The numbers are simply staggering: 500 horsepower, 525 pound-feet of torque and 505 cubic inches all crammed into a two-seater convertible weighing just 3450 pounds. Unsurprisingly, the Dodge Viper SRT-10 is rather rapid: 0-60 takes less than 4.0 seconds, top speed is somewhere around 190 mph and 0-100-0 takes 12 seconds dead flat. It’s a seriously fast car and about as dramatic a driving experience as you can imagine with its brusque V-10 barking away under that long, long hood.
But to date it’s only been available as a ragtop, which means you could never take one onto a track, compete in an autocross or bring your Viper to an open-road race, so you really never got to enjoy all that performance properly.
DaimlerChrysler quietly concedes that since the launch of the new Viper three years ago, customers have been constantly inquiring on the whereabouts of the hardtop version, and with the launch of new 505-hp Corvette Z06 and pending arrival of the 500+hp Shelby Mustang, it was clear that customers would soon be going elsewhere if Dodge didn’t come up with the goods.
Shaping up nicely
What they came up with was an attractive and well-executed, if predictable, package. The double-bubble roof design has been resurrected not just because it looks cool but also to allow room for helmet-wearing occupants. The rear haunches are have been beefed up to give the Coupe a more aggressive stance while Dodge has added a delightful, Kamm-tail spoiler to improve aerodynamics while retaining the look of the original Viper GTS.
The wraparound rear light clusters and overlapping rear fenders differentiate the Coupe and convertible models further, while the rear air diffuser not only looks sharp, it also does its bit to increase downforce at track speeds. Charging down the main straight at Willow Springs in California the Viper touches 140 mph before you lean hard on the anchors for turn one, but where the convertible could get a little skittish and twitchy the Coupe grips harder and feels more stable and composed. Because the two Vipers are mechanically identical, it’s clear that the Coupe’s aerodynamics have a real impact on the car’s high-speed behavior.
2006 Dodge Viper SRT
The Coupe’s improved aerodynamics are one thing, but adding a roof also improves the car’s torsional rigidity which, in turn, impacts the way the car feels at speed. It transmits slightly more information to the driver through hands and seat, while also responding to inputs with a fraction more urgency, making it more involving and marginally easier to push to the limit. It’s not a massive difference compared to the convertible and you do need to be thrashing it pretty hard to notice, but for those owners looking to track their car, this is good news. Those intending to use their Viper Coupes on highway on a regular basis will be glad to hear that the hardtop derivative retains the surprisingly compliant ride and (relatively) serene cruising characteristics of the convertible, and can still amble along the highway at little more than tickover in top gear.
Speaking of gears, the Viper Coupe retains the same long-winded and clonky six-speed gearbox and cramped pedal-box as the convertible, but to my mind mastering those is part of the Viper experience. Dodge secretly admits that they don’t mind if the gearbox and pedals deter some folks from buying a Viper. If people aren’t willing to master the controls, they reason, chances are they’re not going to take the time to learn how to drive this animal properly, which is how Vipers end up in trees. This also explains why the Viper will never be sold as an automatic — Dodge wants the Viper to be for hardcore drivers, not for those looking for something to pose in.
Not a snaky handler
While there’s no getting away from the brutal force of the Viper’s 8.3-liter engine, it should be pointed out that the Viper Coupe is much, much more than simple raw power. Weight distribution is a near-perfect 50:50 front-to-rear which allows the engineers to get the very most from the all-aluminum, independent suspension. Despite its reputation as a tail-happy beast, the Viper is actually a surprisingly balanced and agile sports car that is just as happy on winding canyon roads as it is on the drag strip. You just need to have a disciplined right foot and feed that power in tentatively, which is easy to do thanks to the long, hefty throttle action. It also helps to know that the four-piston Brembo brakes can stop you dead from 60 mph in less than 100 feet, so once you get over the initial shock of finding yourself behind the wheel of a Viper, you’ll find that your confidence will gradually beginning to grow as your trepidation subsides.
2006 Dodge Viper SRT
That said, the Viper remains a difficult and demanding car to drive hard — but the flip side is that it’s astonishingly rewarding if you’re willing to put in the time to learn how to drive it right. Every lap around Willow Springs taught me something new about the car and when they finally dragged me out I was exhausted and exhilarated by the experience, though still not exactly what you’d call “at home” behind the wheel. The Viper has so much to offer the enthusiastic driver and now that they’ve put a roof over your head, you can take it to the track and really explore its limits which, I can promise you, will never, ever get boring. Just make sure to use that extra trunk space to pack some clean underwear. You’ll need it.
2006 Dodge Viper Coupe
Base price: $83,145
Engine: 8.3-liter V-10, 500 hp/525 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel
Length x width x height: 175.6 x 75.2 x 48.6 in
Wheelbase: 98.8 in
Curb weight: 3450 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 12/20 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags; anti-lock brakes; tire pressure monitors
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/six-CD player; power door locks/windows/mirrors; air conditioning; 18-inch front and 19-inch rear alloy wheels
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
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