Viper SRT

Return of the Sinister Snake


There's no antidote to this unadulterated pleasure that comes from being bitten by this reptile. The auto world's meanest, nastiest snake is back on the roads and racetracks, spitting venom and sinking its fangs into the mundane competition.

It was appropriate that ArabWheels was given the chance to do battle with Dodge's SRT Viper at the famous Road Atlanta track in Georgia, USA, the Petit Le Mans venue which has seen some of the planet's most punishing 1,000 miles of racing.

Indeed, Dodge will be back full-time in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) competition this year after dropping out when things got tight. The factory-backed Street and Racing Technology (SRT) Motorsports team is ultra-keen on a full-time return to the series where the Viper boasts a storied history.

The rolling hills that nestle the 750-acre Road Atlanta facility were the scene of some of the Civil War's most brutal battles in 1864 when the Confederates lost the city to the Union forces. Atlanta was razed to the ground, only churches and hospitals were left standing.

It's against such history that you kit out on a chilly Georgian morning to see if you can withstand at least some of the best the snake can dish out. Taking on the Viper on such hallowed turf, OK, asphalt, is not for the faint-hearted and it's a battle mere mortals can't win. But you'll sure have some fun trying.

The Yanks don't do understatement well which is why the V10-powered two-seater supercar is such a treat. Take a squiz at the new Viper and it couldn't be anything else. It's frightening, but frighteningly cool. However, there are a few changes to the slippery snake's skin.

The hood goes back to the front-hinged design seen on the first generation Viper. But the new offering is constructed entirely of carbon fiber as are the roof and decklid. Strategic airflow, managed by a combination of hood openings, brake ducts and rear air exhausters, provides cooling for the awesome V10 engine and braking system.

The new Viper is clearly the fastest and sleekest yet, partly thanks to the new lightweight body and the carbon fiber that helps reduce the overall weight by 45kg. The  aluminium V10 - 13kg lighter than the V10 used previously in the Dodge Viper - produces a massive 640 horsepower and 813Nm of torque, the most of any naturally aspirated (non-turbo or supercharged) engine.

Classic styling cues remain - the prominent bonnet scoop, long bonnet, bulbous rear-set cabin and big wheels - but the latest Viper is more modern thanks to neater flowing lines. Owners demanded a clamshell hood and it's there. Composite intake manifold flows better and the ballistic torque comes earlier than before.

The Viper maintains its front mid-engine layout that has the engine set back fully behind the center line of the front wheels. The engine also is offset 40 mm to the right so there's more room in the driver foot well for improved placement of the throttle, brake and clutch pedals. And track performance is increased by better weight distribution for the driver.

New LED daytime running lights, turn signals and brake lights give a techy vibe along with the flush-mounted, touch-operated door handles. Familiar Viper-isms like the "double-bubble" roofline, dramatic fender "gills" and side-mounted exhaust outlets, maintain the car's haunting road presence.

Some Viper purists might shake their heads, but the new car features standard launch control plus traction and stability control and electronically adjustable shock absorbers. They weren't part of the package previously but this shouldn't be confused with the snake going soft.

Your well-nourished tester had to be fed into the cabin and there was a dearth of headroom with a helmet on, despite the designers saying there was plenty of room above. But that's a minor quibble.

Once you're in and belted up you're taken aback by the stunning interior. No cheap plasticy dross like we see so much of from some others. Finishings are soft.

The SRT Viper could take on the Europeans for interior looks rather than just being a performance powerhouse. The 2013 Viper was designed in Auburn Hills by Americans and is built in Detroit, but they consulted "our friends in Ferrari and Maserati," mainly for their skills with interiors and advice on suppliers.

Now down to business. You push the red start button, the 10 cylinders come out of hibernation and you're greeted by the throatiest gargle since Janis Joplin sang Piece of My Heart. Push the accelerator and the roar just keeps on coming like the bombardment of Atlanta in 1864.

You have to know your limits with this brute. The careless or cocky driver will be just a bloody slab of road kill if he doesn't adhere to his capabilities. And as ride and handling have been improved so much the new Viper can coax you into believing that's not a 8.4 liter aluminium V10 wrapped up in a snake's skin and poised to strike.

A Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual connects those 640 horses to the rear wheels. Shift quality is outstanding and it needed to be as the previous model needed too much ‘wristy' changing. Engineers agreed with customers on that one. The closer ratios give so much more versatility on the track.

But here's a problem, leastwise for the Middle East. The Viper will only have manual transmission. So, while it will become a much-admired vehicle in the desert world, manuals resonate with only a few punters.

However, Chrysler's Middle East chief Jack Rodencal told ArabWheels that the auto maker still expects strong sales in the Middle East.

"We're getting a lot of interest in the vehicle - the Viper is an extraordinary car and they'll love it here in the Middle East."

Dodge has been making cars quite a while. Its 8.4 liter V10 began life as a truck engine for a Dodge capable of lugging tonnes galore. Now it's a muscle machine.

The V10 force smacks your head back into the headrest as you put the foot down coming out of one of the wonderful, tight bends here in Atlanta as the 19-inch rear tires have the horrendous task of sorting out the traction. I'm now wishing I opted for a softer option today - like cage fighting.

The car isn't actually that quick. The zero to 100 kph sprint takes roughly 3.5 seconds. There are plenty of performance models elsewhere that best that easily. It's all about the surge in higher gears, the ability to gather daunting pace that seems never-ending but apparently does at 331 kph. All of this will be conveyed by a tacho with - what else - a snake's head logo.

The car stays mainly flat to the ground on corners; the bit of roll lets you know whether you're stretching the friendship. The Viper SRT will never have the finesse of a Porsche but they're poles apart in dosh, dash and deed. Coming out of tight corners with the big throttle is one of the joys to behold and clutch feedback is excellent.

Ralph Gilles, President and CEO - Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports, Chrysler Group, says the Viper nearly didn't make it. In times of austerity and the push for greater fuel efficiency there didn't seem to be a place for the Viper and its venom. Like the old cowboys of the West, it seemed the Viper might have to roar off into the sunset or sell out and become a hybrid or EV.

Chrysler folk have every figure concerning the Viper on tap, but they don't seem up to speed with how much fuel it drinks. Funny that. However, the automaker knows where its customers are as you're hardly likely to unchain yourself from a tree to drive home in a Viper.

But the main thing is, the Viper shows there's still a place for good ol' boy muscle. Gillies says the Viper diehards in the company wouldn't give up on a car often called "the soul of Chrysler."

"Beyond being the flagship for the new SRT brand, the launch of the 2013 Viper proves that we simply would not let the performance icon of the Chrysler Group die. The car shows that we still have a soul at Chrysler."

"Willed to live on by a very special group of performance enthusiasts inside the company and across Viper Nation, this SRT team under our new leadership was challenged to not just continue the legendary Viper, but to create the fifth generation of our world-class supercar that would showcase the very best we have to offer."

A tad misty-eyed, maybe, but it's a joy to see a new snake hatched.

There's a range of Harman Kardon surround-sound systems available across the SRT Viper line-up that features the latest in audio system technology. They would be superb for sure and we'd like to tell you what they are like, but the Viper-Joplin sound was too good to miss.

We don't have a launch date or price for the Viper in the Gulf yet, but word is it'll probably be on the roads here near the end of the coming summer. You'll know the snake is around anyway - if you don't see it, you'll hear it.

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