What's New for 2009
The Dodge Viper heads into 2009 largely unchanged. The track-focused Viper SRT-10 ACR returned to the lineup midway through 2008 and enters a full year of production for '09.
When it comes to supercars, European automakers typically represent refinement, couture style and technological advancement, to the point of sterility. Here in the States, supercars are comparatively raw, visceral and rugged to the point of brutality. We're the sledgehammer to their scalpel, the bucking bronco to their show horse and the Bourne to their Bond. For better or worse, that's how we roll.
The current, third-generation Viper maintains the excitement and soul of the 1989 Carroll Shelby-inspired concept, with the obligatory low-slung body, long hood housing a massive V10, comically wide tires and gruff side exhaust pipes. The Dodge Viper doesn't ask permission and makes no apologies. Despite technological advances over the past two decades, the Viper has just enough safety equipment to make it legal, delegating the remaining responsibility to the hands and feet of the driver. If the performance numbers alone aren't enough to cause heart palpitations, consider that traction and stability control are not available, and circumstances can go from exhilarating to terrifying in short order.
It is this unfiltered, uncomplicated nature that makes the Viper so attractive to enthusiasts, hearkening back to eras when drivers were heroic, rugged and relied on the seats of their pants rather than electronic aids. For those seeking more comfort, refinement and everyday driving manners, there are always the Corvette Z06, various European offerings such as the Audi R8 and Porsche 911, and even Nissan's new GT-R. However, the 2009 Dodge Viper bests the Z06 in practically every applicable performance metric and is significantly less expensive than anything comparable from the Old World. In the end, it comes down to what you're willing to compromise -- performance or finesse.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 is offered as either a two-seat coupe or a soft-top roadster. For the standard price of admission, you get enormous forged-aluminum wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires measuring 275/35R18 in front and 345/30R19 in back. Inside, the Viper comes with race-inspired seats, power-adjustable pedals, full power accessories, a tilting steering wheel, keyless entry and an in-dash six-disc CD changer mated to a seven-speaker, 300-watt audio system. Since the Viper is more go than show, cosmetic and convenience options are scarce. Racing stripes, paint and wheel options, instrument-panel trim, a two-tone interior, navigation and satellite radio are all that is offered.
The big performance-enhancing option for the Viper is the American Club Racer (ACR) package, which is only available for the coupe variant. Though street legal, the ACR is clearly intended for track use. The package adds carbon-fiber aerodynamic devices, including a massive wing mounted high above the tail, a front splitter, fender-mounted dive planes and additional underbody treatments. All of this aero work results in a claimed 1,000 pounds of downforce at 150 mph. Lighter wheels shod with stickier tires (both slightly wider up front), lighter brake rotors, a stiffer suspension with 14-way-adjustable shocks and deleted foglamps round out the ACR package. In the end, the ACR weighs in 46 pounds lighter than the standard coupe.
In the spirit of "you can never go too far," the ACR package can be further enhanced with the Hard Core Package. Generally, one expects additional performance to cost more, but the Hard Core option is free -- primarily because the package removes options that are not track-essential. Deletions include the radio, speakers, amplifier, trunk upholstery, hood pad and tire inflator. Weight savings amounts to an additional 42 pounds -- not a whole lot, but every ounce counts on the track.
Powertrains and Performance
Underneath the Viper's louvered hood is an imposing 8.4-liter V10 engine that thunders out 600 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. It's enough to propel the sleek snake from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. The quarter-mile is a memory in a mere 11.8 seconds. Top speed is a claimed 200 mph. All of this merriment is funneled to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, which is the only transmission available.
Fuel economy -- though obviously an afterthought for exotic sports cars -- registers an EPA-rated city/highway of 13/22 mpg and 16 mpg in combined driving.
The best safety equipment for the 2009 Dodge Viper isn't included with the car. It's a driver with great skill, preferably with a racing pedigree. What is included, however, is antilock brakes with huge 14-inch rotors that can stop the Viper from 60 mph in an eye-bulging 104 feet. Conspicuously absent are side airbags, traction control and stability control -- making the skills of the aforementioned driver even more critical.
Interior Design and Special Features
Getting in can also be a challenge. Because of the trademark side exhaust, the side sills can get hot enough to singe your calves, and taller drivers will find that the smallish door opening hampers entry and exit.
The overall design of the Viper's interior is rather drab, though it can be livened up a bit with optional two-tone color schemes and dash panel inserts. The black-on-white-faced gauges are easy to read and well-placed. The large tachometer is mounted centrally in the instrument pod, beside the 220-mph-max speedometer. The center console accommodates additional gauges, the audio system with the six-CD changer, climate controls and a racy red starter button to fire up the V10.
The 2009 Dodge Viper is rough, raw, loud and unrefined when compared to other sports cars, and therein lies much of its appeal. As with previous generations, when you pin the gas pedal, you'll be pinned to the seatback. Jam on the brakes and you can feel your internal organs slam against your rib cage. Novices can appreciate the Viper's straight-line power and fury, but only advanced drivers should explore its cornering limits.
Steering is precise and offers enough feedback to toss the Viper deep into turns, while judicious amounts of throttle from a deft right foot can direct its nose with smart-bomb accuracy. However, sniper-like accuracy can be achieved with sharper, lighter performers like the Z06 or range-topping Porsches. Get it right in a Viper and the payoff is immediate and plentiful. Get it wrong and you'll be relying on every car-control skill you've ever learned. Barring impact or damage, either outcome is wildly entertaining and rewarding.
Read our Dodge Viper SRT-10 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test