New & Used Dodge Viper SRT: In Depth
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The Dodge Viper SRT is back in the Dodge brand lineup, for now at least. After a year's diversion in a stand-alone SRT brand, the Viper returns again for 2015 as a powerfully raw sports car with a throaty V-10 engine to back up its exotic shape.
Viper owners won't admit to any rivals, but the sports car hits the streets and the track alongside other powerful rear-drivers like the Chevy Corvette, the Mercedes SLS AMG GT, even the Shelby GT500 and Camaro Z/28.MORE: Read our 2014 SRT Viper review
In 1988, the Chrysler Corporation still was independent, still the smallest of the Big Three. Its products were about to change forever under the direction of new leaders like Bob Lutz and Francois Castaing. So 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, Chrysler decided to build it--as the Dodge Viper.
The Viper's been a brashly styled supercar from the moment it was born. Only two generations old, the Viper has been offered in the original, more kit-car-looking body style from the 1990s (which also came, briefly, as a roofed coupe), and in today's composite-fabricated shape, which is significantly cleaner, more streamlined, and maybe a little less outrageous than before.
The first-generation car arrived as a 1992 model, and was significantly updated in 1996. That original RT/10 has been inspired by the Sixties Cobra, but at its heart was a rough, rumbly 8.0-liter V-10 engine derived from 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. Still, testers estimated its 0-60 mph times at about 4.5 seconds, and the top speed reached nearly 165 mph.
Enthusiasts loved its race-ready demeanor, and it's aggressive--even cartoonish--style found fans in all ranks, from kids to corporate executives. The interior of the Viper, however, let it down; the removable vinyl roof panel was easy to misalign, and very little air circulation in the cabin could lead to a stuffy, constricting experience.
In 1996 Chrysler updated the Viper, adding a coupe model, lifting output to 415 hp, then to 450 hp, and slimmed down the car somewhat to push 0-60 mph times down around 4 seconds. The interior received some improvements as well, and the original "RT/10" and coupe "GTS" badging changed to "SRT-10" in 2003.
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 actually 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 the current car brought the 2008-2010 Viper an 8.4-liter V-10 with 600 horsepower. 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--the 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 the track--especially in the Viper TA (Time Attack) model added in for 2014.