I had never been given the opportunity to spend more than just a few minutes in the latest Dodge Viper – until now. The only time I had driven this 500+ horsepower beast was on a track at Chrysler’s proving ground in Chelsea, MI. At that time I was blown away by the handling, the power, and the major improvements over the previous generation Viper.
Now that I’ve used the Viper for my daily commute to and from work, I’m not as enamored with the car as I was that day in Michigan.
It wasn’t very hot yesterday – temp was in the high 70s – and I had the top down. When I got in the car, I found that the previous driver had put the air condition on full with high fan. I found out why in about 10 minutes of stop and go driving.
The big V10 engine under the hood of the Viper generates an amazing amount of heat. The very hot exhaust is routed through the door sills to the side outlets. After ten minutes I felt like was sitting in an oven. The doors were hot, the floor was hot, the seat was hot and I could see waves of heat coming from the vents in the hood. I called a friend who I knew had spent some time in a Viper to ask if it was normal, as I was fully expecting the car to burst into flames at any moment – he assured me that it’s just the way the Viper is.
The other issue in stop and go driving is the fact that clutch is quite heavy, and the pedals are very close together. The engine takes up a lot of room, so the pedals are all off to the left. This is not as big of an issue when you’re not constantly braking and shifting.
Yes, driving the Dodge Viper in rush hour traffic really turned me off. But now that I’ve had a few days of non-rush hour driving, I’ve really grown to like this beast.
First off, the Viper really looks good. Bright red, of course, with shiny chrome wheels. Large exhaust pipes are visible on the sides below the doors, which helps carry the performance styling, but as I have pointed out earlier, cause the cabin to heat up uncontrollably. You also have to be careful getting in and out when they are hot, especially if you’re wearing shorts.
But driving it has become quite enjoyable. The shifter is in just the right position, and shifts can be made pretty quickly. While the clutch is heavy when you have to repeatedly press it in traffic, it does engage predictably and is easy to shift smoothly.
Steering on the freeway takes two hands – with the wide front wheels, they tend to weave when the road surface is uneven. But on a smooth surface, handling is impressive. Entrance ramps can be taken at twice the suggested speed with ease. However, my daughter, who was riding along with me on a particularly fast ramp, was convinced we were riding on two wheels. Too many cartoons, I guess.
But the best part of this car is when you have space in front of you and can just open the throttle. The sound of that V10 engine is not what I would call pleasing like that of a HEMI V8 in the Magnum SRT8. Its best described as a ferocious roar, the kind of sound that scares little children. But accompanying that sound is the most amazing acceleration. It takes your breath away, and as you shift through the gears, the power just keeps on coming, as does the smile on your face. Dodge claims 60 mph comes up in under 4 seconds, and I have no reason to doubt that.
Sure, the Viper has its drawbacks, and as I mentioned before, would not be the best of daily drivers. But the Viper provides a lot of performance for $85,000, and if I could avoid driving it in traffic, I could easily get used to having it around.