2013 Viper now enjoyable off the racetrack, too
Modern makeover gives Chrysler halo car new life
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SONOMA, Calif. -- Chrysler Group will sell less than half as many 2013 SRT Vipers all of next year as it sold Jeep Patriots in October. Executives with the automaker's new Street and Racing Technology brand are OK with that.
Unlike the rest of Chrysler's lineup, the Viper is first and foremost a racing machine with a top speed of 206 mph. It only masquerades as a luxuriously appointed $100,000 two-seater when it's off the track.
The 2013 SRT Viper goes into production shortly after Thanksgiving. The sports coupe has undergone an extreme makeover since the last Viper rolled off an assembly line in Detroit in 2010. The new model is lighter, more powerful, more aerodynamic and more responsive than the Dodge Viper it replaces.
The new Viper, which comes in SRT and upgraded GTS trim levels, is outfitted with the rarefied technologies such as launch control that are common among its many racetrack-residing rivals. But the Viper now has more common features such as navigation and cruise control that make the new 640-hp beast more pleasurable to drive on regular roads, such as those in California's Napa Valley.
Like its predecessors, this iteration of the Viper keeps the core aesthetics that have made it popular among racing enthusiasts, but they've been accentuated a bit more now. The Viper is still low, loud and stiff. Its redesigned front fascia and cowl are still among the most menacing things one can see pop up in a rearview mirror, and its rumbling side-port exhausts leave few heads unturned when the SRT Viper passes.
Emerging from bankruptcy
But unlike earlier versions of the Viper, this car's design grew from the very bottom of Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy. SRT brand head Ralph Gilles, who is also Chrysler's head of design, said his team members began work on the new Viper when they weren't sure each morning whether their employer would be in business the next day. Just as it does in nature, the added time and pressure of those dark days produced a diamond atop Chrysler's lineup.
The car's heart and soul remain locked within its 8.4-liter V-10 engine that, coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox produces 600 pounds-feet of torque. The engine rides under a new X-shaped cross-brace that helped designers boost torsional stiffness by half. Equipped with its giant Pirelli racing tires, the Viper races from 0 to 60 mph in just over three seconds.
The Viper's cramped cabin, once sparse and simplistic, is now a luxurious cocoon of leather and suede surrounding standard racing seats by Sabelt, which also supplies Ferrari. Any surface that a driver or passenger's hand might touch is wrapped in padded, hand-stitched leather, accented in metal trim.
With cruise control
The crude interior electronics of previous models -- remember, this is the first Viper with cruise control -- have been replaced with Chrysler's latest Uconnect system, with an 8.4-inch center mounted display that can send and receive hands-free text messages.
As it does in the 2013 Ram 1500 truck, this version of Uconnect allows users to make calls without use of a cell phone using Sprint's cellular system, while also delivering powerful audio into the tiny cabin. Unlike the Ram, though, the Viper's electronic display can be set up to record track times and graphically deliver real-time performance information.
The SRT Viper will start at $99,390, including a $1,995 delivery charge. The GTS version will start at $122,390, including delivery. Either car will be delivered to dealers via single-vehicle carriers, and SRT is encouraging customers to visit its Conner Avenue Assembly plant in Detroit to watch their Vipers undergo final assembly.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at firstname.lastname@example.org.