2015 Dodge Viper GT: Westward, Ho! Driving 3,124 Miles Back To Los Angeles
August 17, 2015
Nobody in their right mind would choose to drive a Viper from North Carolina to California, which explains how we chose our long-term 2015 Dodge Viper for this trip.
Actually, I sorta dig road-tripping long distances in cars ill-suited to the task. I once drove our 2009 Viper SRT-10 from Los Angeles to High Plains Raceway near Byers, Colorado, and back. That was a few years ago, so enough time had passed that the rose-tinted glasses were in full effect.
It was high time to get stupid with a Viper again.
I flew in to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and picked up the Viper from fellow editor Carlos Lago at his hotel. I'd be driving it back to Edmunds intergalactic headquarters in Los Angeles County.
By all rights Carlos should have been loopy after wheeling that thing 2,700 miles. He seemed well. I was concerned. Perhaps the drive pummeled his sanity into milky submission. My route would take me along a more northern path than Carlos' strafing run on Interstate 40, plus I took a few side trips along the way.
I drove from Durham to Asheville, North Carolina, that night. Almost immediately, I found it difficult to get comfortable in the Viper. The driving position and seat were playing "screw you" with each other and I was caught in the middle. On the short jaunt to Asheville, I fiddled constantly with the seat and pedal positions.
By the time I hit Okie Dokies Smokehouse drive-thru barbecue in Candler, North Carolina, I had found a driving position that worked. I wouldn't say it couldn't be improved upon, but it was an amicable compromise. It was good enough that I didn't change it one millimeter for the remainder of the trip.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina is a scenic drive with an absurdly low speed limit. Of course, in a Viper all speed limits seem absurdly low — to a point. More on this later.
Can anyone guess the road shown in this photo? I've got a separate post planned for the drive of this stretch of tarmac. It was about 95 degrees and 300,000 percent humidity here, yet the Viper's A/C battled it admirably.
Previous Vipers would heat-soak their footwells, which would in turn radiate into the rest of the cabin. This Viper doesn't do that. The only time cabin heat becomes uncomfortable is if you're idling it with the door ajar, in which case the exhaust wafts into your face and the sill gradually bakes in the radiant wash of the sidepipe.
Solution: close the damned door, dummy.
The road leading to the Big Ridge State Park in Maynardville, Tennessee, has a few killer corners in it. This Viper's higher-fidelity steering inspires much more confidence in fast driving than our old long-term 2009 Viper. There's so much grip on tap that you really need a racetrack to explore its limits.
Due to the Viper's lack of visibility, forget about tackling any uphill right-handers at speed. The top of the windshield drops low into the field of view, especially for taller dudes like me. The big rearview mirror sits right smack in between it and the voluptuous hood, gobbling up the view almost entirely in that direction.
On this road you only need one gear, such is the car's vast ocean of torque and forever-long gearing. In this sense, and only this sense, the Viper is like an electric car.
Fact: there was a Confederate flag in view a stone's throw from here.
If you look closely you can see a guy standing near the flagpole. He was a reporter recording a stand-up for a local TV station about how recent extreme rains have affected tourism to the area. I'm pretty sure I nuked his mic with sidepipe blat when I rolled up.
After a stop in New Albany, Indiana, I hit the road. I wouldn't see curving mountain roads again until I hit Colorado, some 1,000 miles from here. I don't know how people live without those.
My brief stop for lunch in St. Louis marked the only point at which the Viper's A/C flagged a bit. It was in the mid-90s and humid as a sponge outside when I left the city, and trundling around in city traffic didn't allow enough of the soupy ambient air across the car's condenser. Breaking free from the confines of traffic on the freeway on-ramp, the air blew cool again.
I include this photo of Liberty Memorial in Kansas City here not because it is a particularly good photo. In fact, it is a particularly crappy photo. I include it here because an inordinate amount of time was required to capture such a particularly crappy photo.
Access to the memorial was restricted due to some festival being held later that day, and people were setting up at the hilltop near the memorial. The lone open road was a one-way street and I had to convince the security guard to let me up there even though I wasn't part of the festival. This only hardened my resolve to get the shot (what's the saying: 'Dumb enough to begin, stubborn enough to finish?')
There was no reversing direction and Officer Johnson wasn't going to let me take another pass up the road. "No Stopping" signs were everywhere. Plus it was raining. I had one shot. And so, kind Edmunds reader, I give you this crappy photo.
