Viper roars back, even better than before
SRT sports car loses weight, gains power and refinement
SONOMA, Calif. -- Chrysler Group's high-performance sports coupe returns to showrooms late this year with more power, less weight and fewer letters in its brand name.
Rebadged after a two-year production hiatus as an SRT, not a Dodge, the 2013 SRT Viper retains the aggressive styling and power that made it a favorite among racing enthusiasts.
But while earlier versions lacked basic cabin technologies such as cruise control in the single-minded pursuit of performance, the latest Viper embraces comforts and conveniences.
The basics: The 2013 SRT Viper retains few components from the Dodge Viper that ended production in 2010.
Engineers removed more than 100 pounds in weight but added 40 hp to boost its V-10 engine to 640 hp. Torque is up 7 percent to 600 pounds-feet. Torsional stiffness was boosted by 50 percent in part by an X-shaped aluminum brace affixed above the engine and below the Viper's clamshell hood.
Overall, the Viper's 0-to-60 time is in the low 3-second range, Chrysler says, while it's quarter-mile time falls in the mid 11-second range.
Designers made extensive use of carbon-fiber plastics and superformed aluminum -- a process that uses high heat to form the lightweight metal into otherwise unattainable shapes -- to restyle the Viper's sporty exterior gently while removing weight.
Brembo brakes and Pirelli racing tires give the Viper ample stopping power, while subtle changes to the exterior lowered its drag coefficient below 0.37.
The SRT Viper comes in two trim levels, the base and the GTS that permits drivers to select street or track suspension settings. Both models are available with an optional Track Package that, among other changes, strips an additional 57 pounds from the Viper's curb weight.
Notable features: SRT designers made the car's 14.7-cubic-foot cabin feel like a leather-and-suede cocoon. The seats come from Sabelt, which supplies seats to Ferrari. Thin Kevlar and fiberglass shells provide low-weight seat support.
An 8.4-inch information screen in the center stack contains the latest version of Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. Uconnect sends and receives text messages via voice control and places calls without a cell phone thanks to a partnership with Sprint. It also includes a special performance package for the Viper, which records drivers' best track times.
What SRT says: "What we tried to create here is a car that reeks of a spirit and a soul; it makes you feel something, and it makes it so you can't wait to go back and drive it every time. When you put your keys away, you're dreaming about the car," said Ralph Gilles, head of the SRT brand and Chrysler's head of design, at a press event here. "Where we have technologies, it's in there to make the car better, faster and more relevant, not to mask its soul."
Shortcomings and compromises: Navigation is standard only in the higher-level GTS trim package. Vehicles tested were preproduction, however, and Chrysler could change its offerings before the Viper begins arriving in select dealerships late this year.
The market: Dealers will have to pay a $25,000 fee and take special training to sell a new Viper, Gilles says, adding that less than 20 percent of Chrysler's 2,400 dealerships will qualify. Chrysler plans a production run of about 2,000 cars a year. The sticker starts at $99,390, including destination.
The skinny: Despite the bumper-to-bumper re-engineering, the 2013 SRT Viper is still a low, loud, stiff and incredibly fast brute of a car. But the additional refinements and dabs of technology now make the Viper more comfortable even with 40 extra horses under the hood.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.