The reptile gets a roof. BY BARRY WINFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY BY BILL DELANEY November 2005 In an attempt to provide timely coverage of this new Viper coupe, we drove one away from the press introduction in Monterey, California. More specifically, we drove it about 500 miles south directly to our testing site in the high desert to get the numbers you see here in the spec panel. That's a long day, particularly in an ambient temperature of 100 degrees (which may account for the fractionally slower than expected test figures reflected here). We like to think it's all worth it if our readers get what they deserve. Turns out we got what we deserved from this altruistic act, too. We got to drive the new Viper SRT10 coupe a long way in the high-speed world of highways and unpatrolled byways, through canyons and valleys and alongside the shining Pacific. After that, trolling the big coupe around in suburban Los Angeles felt like using a sledgehammer to swat a flea. The fact of the matter is the Viper is a bit of an unruly animal in a city environment, where its grumbling 62-decibel idle and accompanying tremors are not the most restful companions at red lights. Although the shifter in our coupe had lightened and smoothed during the course of break-in and the clutch was always easy to use—blessed with a communicative, long engagement span—the driveline is prone to an occasional oscillating shuffle in stop-and-go traffic that gets so insistent you have to get on the clutch to quell it. Some of the noises from the gearbox are pretty rude, too, at times, and you wonder if a couple pounds of noise-deadening liner might have helped. But then you recall driving the car at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, how it ran up the hill to the Corkscrew hard in third gear, the V-10 bellowing as its 500-hp rage poured down the driveshaft and clawed at the pavement through giant 14.0-inch-wide Michelins. The bite of four big Brembo calipers pinching 14.0-inch rotors had the tail weaving slightly down the hill into Turn Two, where the nose would swing obediently into the first of the two apexes. Then a gradual squeeze on the accelerator (don't mash this car's throttle if you know what's good for you) pinned the tail for a big thrust down the road to Three. There's some power-induced rotation available at the pedal to help the car out of Two, but it isn't as pronounced as in the convertible Viper. We tried that softtop car by way of comparison, and although the convertible is as much fun as ever, it likes to hang out its tail on the end of the engine's seemingly bottomless tide of torque. The similarities between the two Viper versions are obvious; the chassis are essentially identical. But the coupe was never a sure thing, according to SRT director Dan Knott, and the car was, after all, designed first as a convertible. So the coupe gained some structural rigidity when the double-bubble roof went on, with a negligible change in weight. Which means the performance ought to be identical to that of the convertible, with 0-to-60 mph in 3.9 seconds and a quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds. Our car missed those benchmarks by 0.1 second and 0.4 second, respectively, but then again, we've never matched those early numbers in more recent tests of Viper roadsters. In fact, Knott says the only body parts the Viper SRT10 coupe shares with the convertible are the front fascia and the fenders, hood, and doors. New to the coupe along with the new canopy and decklid are the rear quarter-panels, the windshield surround, the door side glass, the rear fascia, and the taillamps. The big surprise to this six-foot-five tester is how much space there is inside the coupe. Although the windshield is close at hand and short in profile, the seating feels roomier than in the convertible, and there's enough space to accommodate a helmet. Perhaps it's the adjustable pedals that do it, abetting the already generous footbox to provide extra dancing room. Whatever, the roof does not make the Viper any more claustrophobic than its topless fellow hatchling. It certainly makes the car more civilized while commuting along freeways in 100-degree heat, with the air-conditioned atmosphere trapped inside that composite cocoon. And the luggage space is much better than in the softtop Viper, with an additional four cubic feet of space. (The convertible has just two cubic feet under its trunklid.) Although increased practicality seems a bit of an oxymoron for a car well suited to club racing and autocrossing, our trip down through California confirmed the friendly nature of the Viper coupe. With big gearwheels shrilling along under your right elbow at 80 mph in sixth gear at just 1600 rpm on the interstate, the Viper ingests distances with the best of them. Its noise intensity may not be at Lexus levels, but the ride provided by the long-wheelbase chassis isn't bad at all, and I found the seat supportive and shaped to spread the load in a way that produced few pressure points. That same seat—leather clad with a central suede insert—was not found wanting for support around Laguna Seca, where Dodge held the official introduction. Unsurprising, really, since the Viper is so much a track animal, but it is a pleasant surprise to find the seat a comfortable place to be eight hours and 500 miles later. That's in keeping with the rest of the car's ergonomics. The wheel is square on to the driver and tilts to suit his or her style. Unlike the original Viper, which had offset pedals, this car's pedals are dead ahead. When adjusted all the way down, they were perfectly suited to heel-and-toe operation by these 34-inch-inseam legs