Want people to slow down on Main Street? Pave the road with bricks. That's what they did in the tiny town of Goodland, Kansas. I stumbled across this time capsule of a town thanks to my insistence on not eating at national chains on this (or really any) road trip. The chains are all clustered around the freeway interchange. Drive a mile or two and you find stuff like this.
This is my view in the Viper. See what I mean about visibility?
Interstate 70 through Kansas (shown in the photo above) may be straight like I-5 in California, but all the recent precipitation in the Midwest has produced a blanket of green everywhere that made it a pleasant drive. Relatively speaking, of course. I mean, I was still in a Viper.
Also, a few observations on Interstate 70 drivers:
1: They don't know how to merge. I encountered three separate freeway lane closures in Indiana, Kansas and eastern Colorado. In each one, drivers piled into the other lane at the first sign posted, about a mile before the lane closure (and would-be merge point). This despite signs imploring "USE ALL LANES TO MERGE." One truck driver and several passenger cars straddled both lanes as if to prevent other cars from driving on the other perfectly usable lane. America, you need better driver education. Or any driver education. In the meantime, merge like a zipper, and do it at the merge. Not before. Rant over.
2: They're pretty passive. I saw the familiar "left lane train" phenomenon common to two-lane freeways that share traffic with trucks. This happens all the time on I-5, but the I-70 trains passed the trucks with less speed differential, left more space between cars in the left lane and camped in the left lane more persistently.
Denver, you're a cool town. I'll be back. I don't like how your airport's basically in Kansas, so I'll just drive there again next time.
Carlos's gripes about hard interior surfaces never bothered me. I drive with the steering high enough that my elbows don't touch anything when at 9 and 3 on the wheel. That, and I'm tough as nails.
The Viper's shifter is a marvel. It feels immensely solid yet slots into the gates with ease. Love it. You'll never miss a shift in this car.
I-70 on the west side of Denver is one of the most scenic interstates in the continental United States. Around each bend it's just one spectacular view after another. Intermittent downpours here didn't faze the Viper, the big land missile tracking straight and true even in standing water at elevated speeds. Only once, in Kansas City, did the car's front end hydroplane slightly.
And then Utah just blows your freakin' cerebral cortex. It's unreal, this place.
I-70 in Utah has an 80 mph speed limit. In the Viper, that's about as fast as you want to travel over prolonged distances. Beyond that, the Viper's cacophony of road, wind and engine noise becomes exponentially more overwhelming.
I wish this engine sounded better. The big V10 blasts your face holes with a discordant, penetrating drone at a cruise. At full whack, it sounds like hippopotamus flatulence.
Anyway, take a look at these photos and tell me Utah isn't stunning:
It's the strangest thing: in most cars, any kind of discomfort inevitably degrades into get-me-out sores after a few hours. Not so in the Viper, despite the seat's unusual lumbar and unrelenting ride quality. I never got road butt or the squirms even after eight hours in the saddle. The general modest discomfort in the Viper just plateaus indefinitely to a still-tolerable level. This phenomenon is impressive.
Even in its difficult-to-photograph dark blue hue, this Viper has an uncommonly common appeal. Someone would come over to chat nearly every time I stopped for fuel or food or a photo op. They always knew it was a Viper, too. For a car that looks like a cartoon superhero, it somehow manages to be unostentatious.
In virtually every one of these interactions with strangers, they'd ask a question or two about the Viper and then immediately pivot into talking about their own car. For one guy, it was his old BMW 850i. Another guy had a Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, the one with the tranverse small-block V8 driving the front wheels. Yet another had an old Malibu. Someone else had a Corvette. And they loved talking about it.
The Viper is the ideal vehicle in which to explore this nation. It showed to me that no matter where you go in this hugely diverse (and just plain huge) country, people can all be united by something as seemingly ubiquitous as a car. It's a special car that can pull this off, and there isn't another one I can think of that would elicit the universal good vibes I observed. Pickups and Jeeps are too utilitarian. Italian exotics are eye-catching but pretentious. A Corvette, too common.
There just isn't another car like the Viper. It's the fabric that holds this nation together.
(Make sure to click through the photo gallery at the top of this page. There are a lot of additional photos not included in the body of this post).
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 4,713-7,837 miles