It’s loud. Very loud.
It drinks premium fuel at an alarming rate.
It’s not easy to get into, and even more difficult to climb out of.
It’s available only with a manual transmission (not a bad thing) that takes some muscle to shift, the suspension is overly stiff making for a sometimes jarring ride, and visibility is limited all around.
Oh. Did we mention that it is loud?
Yet its devotees remain among the most rabid and loyal in the automotive world and are reluctant to the point of being defiant to accept changes.
After a two-year production hiatus, the Viper is back and a bit more civilized with a few more creature comforts than found on its preceding generations. But at its heart, it remains all about performance and no-excuses, brute power.
More like a race car that is drivable on the street than a street car adaptable to the track, the Viper is not for the faint of heart. Those looking for double-clutch transmissions with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and analog clocks need not apply. Ever wonder what a NASCAR stock car would be like to drive down Broadway? The Viper comes close.
But if it’s not for everyone, that is just fine with the SRT folks. Only about 29,000 Vipers have been built since its introduction in 1992, which comes to about 1,500 a year, give or take, figuring in that gap in production.
As an everyday driver, its cons may outweigh its pros.
-- You have to step over the rocker panel and down to get into the Viper’s cabin, and you have to swing your legs up and over the door sills to get out. Being a contortionist helps.
-- When getting in, and especially exiting the vehicle, you must take care not to burn your calfs from the heat of the exhausts pipes that run under the rocker panels.
They’re not quite as treacherous as before because engineers have changed the insulation pack and there is better sealing. But, as Jeff Reese, an engineer for SRT, notes, there is still an exhaust pipe and catalyst in the cavity under the sill, and “no matter what you do it’s going to be warm. You don’t want to rest your bare leg against it, that’s for sure.”
-- Once inside, the driver will find visibility severely restricted. When backing up, this is eased by the a rearview camera, but it doesn’t help a lot when it comes to judge traffic entering intersections.
-- As noted, it only comes with a six-speed manual transmission, which means you’re going to get a workout working the clutch when in rush-hour traffic, but it’s not as severe as before. SRT -- it’s no longer called the Dodge Viper, by the way, but SRT Viper, for Speed and Racing Technology, in the Chrysler portfolio -- has made the clutch pedal a little bit lighter, which helps, but the shifts themselves take some effort, too.
-- Though the pedals are spaced perfectly, making it easier for toe-heel braking in competition, for instance, the footwell itself is a snug. Unless you are wearing racing shoes or narrow footwear, you may find your left shoe brushing the clutch pedal when you release the clutch and place your foot on the dead pedal.
-- If pulling away from a stop and shifting leisurely say in heavy traffic, you may find yourself caught by the “1-4 skip shift” feature that forces the shifter from first to fourth gear instead of the natural first-to-second progression.
It’s a fuel-saving deal, Reese, the engineer says, and not exclusive to Viper. It helps a bit with the gas guzzler tax added to the Viper’s hefty MSRP. It comes into play at speeds from 17 to 19 mph and can be avoided simply by shifting earlier or later in sequence, Reese says. It’s easy enough to keep just enough pressure on the accelerator when starting off in first gear to avoid it.
So what makes Viper enthusiasts so loyal?
-- The horsepower produced from the massive 8.4-liter V10 engine has been increased to 640 from the previous generation’s 600, and torque is a whopping 600 pound-feet. That results in fuel consumption of 12 miles-per-gallon city, 19 highway of 91 octane stuff, earning the Viper a gas tax of $2,600.
But you get from zero-to-60 mph in the low three-second range.
-- Per government mandate, the Viper now comes with stability and traction control that makes it more comfortable to drive on the road, and you can put in Sport mode to make the stability and traction control less intrusive or in Track mode to reduce stability and turn off traction control.
The latter is not recommended. Reese notes that even professional drivers can get top performance out of Sport mode, and “you have to really be an accomplished driver to take advantage of” of track mode.
The Viper comes in two trims SRT (starting MSRP $104,480) or GTS ($124,380) trim, and with that latter you get a lot of little extras that may upset the purists -- who consider such things as a radio, cupholder, and cruise control as unnecessary accoutrements -- but are welcome additions.
The Grand Touring Package, which is optional on SRT models, is standard on the GTS. Among other things, it includes a rear backup camera, upgraded Uconnect Media Center with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, and navigation with one-step voice destination entry.
A track-tuned TA Special Edition Package, new for 2014, is available only on SRT trim, but both models come with the SRT Track Experience as standard. it includes a one-day driving experienced designed for SRT owners at selected tracks throughout the season.
Our advice: Take advantage of it no matter how far you have to go.
It is on the race track that you’ll experience the full benefits of what the Viper has to offer. It is there the Viper is at home.
For a look at the Viper and other information, check out the accompanying slide show.