2006 DODGE VIPER SRT10 COUPE
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $83,995
POWERTRAIN: 8.3-liter, 510-hp, 535-lb-ft V10; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3450 pounds
0 TO 60 MPH: 3.7 seconds (mfr.)
FUEL MILEAGE (epa combined): 14.63
Dodge lobbed the first salvo in this most recent battle in 2003 when it unveiled the 500-hp Viper SRT10 convertible. Chevrolet joined the 500-hp battle with its 505-hp 2006 Corvette Z06 (AW, Sept. 5). Dodge has rallied back with its 2006 Viper Coupe, now packing an SAE-certified 510 hp. Ford is also in the 500-plus hp battle with its 550-hp GT, but the cars $150,000 sticker and mid-engine layout put it in a different league than Viper or Corvette.
With this car, we have given our customers back their bragging rights, says Dan Knott, director of Chryslers Street and Racing Technology, Vipers spiritual home within DaimlerChrysler. Viper Nation as the owners group is known, played a role in helping Knotts team develop the new coupe. Viper owners are a loyal, vocal bunch, Knott says, and after seeing prototypes for the coupe, Their comments helped shape the car we have today. There were things they wanted on a coupe and were delivering it.
Knott believes the Viper faithful will pony up the cash to make the coupe a success. The car stickers at $83,995 (plus a $3,000 gas guzzler tax), about $20,000 more than the Z06 that delivers roughly the same performance. Dodge says 0 to 60 mph happens in 3.7 seconds, matching Chevys claim for the Z06. Dodges quarter-mile claim (12.2 seconds at 123 mph) falls short of Chevys (11.7 at 125), but the sales race isnt just about track numbers.
As Knott says, Viper people are Viper people. He then notes more than 600 customers ordered the coupes before the first car rolled off the Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit on Aug. 22. At most, Knott says, Dodge will build about 3000 Viper coupes over the next few years. Chevy aims to sell 6000 Z06s annually.
Exclusivity is part of the package, he says. Since the Viper was launched in 92, only 17,000 cars have been sold.
With the unveiling of the convertible Viper in 2003the third-generation car500 became a magic number: 500 cubic inches, 500 hp, 500 lb-ft. The 8.3-liter aluminum V10 is actually 505 cubic inches, and the car now makes 510 hp and a tire-smoking 535 lb-ft of torque. Up to 90 percent of that torque is available through a wide rev range, from 1500 rpm to 5600 rpm.
Our first taste of the Viper coupe came at the glorious Laguna Seca road course. There were obligatory orientation laps in a van driven by a Skip Barber Driving School instructor, and a couple of cone chicanes were put in place on the track to try to slow the cars down a bit. But for the most part, it was have at it.
While Viper is a street car, it is truly at home on a track where it can unleash all of its race car breeding. From the outset, the hardtop car was designed with racing in mind. Some racing classes require coupes; for others the hard roof just offers advantages for chassis rigidity and aerodynamics. Viper Nations hard-core racers wanted a coupe, and the SRT folks knew how to serve their needs. The double-bubble roof design allows for helmet clearance inside the cockpit, and there is plenty of room inside the car for roll-cage installation. The nicely bolstered seats can easily be fitted with racing harnesses, and of course the pedals are optimally located for heel-and-toe shifting.
While most convertibles are built from coupes and need added structure because the roof was removed, the Viper coupe begins as a convertible and then the roof is added. Dodge engineers say that makes the coupe significantly stiffer than the convertible, and that was evident when driving the two back to back around Laguna Secas 11 turns. With that sturdiness comes weightthe coupe is 70 pounds heavier.
The hardtop also increases the Vipers downforce and is more stable at high speeds, another point confirmed at Laguna. While not at all a slippery car, the Viper coupe has a marginally better Cd of 0.39 to the 0.40 of the topless car. Chrysler engineer Herb Helbig, the Viper teams grail keeper who has logged more development miles in Vipers than anyone else, says the coupe experiences only minor lift in the front, and the cars sloping roofline and rear decklid spoiler produce 100 pounds of downforce at the rear at 150 mph. Helbig says top speed is 190 mph; he achieved that number at a closed airfield in northern Michigan.
The coupe and convertible share some bodywork, including the front fascia, fenders, hood and doors. The coupe has unique windshield, door glass, rear fascia, quarter-panels and taillights.
Climbing behind the wheel of the coupe and getting a comfortable driving position was no problem, although wed like the wheel to telescope as well as tilt. But the pedals can be electronically adjusted fore and aft. The cockpit layout is unchanged from the convertible model, with the instrument panel dominated by a large center-mounted tachometer. There is still too much flat-black plastic on the dash for our tastes, but the layout and controls are all straightforward. Even though this is essentially a race car, for this amount of money wed like to see more attention paid to the interior trim. Another coupe benefit: more storage space than the convertible, 6.25 cubic feet vs. 2.25.
A turn of the key and hit of the red starter button lights up the V10 with a baritone rumble even at idle. Selecting first gear and dropping the clutch unleashes a roar through the side exhaust pipes that sounds loud even through a helmet. Through all its years of refinementthe first Viper hit the streets in 1992the car remains a beast that demands the utmost respect from its driver, whether on the track or on the street. Applying too much power at the wrong time will get the car sideways faster than you can say bye-bye, and there are no electronic nanniessave for antilock brakesto help save your butt. Driving the car around Laguna was an advanced lesson in physics.
On our first few laps we tried to get a feel for the car and the track, and found ourselves braking way too early and turning in too quickly. The brakes are phenomenal, Brembo four-piston calipers all around gripping 14-inch rotors. Dodge says 60 to 0 mph can be done in less than 100 feet and a 0-to-100-to-0-mph run can be done in less than 12 seconds. Lap after lap, the brakes never faded. The cars steering is nicely weighted and is crisp and direct, just like you would expect in a race car.
The Viper coupe has the same six-speed Tremec gearbox as in the convertible, with the same short throws. Press materials tell us there is a 1-4 skip-shift, but we never accelerated softly enough to encounter it.
With the V10s ample torque, we could drive the 2.238-mile Laguna track and never take it out of third gear. We did many laps doing just that. But after becoming more comfortable, we worked up more speed and used additional gears. And even with P345/30ZR-19 Michelins in the back (P275/35ZR-18s are up front), we easily spun them coming out of second-gear corners if we got back on the throttle too quickly. Apply too much power too harshly in Lagunas famous downhill Corkscrew turn, and, despite being in a big, heavy sports car, you suddenly get the roller-coaster ride of a lifetime.
This car has to be driven with a bit of patience, says Helbig. Smoothness counts.
Subtlety has never been an element of Vipers appeal. Its cartoon-car looks combine with its monstrous horsepower to smack you hard. Just like a warrior in battle.