Dodge Viper SRT10: otherworldly, in effect

  • by Mary Lowry
  • Tuesday, May 13, 2008 12:04pm

Even if Exxon were giving gas away, all law enforcement agents suddenly vaporized, and science discovered that vehicle emissions are actually good for the planet, the 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 is not a car any sensate person would want for a daily driver.

That’s because Viper is little more than a mass of horsepower and torque. Its creators took an abstract concept — power — and materialized it in the form of an automobile.

These madmen came up with a new 8.4-liter V10 that makes 600 horsepower, 560 lb-ft of torque, lots of noise, and the trip to 60 mph in less than four seconds. Not much thought was left over for such things as comfort, electronic technology or convenience features.

The Viper SRT10 is what every car on the road would be like if there were nothing but redneck men in the world.

But the Viper SRT10 isn’t really a car for the road, it’s a race car that happens to be street legal. And it stands out among similarly-defined cars because it weighs less than 3,500 pounds and costs less than $90,000.

Though engineers boosted horsepower by 90 over the previous engine, the ’08 Viper is more fuel efficient, and has an EPA rating of 13/22.

My tester was an SRT10 convertible (there’s also a hardtop), whose soft top is manually operated — with effort, of course — with Venom Red Metallic exterior paint and a black interior. I can’t believe I didn’t get arrested.

Standard equipment is generous, for a race car — air conditioning, front airbags, tilt steering wheel column, seven-speaker stereo system with CD player, power windows, keyless entry, power-adjustable pedals, rear window defroster, fog lamps and HID headlights.

Getting into (and out of) the low-slung Viper takes effort, too, but after I settled into the driver’s seat and became accustomed to the tight-fitting cabin, things were pretty good. An enormous amount of leg room helps dissipate any serious discomfort.

Storage space, including cupholders, is nonexistent.

Pushing the engine start button brings the car alive with a roar, and the Viper rumbles menacingly.

The manual transmission is the latest generation of the Tremec T56 six-speed, known as the TR6060, with shorter shift throws. The ’08 Viper SRT10’s new clutch reduces clutch-pedal effort over the previous version, but the reduction is relative — this is still a tough clutch pedal.

Shifting, however, is smooth and easy, and you’re up to Washington’s highest legal speed limit before you’ve even begun to strain second gear. It’s important to know before taking off that there’s a skip-shift feature, which bypasses second and third gear during low-speed launches, moving the lever from first gear directly into fourth. The feature helps improve fuel economy.

When it’s time to slow down, count on the huge Brembo brakes that bring Viper to a stop from 60 mph in less than 100 feet. An anti-lock system is standard.

The restyled hood has a more efficient air scoop, and functional hood louvers for better engine cooling.

And is the engine ever hot.

When stopped at traffic lights I could see the heat rising from the engine compartment, making ripples in the air and creating a mirage in the road ahead.

It’s an otherworldly effect, much like the Viper itself.

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