What is it?
The SRT Viper, formerly known as the Dodge Viper, is the iconic American sports car for people looking to get more out life than a Mustang or a Corvette can offer.
Intended to be a modern incarnation of the legendary Shelby Cobra, the Viper was developed by Chrysler with the help of Carroll Shelby to try and decimate the Chevrolet Corvette in the early 1990s. Where the Corvette of the time had a 300hp V8, the Viper went for the jugular with a 400hp V10. That was just the beginning, and as you will see, things have gotten even crazier since.
But has the Viper become too crazy for the times? Those of you who follow the car industry will know that Viper sales are in the toilet, so much so that Chrysler has actually had to halt production and even pull its Vipers out of racing competition. The Viper could have a serious problem here, and its survival may well be on the chopping block as we speak. Having finally sampled a Viper for myself, I will will use my experience with the car to muse on why it is that the sales of this beast are struggling.
It may seem cold and heartless to us car enthusiasts, but sales are the end-all-be-all in the car industry, especially for low volume production cars such as this. Ferrari and Lamborghini no longer offer manual transmissions in their cars because, plainly, nobody bought them, and now the Viper may be facing a similar situation.
What is the main thing I need to know about the Viper?
The Viper is an extreme and gratuitously exhilarating experience, an automotive thrill ride for the ages. Relaxation is not on the menu, nor is any trace of social responsibility. All that is served at La Casa de Viper is adrenaline with a heaping side of badassary. If you live your life by the rules, you need not apply.
What is it like to drive?
The Viper holds a special distinction for me because the Dodge Viper GTS was my first “dream car” when I was a kid. I had yet to find my way into the driver seat of a Viper before this occasion, so this was literally a childhood dream come true for me.
Hand on my heart, I can swear to you that it is impossible to enjoy the performance of an SRT Viper within any posted speed limit. That is because you will be breaking the highest speed limits in the country before you shift out of second gear. That’s right, this is one of those cars with impossibly tall gear ratios that has the horsepower and torque to fully exploit them.
During my drive the engine was surely the centerpiece of the experience, mostly because the roads I was driving on had no real corners to speak of. At a massive 8.4L displacement, the Viper’s V10 engine produces 640hp and 600ft/lbs of freedom — freedom to free the rear tires the grip.
The amount of force this thing exerts on the road is astounding. It’s acceleration will warp your reality, and thanks to the tall gearing, you will be going a lot faster than you think you’re going when you come to your senses.
Driving the Viper is like having the ultimate amusement park thrill ride at your personal disposal. The way the speed piles on is exhilarating, intoxicating, and severely addictive. It will leave you wanting to prod the throttle again and again, and the best part is you don’t have to wait in line to do so. Just be sure to pick your moments when doing this on the street, and be extra vigilant about watching out for the cops, cause this thing is FAST.
The thunderous sound of the V10 engine won’t help you go unnoticed by the authorities, quite the opposite, in fact. The noise the Viper makes is apocalyptic and ferocious. V10s are always great to listen to, but this one is far larger than those found in many European supercars, so it has a lot more base in the sound it emits. You can definitely have some fun setting off car alarms with this thing.
The two fastest cars I’d driven before this were a Porsche 997 Turbo S and a Lamborghini Aventador. Now I can happily include the Viper in that list as well because it is in the exact same league. The big difference between the Viper and the two European cars, though, is that here the gear shifts were entirely my responsibility.
The manual gearbox definitely adds a significant level of driving involvement to a car with this sort of performance, and there is a lot more that can go wrong if the driver is not up to the task. The clutch pedal is fairly heavy and quite long in its travel, but it engages abruptly with a good sense of feel for the driver. The gear shift is the opposite of the clutch pedal, with tight, crisp throws that are very reminiscent of an aftermarket short-shifter kit. The feeling as you pop-off a quick gear change momentarily sends tingles down your spine before the terror of the car’s acceleration resumes. Driving the Viper is a physically enthralling experience.
This current generation Viper finally has traction and stability control, however they don’t seem to interfere too liberally in the experience. I actually had the rear end kick out on me at the top of first gear, and I responded with some quick counter-steer, on-throttle before shifting into 2nd gear. It is great to know that the driving assists will let you have a bit of fun in a car like this. It preserves the sense of danger that has made the Viper so appealing, but also means you’re not playing Russian Roulette every time you touch the accelerator.
