New & Used Dodge Viper SRT: In Depth
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The Dodge Viper is Chrysler's front-engine, rear-drive, V-10-powered halo car.
Over almost 20 years, the Dodge Viper has evolved from a crude throwback to muscle car days, to a more supple supercar with tolerable street manners and stunning track capability.
The Viper is a rival for just about every sports car that thinks it can knock it off—including the Chevrolet Corvette, the Mercedes-AMG GT, the Chevy Camaro Z/28 and the Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang.
MORE: Read our 2016 SRT Viper review
In 1988, the Chrysler Corporation was still independent, and the smallest among the Detroit Three. Its products were about to change forever under the direction of new leaders like Bob Lutz and Francois Castaing. The company decided to design a concept car—an outrageous two-seat roadster with a monster V-10 engine under the hood, and a plastic-paneled body. The resulting concept car grabbed so much attention at the 1989 Detroit auto show that Chrysler decided to build it—as the Dodge Viper RT/10.
The Viper's been a brashly styled supercar from the moment it was born. It initially looked like little more than a kit car, first in roadster and then also in a coupe body style, and then was followed by a more finished-looking design that was somewhat less outrageous but easily as attention-getting.
The first-generation car arrived as a 1992 model, and was significantly updated in 1996. That original RT/10 has been inspired by the 1960s Cobra, but at its heart was a rough, rumbly 8.0-liter V-10 engine derived from those used in Dodge pickup trucks. With 400 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission, the rear-drive Viper proved unbelievably fast—and many reviewers said, notoriously skittish. With so much engine weight on its nose, and such a short rear end sitting over its wide rear tires, the Viper could snap into oversteer very easily. With a good launch, testers estimated its 0-60 mph times at about 4.5 seconds, and the top speed reached nearly 165 mph.
The original Viper was unabashedly raw, and its out-there look attracted all sorts of admirers, from the children who first saw it at the auto show to the execs who gave it the green light for production. In the real world, some found the details, specifically the interior, lacking. The roll-up roof panel was difficult to install and transport, as were the drop-in plastic side windows, and the cabin's air circulation wasn't very good. There was also a good chance of burning a leg on the side exhausts when getting in or out, and the heat they transmitted into the cabin was not always enjoyable.
The first round of updates came in 1996, when the V-10 was bumped up to 415 hp and the car lost a little weight, both helping improve acceleration times to about 4 seconds to 60. A coupe version, dubbed GTS, was also added that year. The engine later reached 450 hp, the exhausts were modified to exit at the rear, and the interior was improved before a new look and name were unveiled for 2003; that year, the Viper lineup took on the SRT-10 designation.
In 2003, a new Viper arrived in showrooms, parented by DaimlerChrysler—the corporate result of a merger between the company and the German parent of Mercedes-Benz. The 2003-2010 Viper bears the imprint of that merger: it's more lithe-looking and far nicer inside, but less exuberant than the original. The engine's displacement rose, to 8.3 liters, and the Viper chassis grew more rigid and lost more weight. With up to 510 hp, this generation of Viper could accelerate to 60 mph in less than 3.9 seconds, while hitting a top speed of 190 mph. Handling improved greatly, though the rear-drive Viper still kicks out vivid oversteer when provoked.
The final round of changes to that generation of the car brought the 2008-2010 Viper an 8.4-liter V-10 with 600 hp. Acceleration times of 3.5 seconds to 60 mph were clocked by enthusiast magazines, and the Viper's top speed was a claimed 197 mph.
No Viper was offered for the 2011 or 2012 model years, but a revamped Viper arrived for the 2013 model year. With a new version of the venerable pushrod V-10 engine (making 640 hp) and Tremec six-speed manual—plus an evolution of its curvy, bulbous supercar styling--— latest Viper has truly evolved into an all-around sports car. Credit goes to traction and stability control, launch control, an adjustable suspension, better seats, a more spacious interior, modern connectivity features, and vastly upgraded trims, all combining for a far superior experience in most kinds of driving. Fortunately, it delivers on all fronts, especially at the track with the Viper TA (Time Attack) model added in for 2014 and iterated the year after.
After spending 2014 under Chrysler's SRT banner, the Viper returned mid-year to the Dodge stables with many more customization options.
Updates for the 2015 model year included a 5-hp bump for the 8.4-liter V-10, a different sixth-gear ratio for upper trim levels, a new GT model to slot between base and GTS Vipers, a Viper TA 2.0 Special Edition model, and several new colors. The original TA package will continue to be available. Shortly after the 2015 models were introduced, Chrysler announced a big price cut of $15,000 to help spur the model's flagging sales. The company reports that sales have picked up as a result. The latest Viper continues to be offered in coupe form only, and it's not likely that a convertible will be added back into the mix any time soon.
Dodge has also offered a special one-of-one program for the 2015 Viper, with a new GTC model—the C standing for custom. For a starting price of $96,995, buyers got a choice of 8,000 exterior colors, 24,000 hand-painted custom stripe designs, 10 different wheel options, 16 interior trims, and six aerodynamic packages. This overwhelming number of choices is to ensure that no two cars come out the same and that Viper owners get treatment similar to those in line for a Rolls-Royce.
The Viper ACR makes a return for 2016, bringing back the top track-focused trim from years past. The new package includes meaty tires, carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, adjustable Bilstein coil-over suspension, a unique steering wheel, and a faux-suede-lined interior. Weight savings comes from thinner carpets and a stereo downgraded to just three speakers. An optional Extreme Aero package includes ten adjustable or removable pieces, including dive planes, the rear wing, and a front splitter extension.
The future for the Viper is somewhat in question. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles signaled that today's coupe would finish production and the automaker hasn't yet announced if the Viper will be replaced.