2008 Dodge Viper
2008 Dodge Viper Expert Review:Autoblog
Next January's Detroit Auto Show will mark the 20th anniversary of the Viper's debut as a concept. Back then, every car in Chrysler's lineup was still derived from the K-Car. The K-cars saved Chrysler from the jaws of bankruptcy, but an executive named Lutz decided the automaker needed a new halo car to generate some excitement as a new decade dawned. Another old guy named Carroll Shelby was sprucing up Daytonas and Omnis at the time, so they decided to revive an idea from earlier in his career. Together they created a minimalistic two-seater with a humongous engine that became an instant American classic. That basic premise lives on today in the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT-10 with only slightly less minimalism. Read on to find out what it's like to live with a snake for a week.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Chrysler gave us the keys to a convertible Viper SRT-10 in what is arguably the best color ever applied to the V10 sports car. Snakeskin Green was a new color added for the 2008 model year update and our tester also had the optional painted-on bumper to bumper black stripes. Everyone who laid eyes on it loved the green and it literally shimmered in sunlight. Since we had the convertible instead of the coupe and it wasn't raining, the first thing to do was drop the top. Aside from having to open the trunk, lowering the top of a Viper is nearly as simple as that of a Miata.
A single latch in the middle of the windshield header releases the roof and it drops down in one smooth motion. Close the the trunk and you're done. There are no motors or actuators involved, and the top stows and raises without having to press anything down or snap anything in place. It's very simple, just like everything else about the Viper.
This iteration of the Viper was developed when Chrysler was owned by Daimler, and in many ways it's the polar opposite of a Mercedes-Benz. While cars like the AMG S63 and the SL550 are both ridiculously fast, they are also enormously complex. Even with all the power they possess, stability control systems tend to sap away their liveliness and, with everything actuated electronically, the cars feel synthetic.
There is nothing synthetic about a Viper. It is one of the loudest, most raucous cars in the world. With the top up, you have to duck down to get in as you step over the wide sill. With the top down, you just step over and fall into the seat. The Corvette ZR1 we recently drove has one serious flaw: its seats. Here the Viper wins hands down. These SRT seats are well bolstered and hold you firmly in position. Unfortunately, the Viper's packaging means the position of the steering wheel and pedals relative to that amazing seat is slightly less than ideal.
The Viper's 600-hp 8.4L V10 is set well back in the chassis with its 6-speed gear box directly behind it. That means there's a wide tunnel that offsets the pedals slightly to the left. The steering wheel, however, is offset slightly to the right of the seat's center line. None of the offsets are enough to detract from operating the car, but they are noticeable. The Viper was one of the first cars offered with adjustable pedals and they are fortunately retained on the current model. The shift lever, meanwhile, sits directly atop the gearbox and works best with deliberate but not forced manipulation. Like the ZR1, the Viper has a twin disc clutch that provides the necessary torque transmission capacity without requiring excessive force on the clutch pedal.
One of the characteristics we mentioned recently about the Porsche Carrera was how small it felt in comparison to other cars. Precisely the opposite is true of the Viper. The Dodge and Porsche only differ in overall length by 1.3 inches yet the Viper feels huge in comparison. Its hood stretches way out in front while the Porsche seems to disappear around you. The feeling of driving these two sports cars couldn't be more different.
Two decades ago when Lutz and company conceived the Viper, they deliberately kept it minimal going so far as to use side curtains instead of windows and an incredibly flimsy fabric top. Only when the GTS coupe debuted in 2006 did they even add exterior door handles and actual windows. Even today, any electronic driver assistance is limited to just anti-lock brakes. The Viper has neither traction or stability control, which means you can light this beast up any time you feel the urge. However, having 600 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque at your command on the street requires extreme caution if you intend to keep it out of the ditch.
Besides smoke, the Viper also generates a lot of heat. The massive hood vents that were added for 2008 are definitely functional. You can see heat waves emanating from the engine compartment while sitting at a red light. When a redesigned Viper debuted in 2003, Dodge reverted back to side exhausts like on the early cars. Along with those came a large warning sticker on the rear of the door openings that cautions occupants to take care when exiting so as not to burn their legs on the hot sill.
Fortunately, the huge Michelin Pilot Sport tires provide grip commensurate with their size. Compared to the new Pilot Sport 2s on the ZR1, the Viper tires don't break away quite as progressively, but they are still fairly manageable. Even without fancy stuff like magneto-rheological shocks or active steering, the Viper's suspension is remarkably well sorted. The chassis feels stiff and solid and never exhibits signs of flexibility. Cowl shake was non-existent even on what they claim is a "road" in front of my son's middle school. Speaking of which, dropping off your 13-year-old son at school in a Snakeskin Green Viper is just the way to get on his good side.
