Lookie what we got here. The Dodge boys decided to drop off their ultimate pavement pounder on our doorstep. They must have really liked our review of the Challenger SRT8 for us to deserve this reward.
When the Dodge Viper first showed up in 1992, it was the meanest thing around. It looked mean and sounded mean, so it was trivial why many people were surprised when the Viper had a mean attitude.
The original car was meant to be out in the elements. The car had side curtains and a fabric roof that was only meant for temporary duty, just like the open top versions Lamborghini Murcielago and Bugatti Veryon.
The Viper wasn’t ashamed of what it was, the American roadster. The Viper was designed to be the spiritual successor to the Shelby Cobra, but the public decided that modern cars needed modern conveniences. So over the 17 years Dodge has kept its snake in production there has been a little softening. But don’t think this is a compromised car. This is a pure sports car, which means we have no complaints.
The styling of the Viper is done in a classical way. Just like the Porsche 911 or the last few generations of the Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge has chosen to evolutionary with its styling rather than revolutionary. After 17 years of continuous production (almost, Dodge skipped 2007) the car still looks as mean as day one. Then again it’s hard to radically change a car that was designed to look like the snake it was named after.
Time does yield some benefits. The 2008 car’s body is not only sleeker than the original, but it also benefits from technology like a rear air diffuser. The convertible top is sturdy but can be operated with one hand. The car comes with large wheels (18”x10” front and 19”x13” rear) that now come with large disk brakes with ABS. All of this was not on the first generation, and all are welcomed additions.
The inside of the Viper is all focused on the driver. Electronically adjustable pedals, sport seats and wraparound dash, large cue ball-like shifter knob, and center console all make the driver feel like he/she is in a cocoon of speed, and he/she feels like a part of this beast.
The white face gauges with black graphics is very simple to read. It glows bight white at night, so not being able to see the speedometer is not a valid excuse for getting out of a ticket. The Viper also has gauges for oil temperature and oil pressure. This is something that doesn’t come on every performance, but it is a must for any car to be driven hard.
The drive is what makes the Viper irresistible. The 8.4-liter V10 engine is a truck unit massaged by Lamborghini. Like a linebacker in a tuxedo, this 600 hp 560 lb ft. powerhouse is a brute with graceful touches.
Starting the car unleashes a growl that begins deep within the long hood and exits at the exhaust next to your ear. Screw engine dampering; this car has soothing vibration and an exhaust note that goes with the evil looks. The engine made it hard for our camera to stay steady during the road test, but its sooooooo cool.
The ride is exactly what is expected for a pure sports car. When the Viper is at speed, the steering, suspension and brakes tell the driver exactly what’s going on at all times. Just avoid the pot holes because the suspension still telegraphs everything for in-town driving too.
The shift pattern in the six-speed manual is easy to feel, and all shifts are very deliberate. The car comfortably cruses at 70 mph in third gear, so we only got to use half of the gears most of the time. Fourth through sixth are in their powerband only at illegal speeds or on racetracks. That’s good qualifications for supercar status.
We are enthusiasts at TopSpeed, so of course we like the Viper. It gives the kind of performance that pins us to the back of the sport seat and makes us say “ooh” and “ah” in a way no back massage ever can. But we also know it is not for everyone.
There are people who will say that they can hear too much exhaust, needs a bigger trunk, it only has two seats, etc. These are the same people who not only get the Pottery Barn catalog in the mail, but every time it shows up they say, “Ooh…”