Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Forget what you may have already heard about the 2013 SRT Viper. It hasn't gone soft.
OK, so it now has traction control. And stability control. And a navigation system with Bluetooth. And automatic climate control. And cupholders.
Doesn't mean a thing. This Viper will still rip your face off and feed it to your cat.
All those electronic nannies can only do so much when there's 640 horsepower on tap. And the Viper's tightly wound suspension not only makes you feel every bump and ripple in the road, it also channels 8.4 liters of engine vibration straight to your butt, hands and head. And of course, it still has side-exit exhaust pipes that funnel all that sound to your ears.
So as refined as this Viper might be, when your foot is on the floor, and that big V10 is punching out 600 pound-feet of torque and the speedometer is ticking up five and 10 digits at a time, it leaves you one twitch short of panic. Screw up and something will go wrong, very wrong.
If that's soft, sign us up.
That feeling of speed is not just a bunch of noise and vibration. The 2013 SRT Viper runs numbers on par with the fastest production cars in the world. Sure, there are cars that can get from zero to 60 mph faster than the Viper's 3.7 seconds (3.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) but you could count them on one hand.
Same goes for its quarter-mile time of 11.5 seconds at 127.3 mph. Not only is that a ridiculously fast time for a street car, its speed at the quarter-mile mark is just the beginning. Our test driver noted that the Viper is just getting going at that point. "It's building speed faster at the traps than most cars do off the line," he said after a run down the drag strip.
It's just as gut-wrenching when it stops, too, needing only 101 feet to get from 60 to zero mph. There's nothing crude about it either, as it has good pedal feel and repeatable consistency. The fact that our test car had the optional Track Pack didn't hurt. It adds lightweight, slotted brake rotors and a set of extra-sticky Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires.
The extra grip certainly helped it on the skid pad, where it turned in a 1.03g. If that's not enough for you, you must own one of Schumacher's old F1 cars, 'cause street cars don't get much stickier than that.
In the slalom, the 2013 SRT Viper once again delivered a world-beating 73.7 mph through the cones. That's faster than the last Porsche 911 GT2 we tested and it equals the numbers laid down by the all-wheel-drive 2013 Nissan GT-R.
Beyond the Numbers
Yes, the track numbers are staggering and they should be, given how stiffly the Viper rides. Even with the dual-mode dampers that come standard on the GTS model, it's punishing in "Street" mode. Forget about the "Race" setting for anything but a high-speed track with a smooth surface.
Compared to the previous Dodge Viper, this version is more refined, but you'd have to be dead to mistake it for anything but a Viper. This is a good thing.
As the old Viper crashed over bumps as if it were riding on its bump stops, this new Viper actually has some suspension compliance. Crest a slight rise in the pavement at speed and this Viper will float for just a split-second before it ratchets back down on its coil springs landing with more control than the old car.
In the old Viper such a crest could spell disaster, as the Viper's rear suspension would run out of travel and its rear tires would lose their adhesion with the road. Such an event and the car's lack of stability control have combined over the last 20 years to catch out more than a few Viper drivers and introduce the sports cars to countless ditches, poles and trees.
To keep such disasters to a minimum, both traction and stability control systems now come standard. A button on the steering wheel allows you to control just how much help you get, and there are options for partial intervention and no intervention at all. And they can be adjusted independent of each other if you feel like burning the tires without fear of getting it sideways.
The Viper's newfound electronics and its extra measure of precision still don't exactly make it easy to drive. This is a car that requires a firm hand on both the steering wheel and the shifter to make it do what you want. And finding its limits remains tricky. It doesn't feel like it wants to kill you anymore, but its limits continue to demand respect.
Even on the highway, the 2013 SRT Viper tests you. Its big Pirellis follow every groove in the pavement, a problem exaggerated by its ultra-quick steering. It feels alive and at times argumentative. Sometimes just keeping it in your lane takes more than a little concentration.
Those constant demands the Viper makes on its driver are either a desirable part of the machine's unique charm and personality or a reason to go buy a Porsche 911.
One element the Viper still hasn't mastered is steering feel. Quick reactions are one thing, but useful feedback is another. The Viper still leaves you guessing what the front tires are doing much of the time, which makes midcorner corrections tougher than they should be.
Is It a Real Car?
In the past, using a Viper as a daily driver was very possible but not very popular. It took a hard-core mindset, a hot-rodder's sensibilities and a commitment to the cool. We know this because we lived with a very orange Viper back in 2010, when the coupe was part of our long-term test fleet. And we had a blast.
With this redesign, the Viper as a commuter car makes more sense than before, but it'll still take a certain personality to live with this car day in and day out.
Take the seats, for example. They're far easier to get into than previous versions thanks to less aggressive side bolsters, and their level of adjustment also makes it far easier to find a good seating position. But the new buckets are also rock hard from top to bottom, and the adjustment buttons are wedged tightly between the seat and the sill.
Once you're situated, the 2013 SRT Viper is noticeably more comfortable than before. The oddly canted footbox is gone and the shifter now sits at a reasonable height. Visibility still isn't great, but it's better, as are all of the materials and design of all of the car's secondary controls.
The big navigation screen is the same one you'll find in a Ram truck or a Chrysler 300. That may sound blasphemous in such a serious American muscle machine, but it's one of the best in the business and the Viper is better off for having it. Graphics are clean and the touchscreen interface could not be simpler. Thankfully the system isn't overcomplicated like so many are these days. Plus, the Bluetooth connected to our iPhones very quickly.
It's also hard to find fault with the new instrument panel, as it puts a giant tachometer front and center and moves everything else off to the side. The center of the tach can be reconfigured to show tire pressures, cornering forces or nothing at all. All the functions are easily controlled through buttons on the steering wheel, along with the newly acquired cruise control system.
Still Very Much a Viper
Anyone who was worried that adding modern technology to the Viper would kill its reputation for eating amateurs alive can rest easy. It's still a barely compromised track car with the performance to take on anything with a license plate.
That performance isn't always easy to extract and it's certainly not cheap. Our GTS test car was loaded up with a $7,500 Interior Upgrade package and a $1,000 stereo in addition to the $4,500 Track package. Add in the gas-guzzler tax and another grand for the special paint and the total was $138,490.
SRT probably isn't worried about the price, though, as it knows Viper customers well. They tend to like their cars with an edge that you don't get in a 911 Turbo or an Audi R8. It's a fine line between edginess and uncontrollable, but the 2013 SRT Viper has moved one step closer to finding the balance that will uphold its reputation without scaring off a new generation of buyers in the process.
The Viper is back and it really is better than ever.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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