- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2008

The Chrysler Corporation first unleashed the Dodge Viper on the world in 1992, drawing rave reviews from the press and the public. Initially, it was a limited production two-seat roadster, which skeptics speculated that nobody in their right mind would buy since it had no realistic top and no roll-up windows.

So much for the skeptics and their prophecy. There was, and very definitely remains, a strong, if limited, market for fast paced, high profile super cars with practicality or basic functionality never entering the equation for their existence.

To the non-owner/observer, a host of questions arose about that first Viper whenever one could be found at a standstill. The questions most often asked included: “How fast does it go?”; “Who makes it?”; “How much is the insurance?”; “How many tickets have you gotten?”; “What is it made out of?”; and “What kind of gas mileage does it get?”.

The answers given in order: More than fast enough — 0-60 mph in under 4 seconds; a special Dodge team — Street and Racing Technology (SRT); I failed to check on the insurance question — but if you have to ask … none so far (knock on wood); the Viper is a composite bodied car with a tubular steel frame, powered by an all-aluminum V-10 engine; and the gas mileage has diminished from earlier models with the increase in power, but 20 mpg on the highway in sixth gear was possible with a lighter foot on the accelerator.

The Viper was completely redesigned in 2003, with an all-new two-seat convertible introduced with power coming from an 8.3 liter, 500 horsepower V-10. Visually, the Viper has always, and still falls into the exotic class, but it seems to become more attractive and sophisticated with each new iteration. The contours are dynamic and stance openly aggressive, giving the instant impression that it is not a car to be taken lightly where performance is concerned.

The Targa-type roof is no more, with a more conventional, manual soft top having replaced it. The front end no longer folds forward to reveal the power plant, replaced by a rear hinged contemporary hood with two release latches and a gas-assist strut. The headlamps take on a new look with jewel-like, projector-beam units, and the side cove now somewhat resembles that of a Corvette from a distance.

The lake-style side exhaust pipes are enclosed, with the exhaust exiting ahead of the rear wheel well, and the car now rides on 18-inch wheels and tires up front and 19-inchers aft (18x10-inches and 19x13-inches respectively).

The Viper’s cockpit remains suggestive of serious business, but has undergone both a practical and more attractive restyling. The bucket seats are both comfortable and supportive with adjustable lumbar supports, which tends to balance the heavy feel of the car and its very firm ride resulting in a somewhat comfortable, but definitely, exhilarating driving experience.

The latest test Viper Coupe was finished in Snakeskin Green metallic (one of five new exterior colors), sporting twin Black rally stripes from nose to tail. The interior was done in Black as well, with gray, sued-like seating inserts. The base sticker was fixed at $83,895. The final tally rose to $90,745 after tacking on for: the special paint; Customer Preferred Package, which included the Rally stripe application; the polished, forged aluminum wheels; Gas Guzzler Tax; and Destination Charge.

The Dodge Viper SRT/10 Coupe (a Convertible is also still available) remains a nostalgic throw-back to the super cars of yesteryear with incredibly awesome horsepower and torque delivery to the rear wheels while at the same time offering a wealth of technological innovation.

It is still both exciting and perhaps even a little scary to drive for those equipped with only ordinary, everyday driving skills.

It might not even be a bad idea for prospective buyers with modest levels of common sense or fear to be required to obtain advanced performance driving certification prior to purchase for their own protection and self preservation.

Convenience features now include: adjustable pedals; a tilt wheel; and ABS brakes. A not-so-convenient addition (in fact, it’s really quite annoying), is the electronic first-to-fourth gear skip shift feature. The manual soft top is easier to lower and raise than the old Targa top operation was in the convertible, but it still poses its own level of inconvenience.

The Viper offers a lot of bang for your buck, and if it’s attention that you seek, the Viper assures plenty of it.

New exterior features for 2008 include: a dramatic new hood with a larger, more efficient hood scoop and functional hood louvers; five new exterior colors: Venom Red, Snakeskin Green, Viper Violet, Viper Orange and Bright Blue. Moving to the inside, there are now four new interior color combinations: black/red, black/blue, black/medium slate and black/natural tan; a choice of bezel finishes; new advanced multi-stage driver and passenger air bags with Occupant Classification System (OCS). In terms of powertrain enhancements, there’s the new 8.4-liter Viper SRT10 V-10 engine, now delivering 600 horsepower and 560 pounds-feet of torque.

The Dodge SRT10 Viper is easier and more comfortable to drive as well as easier to enter and exit due to increased fore and aft seat travel (still somewhat of a chore though for taller individuals due to its low stance), the addition of a tilt steering wheel and the incorporation of a unique adjustable pedal system that enables the driver to move the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals up to four inches by simply rotating a knob located under the steering column. Headroom is ample once inside thanks to the twin-bubble roof line.

The Viper seems faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and with a properly constructed ramp, it may well even be capable of leaping over tall buildings.

For enhanced safety, there’s ABS anti-lock braking and driver and passenger airbags. Power steering assists with guiding the massive front tires in the desired direction with a modicum of effort. Louvers in the hood above each front wheel allow air to escape, preventing pressure build-up and negating high-speed lift.

Acceleration is blistering, nailing one to the seat back. Steering response and handling are both quick and precise.

What is driving a Viper like? It’s pretty special. It means of course having to pilot an awesome, powerful, exotic, two-seat racer that tends to make one feel incredibly right with the world. It means also that it is impossible to maintain a low profile and it means being the envy of every youngster who has even the remotest interest in high-speed transportation — the age of the youngster is inconsequential by the way — the range can be anywhere from 8 to 80, give or take a couple of years in either direction. Gender doesn’t make a difference either — males and females appear to be equally enthralled with the Viper mystique.

The tunnel accommodating the legs and feet for the driver is small and tapered to the left with pedal controls located off-center. The brake is where the clutch would normally be, and while this takes a little getting used to at first, it is not at all uncomfortable.

The Viper continues as a one-of-a-kind, kick butt, no-holds-barred, pure high-performance sports car. In the final analysis, I’m not sure whether I was the snake charmer or charmed by the snake - more likely the latter.

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