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VIPER'S TIME MAY HAVE GONE - NOT THAT IT CARES

Horsepower suddenly seems impolite to talk about, like the size of one's bonus or the cost of that bottle of vintage Chateau Latour. So the Dodge Viper SRT10 coupe seems like a scary tyrannosaurus from another era. The retooled 2008 Viper has 600 horses, which will actually be topped by the new Corvette ZR1 - with an outlandish 620.

In this war of outrageousness, though, the Viper one-ups the Corvette in a significant way: It still has no electronic traction or stability controls. It's like the once-swaggering teen who's now in middle age yet still smokes in the boy's bathroom.

Looks that kill ...: As an instrument of unmitigated power, the Viper looks exactly as it should: rowdy and crude. There's no fat on the exterior: The grisly muscles stretch over blunt bones, culminating in that "you looking at me?" front grill. The 2008 model has vented gills running up the extra-long hood, reinforcing the snake reference in its name. And take note of the notorious side exhausts behind each door, just the right place to burn yourself while struggling to get out of the cockpit.

... And don't get prissy about the inside, either: Similarly, there is no pomp in the interior whatsoever. Hard lines, unforgiving plastic, no cup holders - not a whisper of luxury or convenience except for electronic mirrors and windows, an air conditioner and a stereo.

Those horses roaR ...: Among other changes to the V-10 engine, the displacement was upped to 8.4 liters, helping to make it 90 horsepower more powerful and achieving 560 pound-feet of torque. The elongated hood looks exaggerated until you pop it and see the artillery nestled in the bay, with little room to spare.

...but can be civil, too: A welcome surprise is that if you use the throttle lightly, especially in lower gears, the Viper doesn't feel bruising, just purposeful and confident. The wonderful six-speed manual, adorned with a baseball-like round knob, is precision-smooth. The clutch is light, the accelerator pressure ideal. It's good fun on curves, with amazingly direct steering and nice weight and balance. Keep your heavy foot at bay, and the Viper shows manners.

One last thing: The one-day SRT Track Experience is included in the $85,895 base price, where instructors give real-world instruction to drivers. A good thing. You'll need it.

About the car

Engine: 8.4-liter V-10 with 600 horsepower and 560 pound- feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

Base price: $85,895.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds.

Miles per gallon: You're joking, right?

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