and size-12 feet. Add a comprehensive range of legible white-faced instruments, simple ventilation and radio controls, and a center console that has the shifter offset to the left and the handbrake parked off to the right, and you have the very model of ergonomic organization. But layout is only part of the equation. The controls have to feel right and deliver the appropriate responses, and this they do—mainly. The beefy Tremec six-speed can sometimes fool you during the second-to-third shift if you try to force the pace. If you learn to push the leather-clad knob forward and then allow it to pop over into the third-to-fourth plane, you'll encounter no problems. We have no complaints about steering and brake calibrations. The weighting and feedback levels seem just about right, helping lend an overall impression of a car that seems smaller when on the move than when viewed at rest. Another aspect of the Viper coupe that bumps its utility quotient is a short front overhang that largely cancels concerns about bottoming the chin spoiler on curbs and badly engineered surface transitions. For a low-slung car with as many authentic aerodynamic accouterments as the Viper has, that's a welcome development. A low front air dam, a flat bottom, and an undertail diffuser act in concert with the Viper's sleek silhouette and subtle integral tail spoiler to keep the plot on the ground at speeds up to its claimed 190-mph top speed. We didn't quite get to that velocity during our drive, but we can report complete stability at 160-plus. For those planning to explore the upper reaches of the dial, it's comforting to know the Viper has Zero Pressure versions of Michelin's Pilot Sport tires, which are self-supporting in the event of a puncture. The car also has as standard equipment a tire-pressure monitoring system, seatbelts with pretensioners, multistage airbags, and ABS. Accompanying this latest generation of the Viper is the opportunity to select various options to customize the car, including the stone-white stripes made famous by the Viper GTS combined with various exterior colors, two wheel styles (a five-spoke and an H-pattern), and interior leather color combinations. Whatever, the $86,995 base model is unlikely to go unnoticed. THE VERDICT Highs: Iconic presence, surprising roominess, mega-performance. Lows: Noisy interior, driveline shuffle, poor fuel economy. The Verdict: Still heroically antisocial. DODGE VIPER SRT10 Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 3-door coupe Price as tested: $86,995 Price and option breakdown: base Dodge Viper SRT10 coupe (includes $3000 gas-guzzler tax and $850 freight), $86,995 Major standard accessories: power windows and locks, remote locking, A/C, tilting steering wheel, rear defroster Sound system: Dodge AM-FM radio/CD changer, 7 speakers ENGINE Type: V-10, aluminum block and heads Bore x stroke: 4.03 x 3.96 in, 102.4 x 100.6mm Displacement: 505 cu in, 8277cc Compression ratio: 9.6:1 Fuel-delivery system: port injection Valve gear: pushrods, 2 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters Power (SAE net): 500 bhp @ 5600 rpm Torque (SAE net): 525 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm Redline: 6000 rpm DRIVETRAIN Transmission: 6-speed manual Final-drive ratio: 3.07:1, limited slip Gear - Ratio - Mph/1000 rpm - Max speed in gears I - 2.66 - 9.4 - 56 mph (6000 rpm) II - 1.78 - 14.1 - 84 mph (6000 rpm) III - 1.30 - 19.2 - 115 mph (6000 rpm) IV - 1.00 - 25.0 - 150 mph (6000 rpm) V - 0.74 - 33.8 - 190 mph (5600 rpm) VI - 0.50 - 50.0 - 190 mph (3800 rpm) DIMENSIONS Wheelbase: 98.8 in Track, front/rear: 61.6/60.9 in Length/width/height: 175.6/75.2/48.6 in Ground clearance: 5.1 in Drag area, Cd (0.39) x frontal area (19.3 sq ft): 7.5 sq ft Curb weight: 3400 lb Weight distribution, F/R: 48.2/51.8% Curb weight per horsepower: 6.8 lb Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal CHASSIS/BODY Type: steel-tube space frame Body material: fiberglass-reinforced plastic INTERIOR SAE volume, front seat: 48 cu ft luggage: 6 cu ft Front-seat adjustments: fore-and-aft, seatback angle Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts, driver and passenger front airbags SUSPENSION Front: ind, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar Rear: ind, unequal-length control arms with a toe-control link, coil springs, anti-roll bar STEERING Type: rack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assist Steering ratio: 16.7:1 Turns lock-to-lock: 2.4 Turning circle curb-to-curb: 40.5 ft BRAKES Type: hydraulic with vacuum power assist and anti-lock control Front: 14.0 x 1.3-in vented disc Rear: 14.0 x 1.3-in vented disc WHEELS AND TIRES Wheel size: F: 10.0 x 18 in, R: 13.0 x 19 in Wheel type: forged aluminum Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport ZP; F: 275/35ZR-18 (87Y), R: 345/30ZR-19 (98Y) Test inflation pressures, F/R: 29/29 psi Spare: none C/D TEST RESULTS ACCELERATION: Seconds Zero to 30 mph: 1.6 40 mph: 2.2 50 mph: 2.9 60 mph: 4.0 70 mph: 5.0 80 mph: 6.0 90 mph: 7.8 100 mph: 9.3 110 mph: 10.8 120 mph: 13.2 130 mph: 15.4 140 mph: 17.7 150 mph: 20.5 Street start, 5-60 mph: 4.9 Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph*: — 50-70 mph: 9.7 Standing 1/4-mile: 12.5 sec @ 117 mph Top speed (drag limited, mfr's claim): 190 mph BRAKING 70-0 mph @ impending lockup: 159 ft HANDLING Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.98 g Understeer: minimal FUEL ECONOMY EPA city driving: 12 mpg EPA highway driving: 20 mpg C/D-observed: 14 mpg INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL Idle: 62 dBA Full-throttle acceleration: 88 dBA 70-mph cruising: 77 dBA *Test car would not accelerate from 30 mph in 6th gear.