2015 Dodge Viper GT: I Take It Back — I Can't Live With This Car
by Dan Frio, Automotive Editor on April 22, 2016
"Niiice car," my neighbor says from her driveway, her pitch rising through the first word.
"That car is so awesome," says one of the neighborhood kids. "Can I sit in it?"
Even the door-to-door salesman chimes in.
"Oh maaaaaaaan!!! I've been saving you for last, bro. That car, man! Oh man, can I just have a look inside?"
You know, I feel lucky enough to have a job where I drive and write about cars, so I always try to oblige someone this small gesture. What I don't realize until later of course, after he's relieved me of $40 for some non-toxic, all-purpose super cleaner, is that our 2015 Dodge Viper was a well-timed and easy sales opener.
"This car is for winners, man. Winners! You mind me askin': how'd you become successful enough to buy this car? Because I wanna be successful and own something like this one day."
He doesn't seem any less impressed when I explain that the car isn't mine and why it's in my driveway. He then tells me of a wayward life he left behind in Mississippi and how he's trying to set an example for his daughter with his sales work, and of course I fall for the whole damn thing. But he's a personable guy and we have a long and genuine conversation about class, race and wealth. Seems like the least I can do is buy a bottle of his wonder water (I haven't tried it yet, but it rates well on Amazon).
Afterward, the two neighborhood boys who've been hovering nearby on their bikes ask if they can climb in. They do and proceed to geek out on everything within reach. One of the boys recognizes that the center console stack and touchscreen display in this $100,000 supercar is nearly identical to the one in the 2014 Ram 1500 his family just bought.
They keep chanting, "this is so awesome." After about the third time I ask, "what is it that you like about it?" The one boy says, "it looks totally from the future, but it's like, I can touch it today. Like, in a few years, I could actually drive this." I thought that was a cool observation.
Then it's on to the old show-stopper sequence: open hood, ignite engine, blip throttle. Young minds blown.
I've been living with the Viper for about a week at this point. And as cool and wholesome and American and car-nerdy as this scene was, I realized that attention is the only thing the Viper really brings to the supercar table.
Everything great about this car can be had in other cars for the same money, more or less. No, you won't find another V10 in this class. But that's not a bad thing. This V10 just doesn't sound that good. Not at idle, not at 75-mph cruise. At idle, it's not as chatty as a diesel, but there's enough clatter to make you ask "just where exactly did they spend the $100,000 I just paid for this car?"
It does sound pretty good running up through third gear into fourth, though. That slinging sweet spot is still the Viper's ace, the only real visceral, head-pinning thrill that might still make it all worth it. Then again, a Z06 offers pretty substantial kicks in the same range of the powerband.
Despite the sales guy's conviction that the Viper was a car for winners, I was feeling anything but a few days later after I'd bashed my shoulder after engaging in a little contact sporting. Steering this car with two arms and shoulders is hard work on a good day. Steering with one arm, in reverse, with my left upper body swollen and on fire was no small effort, I'll tell ya, not to mention slowly, deliberately and awkwardly lifting myself in and out of the car while trying to clear the scorching door sill.
I couldn't wait to return this thing to the office. It wasn't just the discomfort of my injury (later diagnosed as a low-level separation), though. Even a few days before, I realized I just don't love the Viper. I started to think about driving my old Cherokee to handle errands around town.
For me, the Viper is a car I could see owning for a year, maybe, before trading it for something else. A Challenger Hellcat, Z06, GT500, maybe a C63 AMG. I just think it sacrifices too much for too little compared to other choices. Yes, it's one of the sexiest cars around. The curves, stance and proportions are almost flawless. It's why it attracts so much attention.
But day to day, I couldn't deal with it. Even as a weekend toy, I couldn't see myself driving it that often. It's simply too much work, too uncomfortable (for me), too chintzy in too many places, too much compromise.
I admit I might feel different if I was doing 10-12 track days a year.
One of the younger guys on staff alleged that I was simply too old. Kurt Niebuhr silently indulged my analysis but with his trademark smirk that lets you know he pities the choices you make.
The Viper is a singular experience and I'm glad it's around and glad that someone makes it (for not much longer, however). I'm not charmed by its raw appeal, but I get why others are. Still, it feels like its window of relevance is closing. Apparently Fiat-Chrysler and many Americans shopping for $100,000 cars agree; fewer than 1,300 were sold in the last two years. And as much as I want to like the idea of a Viper in my garage when I am one day king, I know I'd end up grabbing the keys of many other alternatives first.
That's OK. There will always be a home for the Viper in Kurt's garage.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 19,000 miles