No one driving a Viper will ever confuse it for a luxury car. You feel every interaction between the road and the rubber, and that's a good thing for a car like this. The ride is fairly stiff, more so than a new ZR1 with its MR damping system in Comfort mode. The Viper is not a car that should be chosen for daily driving duties, but it does a decent enough job that you won't mind taking it out to for errands when the mood strikes you.
The Viper is a toy, and in many ways it is the anti-Tesla Roadster. Like the Roadster (at least when the updated Drivetrain 1.5 is installed), the Viper is absurdly fast and has limited utility. But where the Tesla is whisper quiet, the Viper is constantly rumbling along. At low speeds and part throttle it doesn't sound particularly impressive, but it absolutely roars when opened up. Visibility is mediocre with the top up, and even with the top down the windshield header is rather low and makes it difficult to see traffic lights. Without any wind blocker available, there is plenty of buffeting in the cockpit even with the side windows up.
But none of this matters much because the Viper is about the open road where such mundane concerns are meaningless. Put on a ball cap, or better yet a helmet, and take the Viper out to play. At $93,000 including a gas guzzler tax and those $3,000 stripes, you won't really care about its thirst for premium gasoline anyway.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
I have to admit that I'm biased when it comes to the Dodge Viper. I've had a soft spot for the venomous snake since the GTS coupe hit the streets in 1996. The aggressive design, powerful 8.0-liter V10 with 450 horsepower (doesn't sound like much now, but it sure seemed like a lot then), and the blue paint scheme with white racing stripes were the ideal combination for my dream sports car. I'm going to be that guy at the 2030 Barrett-Jackson purchasing a mint, low-mileage, numbers-matching 1996 or 1997 Dodge Viper GTS, and, of course, you'll be the one watching on SPEED commenting how I'm paying way too much for a classic American muscle car.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
My personal fantasy aside, the Viper has made a lot of progress since then. Some of its raw, uncivilized nature had been removed when a more refined suspension and modern features like ABS brakes were added in 2003. The V10 engine was updated, getting a bump in displacement to 8.3 liters and an increase of 50 horsepower. Its redesign in 2003 also saw the Viper's aggressive look somewh
at tamed, with less curves and the absence of a coupe. My obsession with the Viper waned, even with the re-introduction of the coupe in 2006 and the upgrade to 600 horsepower in 2008. The current SRT10 will outperform the old GTS any day, but there is a pure aggressiveness and brutality about the original Viper that the newer versions just don't have.
That is, of course, until the introduction of the ACR (American Club Racer) version at last year's LA Auto Show. It's by far the most potent production Viper ever built, and for me it was love at first sight. The front splitter, asymmetrical stripe, and massive rear wing make the ACR the most aggressive looking Viper by far. In fact, it makes the previous generation ACR that was built from 1999-2002 look downright civilized.
So what makes the new ACR so special? Even the slightest glance will tell you this is no ordinary Viper. This particular car came in Viper Black with the unique two-tone paint scheme. The ACR can also be ordered in Viper Red, Viper Violet, Viper Bright Blue Metallic and Viper Very Orange, with only the Black and Red having the option of the two-tone paint. I haven't seen the ACR in anything but Red or Black, and can't imagine ordering it any color combo besides the one seen here.
But enough about paint schemes; the ACR is about one thing and one thing only: functionality. More specifically, putting down all that power from the 8.4-liter V10 to the pavement. To do this, the SRT team focused on aerodynamics, the result of which can be seen at both ends of the car. Up front is a carbon fiber splitter and dive planes that have been specially designed to increase downforce and reduce drag. An extension for the front splitter can also be added for increased aerodynamics at the racetrack. At the rear is an adjustable wing also made of carbon fiber that was specially formed using Computational Fluid Dynamics. So just how much downforce does the ACR produce? Try 1,000 pounds at 150 mph. That's ten times what the standard Viper coupe produces.
Additional traction is provided by massive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires (295/35ZR/18 front, 345/30ZR/19 rear) that are just barely approved for street use. The ACR also benefits from a track-tuned suspension consisting of KW adjustable coilovers and a stiffer front stabilizer bar. The coilovers can be adjusted without removing the wheels, which means that making the switch between street and track settings is an easy task.
