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Charmed: 2014 Viper Is Less Crude, Still Visceral PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 03:13

If the Corvette is the letterman of all-American sports cars, then the Viper is the class bad boy -- smokin' in the boy's room, burning rubber in the parking lot and acting too cool for its 10 cylinders.

The Dodge Viper had earned a reputation for biting the hand of those stupid enough to disrespect its potential. It was a coarse car, unruly and unforgiving. But it was also turpentine aftershave, a bracing slap to the face of raw power and potential.

The new 2014 Viper is still badged as an SRT model, but it returns to the garage of Dodge next year. It is now in its fifth generation, continuing the blacktop-chewing format of a rear-wheel-drive, twoseat, V10-powered sports car, only sold with a manual transmission, as it has been since 1991.

The Viper is sold in two models. The rawer, trackintended SRT Viper starts at $99,390, including the $1,995 freight charge from Detroit (the Conner Avenue snake pit). The more comfortably appointed Viper GTS starts at $122,390. Add $2,600 to each model for the gas-guzzler tax.

What was a crude but effective car now rolls with deadly precision, though there is occasional driveline clanking like a Dodge dump truck. But the Viper engineers know what their customers will do to this car and built it to take a direct hole-shot.

Its skin is aluminum with a carbon-fiber hood, roof and decklid. The aluminum, 8.4-liter V-10 is still old school with its overhead valve design pounding out 640 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 600 footpounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. Both power ratings are high in the rev band, which makes the car easier to live with on a daily basis.

In first gear, you can run it up to 55 mph before the red Viper image begins to glow in the tachometer, when the driver is nearing the 6,400 redline

Then bang it into second gear and you're quickly on the way to breaking most speed laws. The power crushes you in the seat from 4,500 rpm to redline. Or, on the daily drive, just sit back and enjoy the sound of those hydraulic lifters making their music.

Not that it matters to most Viper buyer, but the EPA mileage ratings are 12 mpg city, 19 highway and 15 mpg combined. I was getting a consistent 13.5 mpg combined in my week of driving. The 16-gallon tank seems stingy.

Much has been done to make the Viper an everyday driver. The lightweight flywheel takes away the heavy clutch workout, the gears engage with shortthrow precision and there is a hill-holder for a stress-free launch on an incline. Listening to the engine, it is possible to modulate the throttle to keep within 1 or 2 mph of a desired speed.

Ride quality in the standard suspension setting has good performance parameters without being harsh. And there's still a track mode. This car really needs to be enjoyed, occasionally, on a track. And with every new purchase, SRT includes a day at a racetrack, called the SRT Driver Experience (DriveSRT. com), using factory Vipers. Pro drivers will teach how to keep the shiny side up and to be in control when you push your limits.

The cockpit is not one of epic proportions, but adjustable pedals help drivers get situated. Sabelt racing seats do the job and they are six-way power adjustable. The steering column tilts but does not telescope, and I would have liked it pushed farther forward. Headroom of 36.6 inches will be limiting to some.

The footbox is narrow, but the space is ideal for heel-toe downshifts. The steering force is moderate -- and tactile for road conditions. The rear brake discs are a substantial 14 inches and the rear Pirelli P Zero tires are 19 inches wide.

There is more soundproofing, but not too much. The GTS includes more stitched leather and microsuede. An 8.4-inch touchscreen, which doubles as the rearview camera screen. There's a 12-speaker, 900-watt audio system, but the engine channel was all I listened to. Trunk space is now a generous 14.6 cubic feet.

This is a low car -- 49.1 inches to the roof or a tad taller than the Corvette - but other drivers seemed not to see it in traffic, cutting me off more than once. Or maybe it was just what I call the Viper effect, which is similar to the Porsche effect. When I'm driving a Corvette, people will flash a thumbs-up and often wave me through at a four-way stop. In the Viper (or Porsche 911), other drivers seem determined to get ahead of me, race me or block me in the lane trying to get a cellphone photo.

Pricing and reputation have been the major limiters to Viper sales. In the nameplate's 22 years, there are only about 29,000 on the road. But now, with the intimidation factor arrested, it should be a badge of pride to own what quite possibly is the last visceral sports car.

Mark Maynard is online at mark.maynard@utsandiego. com. Find photo galleries and more news at MaynardsGarage

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 22:46