Inside, the driving position is fantastic. The seat hugs you tightly and the gear lever is only about six inches from your right hand on the steering wheel. The Viper’s steering responds sharply to driver inputs and a lot of feedback reaches your hands from the road, letting you know what is happening at the massive front tires. Everything about the ergonomics of the Viper seem focused on driving engagement, as they should be with the level of performance available. The only gripe I would point out is the thin field of vision out of the windshield. The Viper is a bit of a pillbox if I’m honest, but you get used to it pretty quickly.
As I said earlier, I wasn’t really able to take many corners with haste during my time with the Viper because there really weren’t any corners to speak of. I did swerve the car around a little and take what turns there were at a slightly faster-than-usual pace, but I was hardly attacking the Nurburgring here. We’ve all seen how the Viper’s handling performance can match the fury from its mighty engine; you don’t achieve a low 7 minute Nurburgring lap with horsepower alone. Having said that, I found the car to be lively when changing direction, and expectedly rock solid when loading up its suspension. This is one American car that will do everything the Europeans will in terms of performance.
What is the Viper like driving in the real world?
When you are in a situation where the speed limit can’t really be liberally interpreted, which is most of the time in populated areas such as towns and cities, the Viper feels largely out of its element.
The gratuitous amount of low end torque and long gear ratios allow you to roll around in 1st or 2nd gear with the V10 grumbling at low revs. For perspective when I got stuck behind some clueless member of the proletariat in a Mazda6, I left the car in 1st gear and the engine was turning just under 3000rpm at 30mph.
Even when I gave the Viper some gas, I only saw 3rd gear once during my drive, which did not include any highways. Of course, as I said above, every highway speed limit can be broken in 2nd gear. The torque from the V10 allows you solid accelerative performance from anywhere in the rev range in the low gears, and I’d be surprised if you couldn’t get the Viper rolling in 1st without using the gas pedal. So while the torque makes a Viper usable, in most real world situations, you cannot really stretch the car’s legs at all.
That is not to say that the Viper is easy to drive around town and use in practical situations, it’s not. That long clutch pedal will get tiring after only a little while in stop and go traffic and the ride quality, while not as bad as previous Vipers, is harder than most people would like it to be.
Who is this car for?
The Viper will interest people who either intend to frequent the racetrack or who have little regard for following the rules of the road. This is not a car that can be enjoyed within the legal limits, not even remotely. If you are pulling hard in anything over 2nd gear, you will be exceeding 100mph by a decent margin.
The Viper is a car for dedicated driving enthusiasts, and extreme badasses only. Sadly, enthusiasts make up only a very small portion of the new car market because most are smart enough to buy their cars used at a much better value for money. And badasses know they can defy society just as hard without wasting so much money.
How much does a Viper cost?
Pricing starts around $102,000 and goes up to $125,000 for the Viper GTS. The car you see here is the Grand Touring package, which comes in around $109,000.
Is it worth buying?
I definitely think so. The Viper is a full-on 200mph supercar for around the same price as a standard Porsche. Even if you factor in used cars, it is hard to find this level of raw performance and driving engagement for the same money.
If it were my money, the Viper would surely be one of my top choices. I loved the exhilaration of its experience, but then again, I’m also one of those imbecile types who routinely gets dirty looks from many other drivers on the road.
So why isn’t the Viper selling?
If I were 15 years old, and had all my spec sheets memorized, I would be at a loss as to why people aren’t buying Vipers in droves. It is probably the best performing car you can currently buy for $100 grand, and that’s all that matters when you’re a kid without a driver’s license. The problem is, by the time that kid can afford to spend six figures on a sports car, he will likely be middle-aged with a family to look after and a bad back to boot — all of a sudden “refinement” starts to become a lot more appealing.
Having now driven a Viper for myself, I have replaced my childhood awe with some hands on experience. The problems for the Viper all seem to stem from the fact that it has to exist in the real world, which is full of laws, pedestrians, and even some dreadful people who actually want to follow the speed limit.