In addition to the fine-tuned suspension and aerodynamics, the ACR also benefits from lightweight components, particularly in the all-important area of rotating mass. Lightweight forged aluminum wheels knock off a few pounds, as do the two-piece Stoptech brakes for a total savings of 40 pounds. An optional hard-core package doubles that amount with the removal of the audio system, underhood silencer pad, trunk carpet, and tire inflator.
With so many go-fast goodies on board, I was dying to get behind the wheel of the ACR. Unfortunately, none of us Autobloggers have been able to convince Dodge to hand over a Viper to review, so our chances of nabbing an ACR were slim to none. While we haven't stopped pestering Dodge, we decided to try and find an owner who might let us get behind the wheel, and our search led us to the ViperAlley.com web site and forums. Fortunately, a member in Southern California had recently taken delivery of a brand new ACR and was willing to let us use the car for a photoshoot and get some driving impressions.
After meeting up with the owner and taking a few hours to get all the necessary photos, it was time to take the Snake for a ride. Despite my previous knowledge of the hot sidepipes and the large warning on the door sill, I still managed to singe the hair on my legs while entering the car. Once inside, the ACR is quite comfortable. It doesn't look too different than a normal Viper, especially since this owner decided to retain the sound system. The only difference is the strip of red leather on the steering wheel that is a continuation of the red stripe on the outside of the car. My only wish is that Dodge would have included 5-point harnesses like they did on the previous ACR. There's more than enough room for my 5'8" frame, and although the seats are fixed, taller drivers can easily fit due to the adjustable pedals.
The red start button behind the shifter brings the V10 to life. There's enough torque at idle to get the car going without even touching the throttle, and I'm not about to put the car sideways so I take off with minimal throttle. As I get up to speed I'm pleasantly surprised that the ACR is quite streetable. I was expecting to feel every pebble in the road, but the suspension is relatively compliant. The clutch is lighter than expected, and not much effort is required to move the shifter that changes gears smoothly and precisely. While I probably wouldn't recommend the ACR for a road trip, the owner picked up the car at a dealership in Blair, Nebraska and drove it all the way home to Southern California with no complaints. That should tell you something.
But that doesn't mean the Viper is tame by any means. Dip into the throttle and the ACR roars to life. The exhaust emits a wonderful, deep sound that could only come from a Viper V10. This car eats up the road both deceptively quick and with a brutality that borders on being vicious. I know the car is amazingly capable, but it still manages to exceed my expectations. The tires provide limitless grip, although I freely admit I wasn't close to discovering the ACR's full handling potential. The steering also proved to be responsive and direct with plenty of feedback.
While my short drive gave me just a hint of the ACR's performance, it would take a full day at the track to explore its limits. What I do know is that the Viper has returned to its glory days of being the biggest and baddest street machine on the road. Dodge has created something special with the ACR, and it's a steal at under $100,000. I can't imagine a car that would provide more thrills at anything close to this price tag. But then again, I'm biased.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
A race car, with mufflers, air conditioning, and plates.
The Dodge Viper ranks among the fiercest, most raw, visceral machines sold in showrooms anywhere. Only a few cars come as close as the Viper to a street-legal race car: Ferrari F430 Scuderia, Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, Porsche 911 GT3RS, Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Honda S2000CR. Only two of these cost less, and none come within 95 hp of the Viper.
For most automotive tasks the Viper is overkill, like using a six-pound sledgehammer to swat a fly. Ridiculously fast and able to slosh your eyeballs about in their orbit rounding a bend or under heavy braking, it didn't really need any more power. But with archrival Corvette Z06 at 505 hp, that's just what Dodge did for 2008. They made the engine just 0.1 liter bigger but added 95 horses to make a nice round 600. The fly would still be dead, but now you have a bigger hammer.
Along with the increased power, the gearbox has been strengthened, the shifter revised, the clutch tweaked for more grip on less effort, and the hood has been reshaped. Almost irrelevant are addenda like a navigation radio.
The 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is offered in two models, the convertible Roadster ($83,145) and GTS coupe ($83,895). An ACR model is due soon. The government adds a Gas Guzzler Tax to this, however.
Viper comes standard with leather/suede sport seats, air conditioning, power adjustable pedals, tilt steering column, full instrumentation, CD player, power steering, power disc brakes, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, console, composite bodywork, bi-Xenon headlamps, fog lamps, limited-slip differential, and emergency flat-tire repair kit.
