New & Used Dodge Viper SRT: In Depth
The Dodge Viper SRT spent the 2014 model year in limbo, as part of a bootstrapped SRT stand-alone brand. The good news for SEO enthusiasts and horsepower freaks alike: the Viper is back to being a Dodge, and it returns for 2015 with a new mid-line model still bearing its throaty V-10 engine and edgy handling, all wrapped in its exotically curved shape.
Viper drivers don't like to confess that their car has any competition, but the Viper SRT hits the track and the road in the same lane as other powerful rear-drivers like the Chevy Corvette, the Mercedes SLS AMG GT, even the Ford Shelby GT500 and Chevy Camaro Z/28.
MORE: Read our 2015 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.
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. 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.
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, 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 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 at the track with the Viper TA (Time Attack) model added in for 2014 and iterated the year after.
Updates for the 2015 model year include 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. 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 possible that a convertible will not be added back into the mix any time soon.