One thing about the Viper, its reputation — difficult to drive and even unforgiving — precedes it. Having never driven Chrysler's super snake, which returned in 2013 as an SRT brand instead of a Dodge after a two-year hiatus, we were pleasantly surprised by its sophistication and refinement. But it still deserves your respect.
Appearance: The new Viper is part Italian exotic and part American muscle. It's also menacing: "serpent eye" headlights and a bulging, clam-shell hood with prominent air scoops and Viper badge. All the air ducts and vents are functional. Even the "double bubble" roof has a purpose: to give the driver wearing a helmet more headroom. The Viper looks long, but it's actually shorter than a Porsche 911. Our tester's paint — Venom Black Clear Coat — was lustrous. Each Viper is given several layers of paint and is wet-sanded before each coat.
Performance: The only transmission available is a 6-speed manual with a 1-4 skip-shift option. If you're uncomfortable with a manual, this isn't the car for you. The Viper's bite is simply one of raw performance, somewhat refined. The all-aluminum V-10 puts out 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. The 0-to-60 time is 3.7 seconds, and it seems like you need only a few more ticks before you're going twice that speed. The Viper's heavy steering is direct and communicative. Its "wrist-action" shifter has a finicky throw from first to second, but the other gears click through easily. The clutch is firm, and it's best to wear supple shoes to better feel it. The Viper now has a five-mode stability and traction control in the interest of government safety regulations. The car has tremendous grip with its 18-inch front and 19-inch rear Pirelli performance tires. Only under really aggressive acceleration out of a turn did Lyra manage to get the rear end loose on a damp road, but the stability control kicked in to calm things down. Peter drove the Viper in a rainstorm on the interstate and used the rain mode; he wouldn't quite describe the feel as confident. The low-slung supercar's performance suspension allows you to feel every tiny bump in the asphalt. This isn't a ride for a long road trip.
Interior: Like the car itself, it's not for everyone. Peter had difficulty finding a comfortable seating position. Once taller drivers contort themselves into the cockpit, they may have to recline far back so they can look out the narrow windshield. Lyra had the opposite problem. She had to move the seat all the way forward and still had to stretch to reach the clutch despite the adjustable pedal. Once you find a reasonable position, you'll feel like you are "wearing" the car. The GTS had the optional package that brings premium stitched leather that reminded us of European luxury. The narrow and firm Sabelt seats have built-in anchors for a 6-point harness and excellent side bolstering. Because of the cockpit's limited visibility, the car's backup camera and park assist were necessities. Our tester had the optional Harman Kardon audio system with 12 speakers, but the car can be so loud as to make it moot.
Our 3 favorites
Carbon fiber: The roof, deck lid and clam-shell hood are made of the lightweight material.
Leather work: Stitched, rich, sophisticated.
Body style: A head-turning machine. The side exhaust is now better integrated into the design.
Performance: Exhilarating acceleration, deafening roar of the exhaust, equally deafening scream of delight from my son, who is now a Viper fan.
Beauty: Attractive design, too.
UConnect: Easy-to-use 8.4-inch touchscreen.
The bottom line: Chrysler has refined its supercar, but it's still not for the driving dilettante.