The ACR model is intended for track use and includes carbon fiber front splitter with removable center section for street driving, 'dive plane' front winglets, and a large fixed rear spoiler, lighter wheels with stickier tires, adjustable suspension and fewer interior amenities to save weight.
Options include a navigation system with radio ($1790); instrument bezel trim upgrade ($695); two-tone upholstery ($495); special wheels ($700); cover and mats ($450); and some metallic paint hues ($600).
Safety features include frontal airbags and antilock brakes.
From any angle, a quick glance shows the Viper means business, with a body shaped as much for function as style. It is made of composite materials over a steel frame, with aluminum sills and strengthened cowl. If a Viper is menacing, the ACR is version is downright evil incarnate.
The Viper's sharp front edges and gaping maw are Braille for 'get out of my way.' A deep front spoiler and sloping hood wedged between two fenders help keep it from going airborne at three-mile-a-minute speeds, as does the subtle rear wing, rear suspension belly pan and the sizable diffuser under the rear end; don't back this up anywhere near a curb.
Cooling air is funneled in through the trademark four-slot grille and exhausted through six extractor vents in the hood; when idling or moving very slowly the hot air wafting out those vents makes the forward view distorted much like the rear window glass. Even the bubble top roof serves a purpose, enabling the occupants to fit with helmets on.
The roadster's folding soft top is manually-operated and stows neatly behind the seats but you must get out of the car to complete the five-second operation. The glass rear window has a defroster so visibility equals the coupe, and headroom is similar.
Xenon headlamps are standard, finally endowing the Viper with suitable vision for night drives; the snake's head center brake light continues. And like the earliest Vipers, the exhaust pipes, even on GTS coupes, exit right under the door ahead of the rear-wheel; expect drive-through attendants to ask you to turn it off so they can hear you.
The fuel tank is a bit smaller at 16 gallons (compared with the previous 18.5), but the engine is more efficient so range isn't severely impacted. Besides, 2.5 gallons of gas is just an extra 15 pounds you don't need in a race car.
Eight color choices are offered, with five choices in stripe color to complement or counter the primary shade. There are also three choices in wheels, although none is said to be significantly lighter than the others, so choosing them is mostly a style consideration.
The term cockpit applies as well to a Viper as any other car. A simple push on the button release atop the door pops it open, and it's not a big opening requiring a smidge of slide and contort slightly to get in. However, once inside you will find surprising head and legroom given the car's external dimensions (less than four feet high) and the fact that you are essentially wedged between the engine/gearbox and exhaust pipes.
Although the seats sport long cushions for thigh support and big bolsters to keep you contained, you wouldn't slide far without them given the wall-size center console and door adjacent. Seat controls are manual and limited to forward and backward; there's no lumbar or cushion height adjustment, but the tilt wheel and power adjustable pedals help everyone fit. The pedals are offset to the left a bit and include a dead pedal to brace your left foot on when not shifting, but the floating gas pedal is not ideal for heel-and-toe pedaling.
Leather trims the steering wheel and shift knob, while seats have suede-like center sections with color options; the seat sides and interior are all black. It's not fancy in here, with plastic a frequent surface because it's light, inexpensive, easy to clean, and easy to cut up to add a roll cage, light and radio switching, and so forth.
Dead ahead of the driver is the tachometer, with fuel to the left and speed to the right; the Viper won't run to the top number (220 mph) but it will go well 'round. Some mental recalibration may be in order as most cars are not traveling 110 mph with the needle straight up.
Sloping down to the right of the wheel are oil pressure (closest to line of sight, where it should be), oil temperature, water temperature, and voltage. All instruments are black numbers on white faces and an easy read, although the oil pressure gauge reflects in the windshield at night. The bezels around the gauges may be optioned up in different trim.
In keeping with its strictly (go fast) business attitude, the steering wheel has just one button on it: the horn. And there are no cup holders. You might feel tempted to Zip-tie your commuter cup to a roll bar and run a hose out of it for sipping, through your helmet, of course.
Air conditioning is standard and quickly cools the tiny volume of air space inside, and in warm weather the engine and pipes surrounding you can quickly turn the cockpit into a mild oven. You can now add navigation to the electronic entertainment, but your phone should be stowed; they'd never hear you over the din.
Visibility is relatively good for a low-slung beast. The mirrors aren't filled by the fat rear fenders and although the glass backlight might distort them, sizable objects are easily detected behind. The windshield doesn't blend in to the roof as on some cars, so the forward view upward is marginal; you may need to lean forward and peer up to see traffic lights, and the rearview mirror and right front fender conspire to make a very small area to see what's up and to the right, such as sharp uphill right-handers or merging traffic.
