTS at a Glance
Engine: 8.4-liter V-10 with 640 horsepower and 600 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 12 city, 19 highway.
Price as tested: $151,590.
Best feature: Everything about it induces adrenaline.
Worst feature: You only want adrenaline in short doses.
Long drives or city traffic are murder.
Target buyer: The muscle lover who wants a shot at an