These are the reasons why the Viper isn’t selling:
1. It’s fast, but it’s unrefined and can’t do anything else.
Most sports cars are bought by rich people who want a fun, flashy car to cruise to dinner in on the weekends. Chrysler may have improved the interior of the Viper with nicer materials, but the total experience of the car is still one of sheer brutality. The Viper isn’t happy just cruising along, and most likely your passenger won’t be too happy either because it isn’t all that comfortable.
2. The performance will scare the hell out most drivers.
Most people consider a Porsche 911 Carrera to be a fast car, especially when taken in the context of the real world. Its 350hp and 180mph top speed are more than enough for the average driver, and a lot of them couldn’t even imagine wanting more.
To put things in perspective, the SRT Viper has nearly the power of two Porsche 911s while weighing about the same as one Porsche 911. It will just wind up terrifying any casual sports car driver, and terror is not what most buyers are looking for.
3. Even if you want the performance, it’s hard to actually use it.
The Viper’s long gearing makes it difficult to enjoy the full range of that awesome V10 engine in real traffic. Also, half the enjoyment of driving a manual car comes from running through the gears… in the Viper you will basically wind up just leaving it in 2nd gear for everything. The Viper’s gearbox is not as well suited for having fun on real roads as in other sports cars, such as Porsches.
4.The decline of the manual gearbox is at play here.
The Viper only comes in stick, and it is a rather labor-intensive one at that. Over the last decade, the market has clearly shown a preference for the new flappy-paddle gearboxes over the traditional manual transmission. Why you ask? Because sports cars are mostly bought by “poseurs” as status symbols, which they wear around town and seen in, but don’t actually get out and drive. That sort of clientele doesn’t want to have to do hard work while putting around, they want something flashy and automatic so they can tweet and post on FaceTube while they drive. The Viper does not cater to those people, and in fact, it has been known to eat them in the past.
5. The gargantuan V10 is a bit archaic at this point.
The Viper follows the age old “there’s no replacement for displacement” code, and in that, it is as American as apple pie, cowboy hats, and hellfire missiles. But the truth is there is a replacement for displacement, and it’s called a turbocharger. The McLaren 12C is able to see around the same amount of horsepower with less than half of the displacement (3.8L versus 8.4L). As cool as it was having such a beastly power plant connected to my right foot — and it was truly epic, believe me — it just isn’t necessary at all.
I was the first person to drive the black Viper, and it showed up with a full tank of gas. With the tank brimmed, the computer said that we had an estimated range of just 115 miles. In other words, you will be filling up a lot, and the Viper won’t do much good as a grand tourer.
So, in the eyes of most buyers, the SRT Viper is terrifying, unrefined, limited in its functional capabilities, and far too inefficient, even by supercar standards. A lot of its best attributes for those who love the car are also some of its most repulsive features for everyone else. For most people, a standard Porsche 911 Carrera will do everything the Viper will, and much more. And that is why their money doesn’t go to Chrysler.
So how can SRT fix the issue and start selling Vipers?
Honestly, I’m not sure they can because if SRT tones the Viper down a notch or two, they will have made it into a Corvette. The Viper’s fundamental character lies in its raw driving experience. But there are a few things they can do without totally ruining it.
One obvious thing is to offer the Viper with a paddle shift gearbox, hopefully a dual clutch and not some dreadful slush box…. which would be a catastrophic mistake in my opinion. The new Corvette Z06 is going to have an automatic option (a slush box, I know) so why not the Viper? It would at least allow people who are disinterested in driving to buy a Viper, and that would surely increase sales… and I can’t believe the world has come to that…
Another idea is for SRT to make a “baby Viper” with a V8 under the hood. The obvious choice is the 392 (6.4L) Hemi V8 with 470hp, which would compete directly with the C7 Corvette. For me, though, I’d want the V8 model to have a different name than “Viper.” Something along the lines of “SRT Mamba” would work well I think, but leave “Viper” to mean what it should mean.