Dodge claims trunk space of 14.6 cubic feet under the large hatch opening, but that seems optimistic; maybe they're including the rear suspension and fuel tank in that figure. That said, the GTS does have enough room for a couple of overnight bags or maybe your helmet and driving suit. There's no spare tire, instead there's a small air compressor and fix-kit; that makes sense because there'd be nowhere to put a massive, flat tire.
The roadster's trunk is notably smaller but it can still hold a wheeled suitcase and carry-on bags. If the top is up there is space behind the seats for jackets and lighter items; this space disappears with the top down but trunk space does not change.
The roadster also comes across as quieter sometimes as it's less of an echo chamber, but it is otherwise similar to the GTS and just.
Rotate the key to ignition, depress the clutch, push the red Start button, and the Viper shatters Sunday morning silence with a cacophony of odd-firing sounds from its V10 engine and bellowing pipes. And you thought it only looked loud.
From here on, everything you do must give the car due consideration for its abilities, and unless you race regularly or work in automotive testing, your own lack of abilities. This is the only production 600-hp car sold in the United States that does not have all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, or both, and as such is not recommended for inflated egos or the inexperienced. The Viper is a brutally honest car and if you direct it to do something stupid, it will do something stupid.
That said, the Viper is actually quite docile trundling around town. The new twin-disc clutch takes less effort and offers smoother, more precise engagement, so you can get in motion without even using the throttle.
The fastest launches are not done with your foot on the floor as that would merely spin the back tires; on many road surfaces you'll need second gear before the Viper gains good traction and lunges toward the horizon like a greyhound with ears laid back.
When it reaches the heart of its power in second gear, you've passed the legal speed limit in most states, with four gears remaining. If you took the average interstate on-ramp as fast as possible you'd hit the highway doing somewhere north of 120 mph. Find an open track long enough, and the Viper coupe is said to top 200 mph. Our experience suggests it pulls hard at any speed. Expect no more than 20 minutes out of a tank of fuel at peak velocity.
On the other hand, you can drive around never exceeding 1500 rpm (out of 6300) and still reach 80 mph in the same time most plebian cars do. Extremely tall gearing means a Viper will idle at more than 40 mph in top gear. Its low-rpm torque and excellent tractability allows it to go uphill at 1000 rpm in fifth gear without complaint. The new shifter and gearbox are a big improvement over the old one, but they retain the irritating skip-shift function that sends the lever from first to fourth in slow-speed acceleration to help achieve a better EPA fuel-economy rating.
And despite raising horsepower by nearly 100, the car is more efficient, with EPA ratings up to 13/22 for 2008. Making the ultimate sacrifice (driving a Viper sensibly) we recorded better than 16 mpg in everyday driving. Moderate weight and tall gears have their advantages.
Five- and six-hundred horsepower cars are more common everyday, but nothing with this power level weighs as little as the Viper's 3450 pounds. Indeed, only some non-U.S. exotics and the Bugatti Veyron, at more than a million dollars for its 987 horsepower, offers a significantly better power to weight ratio.
Ride comfort is par for the course on a car that changes direction like this and can pin your own weight against the door or seatbelt. Run-flat tires are no longer employed and the foot-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 2s give superb grip without the small-bump punishment run-flats impart. Suspension bits are all aluminum and nicely calibrated for poor road compliance and razor-sharp response. Some super-serious types might like a bit more rebound control in back, easy to accomplish using aftermarket parts.
Brakes are immense and easy to modulate; a light touch of the pedal brings mild slowing, with retarding increasing directly with more pedal pressure. Fade is not an issue, the ABS is ideally tuned, and the net effect is a controlled crash with no damage.
A few cars may brake as well, generate similar lateral grip, get around a race course with similar lap times, or accelerate like this, but few can do all like a Viper, and none can do it for the money.
The Dodge Viper is the bad boy for under $100,000. Bang for your buck literally can't be matched, as you will likely spend more to better any battle of numbers bench racers are apt to argue about. It's in your face, your ears, your nose and all over the competition. If you're smart enough to show the respect it demands, it might be the race car you're looking for. And did we mention the 600 horsepower?
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report in Los Angeles.
Dodge Viper Roadster ($83,145); GTS coupe ($83,895); ACR coupe.
Options As Tested
Stripes ($3000); polished Razor wheels ($700).
Dodge Viper GTS ($83,895).
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