The Dodge Viper is still as amazing as it is absurd
We searched far and wide trying to find a way to neatly sum up the split personality nature of the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10. On one hand, the Dodge Viper is truly the ultimate performance car. It has 600 horsepower cranking from its monstrous 8.4-liter V-10 engine. It feels like it generates maximum torque from, say, 1 rpm. It looks like nothing else on the road, and the performance is legendary. Yet the Dodge Viper SRT10 is also one of the loudest, most cramped, uncomfortable, harsh-riding, unrefined and – in the hands of an inexperienced driver – dangerous cars on the road today at any price, not to mention at the $93,000 sticker this Dodge Viper SRT10 had.
Then we discovered that Dodge had given us the perfect analog right on the nose of the car: The Dodge Viper logo itself. It's a menacing snake, its fangs bared, mouth open, ready to strike at you and inject its poison. Yet, turn the Dodge Viper logo upside down, and the absurdity of the car comes into stark relief: The menacing snake suddenly transforms into Daffy Duck.
Fearsome and farcical all wrapped up in one package. Yup, that pretty much sums up the Dodge Viper. Don't get us wrong: It's impossible not to love the Viper for what it offers: blistering acceleration, incredible grip, awesome noises, torque like Dodge has a patent on the stuff, and styling that looks like nothing else on the road. It's as raw as steak tartar, but that's part of the appeal: no sugarcoating, no safety nets, no coddling. The Dodge Viper is designed to provide the power, handling and performance that only the most skilled drivers can fully exploit.
Yet everything about the Dodge Viper can be turned on its head. The styling isn't just extreme, it's completely over the top. The interior isn't just tight, it's more cramped than a Smart Fortwo. It isn't just loud, it actually makes your ears ring. Why anybody would even consider driving a Dodge Viper on a daily basis is beyond us...until we crack the throttle again. Mercy.
In many ways, the Dodge Viper is a carrying case for the V-10 engine under the lengthy hood. The engine displaces 8.4 liters...that's 510 cu. in. for you old-schoolers out there. Output is what you'd expect for such a massive lump of aluminum alloy: 600 hp at 6,100 rpm and 560 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm, all routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed dual-clutch manual transmission.
Yet mere numbers don't convey the enormity of what's going on under the hood here. Sure, peak torque is all the way up at 5,000 rpm, but the reality is that you can be bumping along at 1,000 rpm in 6th gear, mash the throttle, and feel the Viper just go. No hesitation, no stumble, no shudder, just thrust. There are no overhead valves, no variable valve timing or direct injection, just humungous pistons moving up and down in cannon-barrel-sized cylinders. Gas and air go in, explode, and the waste gets shot out the side of the car. At idle, that expulsion sounds more UPS than NASCAR, but wind the Viper out to redline and it transforms into a speedmetal cacophony that even Yngwie Malmsteen could appreciate.
The problem arises when you're not driving the Dodge Viper like you're mad at it. As a day-to-day conveyance, it falls far short of virtually any other car in this price range, or even something as simple as a Honda Civic. The clutch travel is incredibly long, yet it only fully engaged in the uppermost part. The shifter is balky, and cursed with the 1-4 skip shift that enthusiasts have loathed since it first appeared in 1980s Corvettes. You hear the gears rattling around inside the box. In short, getting stuck in traffic in a Dodge Viper is not a good time.
The Viper's handling is as legendary as its drivetrain. The suspension is fully independent, of course, with coilover shocks and aluminum control arms. The wheels and tires attached to it are massive: 275/35ZR-18 in front and whopping 345/30ZR-19 in the rear; the rear tires are more than 13 inches wide. The brakes are huge Brembos, with 14-inch disks front and rear gripped by multi-piston calipers on each corner.
The Dodge Viper puts it all to the best use possible. Grip is tremendous, matched only by the engine's ability to overpower the tires with an indelicate throttle. The brakes stop the car hard enough that your passenger will flop about like a rag doll. At its limits, the Viper is surprisingly stable, actually understeering a little. Yet the car's limits are so high that once it does start to get away, you'd better have an advanced degree in driving to gather it back up. This car comes with no traction control, relying solely on tires, throttle and the driver's reactions to keep from becoming a big aluminum, composite and steel mess.
The Dodge Viper's exterior styling is as extroverted as everything else about the car, looking something like an Incredible Hulk version of a Chevy Corvette. However, some of us longed for the smooth curves of the previous generation Dodge Viper GTS, preferring them to the hard-edged look of the current Viper. The styling also invites challenges at virtually every stoplight -- take them all and you'll go through rear tires like tissues in allergy season.
The interior is one of the Viper's biggest shortcomings. Maybe complaining about hard plastics, cramped legs, lack of elbow room, no storage and all the other things we could go on about with this car seem foolish, considering it's a barely-tamed race car at heart. Yet many other cars – the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Nissan GT-R for example – manage to provide roomier interiors, comfortable accommodations, sound deadening, and enough creature comforts to make them truly usable as day-to-day drivers but without giving up on performance.
The Dodge Viper, on the other hand, is spare inside. It has a navigation system, but the display is only marginally bigger than the screen on an iPhone, and not as clear. The audio system itself must be cranked to be heard, and unless you want the twin subwoofers between the seats to deafen you in seconds, turn down the base.
Speaking of noise, the Dodge Viper SRT10 cockpit is filled with it. The engine sound is constant, and not always pleasant. At idle, the side pipes fill the cabin with uncomfortable and downright ugly resonances. The constant booming from the big tires on the pavement is irritating after a short distance. Most of us even found the seat uncomfortable, lacking in lumbar support and without enough front-rear travel to accommodate the taller drivers on staff. Plus, there are only a few elegant ways to get into or out of a Dodge Viper without burning yourself on the side pipes, something poseurs should consider before using one to seduce the ladies.
As a performance car designed strictly for performance driving, the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is almost without equal. Its slingshot acceleration, barnacle grip and dropped-anchor braking abilities put it in a rarefied realm that only a handful of performance cars can match. Yet as a day-to-day vehicle the Dodge Viper fails utterly. Die-hard fans may like the rawness of a Dodge Viper SRT10, but there is a long list of cars we'd rather drive on a daily basis, even if it meant giving up some of the performance of the Viper.
Dual white painted stripes ($3,000), Venom Red metallic paint ($600), Navigation system with Sirius satellite radio ($1,790)
600 hp @ 6,100 rpm
560 lb.-ft. @ 5,000 rpm
13 city/22 hwy
By Keith Buglewicz Photo credit: Oliver Bentley