If I’m honest, though, I’m not sure I see the Viper surviving for much longer, at least not in the form we know it. Stagnant sales are a death sentence in the automotive industry, and the Viper is a very old-style car, a walking Tyrannosaurus, if you will. In truth the Viper is the exact same car today that it was back when it first came out, both in its character and its relative place in the automotive hierarchy. The problem is that the world has changed, and the age of huge, inefficient motors has all but ended.
The place in the world for a car like the Viper is disappearing, and it is either going to have to evolve or die.
(Hint hint: buy Vipers now, because when that change (or death) does come, values of old Vipers will likely rise)
What are the Viper’s key competitors?
Chevrolet C7 Corvette Z06
The Z06 has the same sort of performance as the Viper but with a smaller engine, better fuel economy, a lot more storage space, and my personal deal-maker, a removable targa roof. Yea, I’d probably buy the Z06 over the Viper, especially if it winds up being cheaper. The Vette isn’t quite as exotic as the Viper, but it seems to win out everywhere else.
Porsche 911 Carrera S
It doesn’t have the same level of raw performance, but the 911 is hardly lacking in its own right. Overall, this is a much better car for real world use than a Viper with all factors considered.
Porsche 911 (991) GT3
Likely a more direct competitor for the Viper than the Carrera S, the GT3 offers the same hardcore performance fix as the Viper, but with a lot more refinement.
Jaguar F-Type V8 (S and R)
The F-Type basically compares the same as the Porsche 911, but with a bit more of its own exotic appeal. The F-Type is definitely better for those who mostly wish to wear their car around town, and it offers a hefty amount of performance in a manageable package.
The GTR will set lap times to match the Viper and Corvette, but it is far less satisfying to drive. The GTR, however is more practical than both of them, and would be much happier to be used as a daily driver.
Used: 360 Modena, Gallardo, 997 Turbo, F430, etc
You can have a number of used supercars for the same money as a Viper. Few of them will outperform the mighty American snake outright, but depending on who you are, and your priorities, they might be more fun or offer a more refined experience. A used Porsche 997 Turbo would be a tempting alternative for me in this case.
-Thrilling beyond belief
-Great driving engagement
-That epic engine
-Too much for most people to handle
-Too difficult to drive for most people to deal with
-Thirsty, obsolete engine
-Doesn’t work in the real world at all
What would you change about it?
The only thing that stands out in my mind is the clutch pedal, and its ridiculously long pedal travel. It just seems unnecessary, and it makes the car that little bit less appealing, even for buyers who want to row their own gears. A car of this nature should have a hard, abrupt clutch, but it should be quick to engage/disengage.
Other than the clutch, I wouldn’t change a thing. The SRT Viper was the thrill ride I had hoped for with the raw, intimidating attitude that I fell in love with as a kid. The Viper is what it is, and shouldn’t have to make any apologies for itself. I realize it may not survive much longer, at least in its current configuration, and if I had the choice I’d let it die with its integrity in tact. Chrysler should replace it with something else that has similar performance, but is more realistic. That said, whatever that car is, it should not be called the Viper.
It would seem the SRT Viper is a victim of its own merits. Everything that we enthusiasts love about it would be detested by most of the car-buying populace, and it makes no concessions to suit any of their mundane needs.
The Viper is an uncompromising and unforgiving wonder, and it was everything I could’ve hoped for it to be in the given situation. That said, sometimes a great car just isn’t right for the market climate, and this seems to be one of those occasions. The Viper is the same sort of car now that it has always been, but the world has changed around it over the years.
It is a weird feeling, knowing that I may have gotten to taste my childhood dream car right at the end of its life. Honestly, I was as perturbed as I was excited when I saw that SRT was willing to throw the keys of a Viper to anyone with a pulse at their ride and drive event. It was awesome because I could finally live my dream, but it also showed that they were getting desperate… an insurance nightmare to be sure.
Driving the Viper has made me fall in love with it all over again, but in a more realistic way than before. I now know that I would love to own a Viper as a fun 2nd car, and I plan to seek one out at some point on the used market. The problem is that I’m not the $100,000 customer that Chrysler needs right now to save the Viper. But that said, I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket right now, and if I hit the jackpot, my first purchase will be one of these!
WoM Score: 2013 SRT Viper
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(0) Practicality(1): 0.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 1
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 7.5/10
-Article by Nick Walker