A Viper is an elusive thing, and I am taking about the car. The snake is found pretty much the world over. For a car that retails for only $93,000, there should be more on the road. I know what I just wrote reads kind of dumb, but in today’s world a $100,000 BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche or Corvette are nearly commonplace.
In my semi-long-ish career, I’ve only encountered a Viper on two occasions: The first was 10 years ago; the second, just recently. The SRT-10 and I spent a few hours together getting acquainted, and I was left in awe of the car’s absolutely raw nature. This time round, a GT and I went through two rounds of speed dating.
Every summer, FCA puts together a full-line party at their Chelsea MI proving grounds. It was at this gathering that I blasted through a series of cones with one 645-horsepower untamed Snake.
Cones, not really a track
One of the activities was a slalom where various performance FCA cars could be put through their paces. I started off in a Fiat 500 Abarth, moved on to a Charger Hellcat then a Challenger of the same origin, until I finally graduated to the Viper. I thought I was going to be ready, but I wasn’t quite warmed up enough.
Like trying to chew on a giant gobstopper, you know it's impossible but you also know that it'll be worth it. I dropped in the Viper, whacked my head on the roof on my way down, and attempted to settle in as best I could. I’d wrongly imagined that the transition from the Challenger to the Viper was going to be seamless or at least close.
I like tight places
The Viper’s cockpit is miniscule, cramped even, but this is after all as near a street-legal racecar as can be. There are many amenities to speak of such as a 12-speaker audio system, Uconnect with 8.4” screen with navigation, and the race-inspired bucket seats are covered in Nappa leather with alcantara inserts. One could say that the interior is semi-luxurious. But all of this is fluff.
Once in the car, I was rushed to adjust my bearings. There is no telescoping wheel, the pedals are power adjustable as are the seat settings, but no matter what I tried to do, I couldn't get comfy. Perhaps that's not the point but I’m certain that in better circumstances, I could have at least settled in.
Being the male-monkey that I am, I immediately began searching for the ESC button. It is located on the steering wheel for easy access, so I couldn’t find it in time… The Viper GT has a 5-mode Electronic Stability Control system so I was hoping to take advantage of some flexibility in the available grip.
My first run was something of a disaster. I stupidly upshifted into 2nd and left it there, which turned out to be pointless and time sapping. The mighty V10 snored and snorted its disapproval. As an FYI, you can near reach 60 mph (!) in 1st gear and 90 in 2nd...
Even so, I found myself navigating the cones with insane speed. I expected (but didn’t expect) the good old hydraulic power steering to be so sharp and respond so quickly. The massive Brembo brakes crushed whatever speed the V10 mustered, even at the end of the entry straight where I managed about 80mph in mere moments.
BTW, the Viper GT will mangle your brain on its way to 60mph as it covers it in 3.3 seconds. In metric numbers, that’s 130 (80mph) and 96km/h. Top speed is over 200mph or 320km/h.
The second run was better as I upshifted into 2nd at first to tap max velocity through the entry straight. I immediately heel-toed into 1st once off the brakes to tackle the autocross. With engine revs near the 5,000-rpm mark, all 600 torques were always in play, making for violent shots forward as the steering wheel unwound. Also, this time, I managed to set the ESP to Track mode. In said mode, the Viper will allow loads of sliding, almost too much for the speed at which I was travelling, as the rear would step out hard if the front wheels were not fully straightened.
I wish I’d had more time with the Viper. The visceral, untamed beast demands respect and attention, and I wanted nothing more than to give it what it deserved. Sadly, Dodge Vipers are a very rare sight on Canadian press car fleets; much like seeing a viper north of the Arctic Circle.
Other fish in the sea
I did come across an unexpected competitor to the Viper: the Mercedes-AMG GT S. Both are as unpolished as any high-end luxurious high-performance car can be without cutting on luxury features. Both are brash and loud. Oddly, I was allowed to keep the $149,900 ($165,000 as tested) GT for an entire week, while the Viper GT ($102,995) is not available.
I suspected that few would cross-shop the AMG and the Viper; they’d more likely swing by a Chevrolet dealer and take a look at the Corvette. At just under $91, the Z06 is right up the Snake’s alley.
I’m game for a second date
My first date with the 2016 Dodge Viper GT was brief, and although my first impressions weren’t as favourable as they could have been, the car’s curves are incentive enough to give the cold-blooded reptile a second chance.