- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

There is probably a little of the boy racer in all of us, but your level of enthusiasm regarding the Dodge Viper ACR will be directly proportional to the amount of boy racer in your soul. You see, this isn't a vehicle that is going to make the average commuter warm and fuzzy inside.

Sure, the Viper is one of those wish-list cars that nearly anyone with an ounce of automotive passion in his heart has wanted to drive at some point or another. However, once the average Joe (or Jolene) has driven it around the block a couple of times, and the initial thrill has been replaced by the realization that he is probably never going to get beyond third gear during the daily commute to work; he will go running and screaming back to his Toyota Camry or Chrysler Sebring.

The $90,000 price tag notwithstanding, the number of Viper ACR owners is going to be limited by its lack of practicality. Only a fanatical few are going to be satisfied with the Viper as their primary driver.

This number will shrink even more where the limited-edition Viper ACR is concerned.

The showoff quotient is high to be sure. It's a fun car in which to be seen. But, unless you have access to an abandoned airport runway, test track or stretch of paved road with little police presence, you are never going to fully enjoy the driving dynamics of the Viper ACR.

Let's face it, with this car you have plunked down nearly 100 large for the thrill of reaching 60 mph in something near four seconds. Its top speed is about 190 mph.

Where might you actually take advantage of these capabilities?

In my weeklong test drive, I put the first 25 miles on the Viper ACR without ever getting above third gear. It is frustrating to say the least.

Where the 8-liter V-10 in the regular Viper makes 450 horsepower and a whopping 490 foot-pounds of peak torque, the ACR (American Club Racer) model's V-10 has been tweaked to produce an additional 10 horsepower and 10 foot-pounds of torque. Simply cranking the ignition sends a chill up your spine.

The exhaust generates a deep, rich timbre. Just sitting at idle can produce a grin.

Sliding the six-speed manual shifter into first gear and letting out the clutch the first time is something akin to euphoric. The clutch, while somewhat stiff, doesn't require being pushed to the floor to disengage. In fact, once the driver has made this realization, driving the Viper becomes somewhat less labor intensive.

Also, if you are willing to run fuel through the V-10 like water through a sieve by keeping the rpms on the high end, you can probably do whatever you need to do on the average commute without ever going beyond second gear.

However, under ideal test conditions, the Environmental Protection Agency has rated the Viper ACR's fuel consumption at 11 mpg in the city and 21 on the highway.

With the required premium fuel approaching $1.90 a gallon, it is prudent to keep the revs below 3,500.

In addition to the extra power, the Viper ACR has an even firmer suspension than the regular Viper.

The ride quality is similar to that of a go-cart. What is lost in ride comfort, though, is gained in cornering and overall handling.

Stiffer than your Aunt Zelda's joints, the suspension transfers every blip and bump in the pavement into the passenger compartment. However, the somewhat jarring ride is quickly forgotten when diving into a corner.

Steering response is immediate and the Viper ACR sails through corners with an uncommon tenacity.

It's sticky 18-inch Z-rated tires grab the asphalt like eagle talons.

The normal Viper GTS coupe has a manufacturer's suggested price of $72,225. Opting for the ACR package automatically tacks another $10,000 to the bottom line. Adding the ACR package eliminates the audio system and air conditioning. Unless you are going to actually compete on the track, you will probably want to add those items back in. Dodge has conveniently priced them together in one package for $1,100.

Besides the engine and suspension enhancements and replacing the 17-inch wheels with 18-inch ones, the ACR package includes five-point seat belts, low-restriction air cleaner, and ACR badging inside and out.

In its quest to jettison weight from the ACR, Dodge prudently decided to retain the regular three-point shoulder belt.

Are you really going to need a five-point rig for your run to the grocery store? Of course, you still have all the five-point rigging poking you in the back, but it can be shoved out of the way.

The Viper cockpit requires climbing down into and up out of. If you can whistle the theme to the "Andy Griffith Show" getting in and out of the Viper will more than likely be a chore and a half.

Once situated, however, the seats snug you in and hold you upright during the most severe maneuvers.

The ACR has a 200 mph speed-ometer that is positioned in a pod with the tachometer directly in front of the driver. The other critical gauges are spread across the top center of the dashboard.

Large, easy-to-use knobs control the ventilation system, but the audio controls are tiny and require diverting attention from the road to operate.

Taller drivers may have some trouble fitting behind the Viper's steering wheel, although a 6-foot, 3-inch buddy managed to drive it without complaint.

The pedals are a bit off-center with the accelerator positioned farther forward than normal.

The trunk will hold a couple of small suitcases but has no cargo cover, so whatever is stored there is exposed to prying eyes and the sun.

In addition to the ACR package and audio/air conditioning package, my test Viper had the $3,000 race-stripe package, $3,000 gas-guzzler tax and the $775 delivery charge.

The total as tested came to $90,100.

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