With Viper, you pay the cost to be the boss

Posted: March 09, 2014

I pulled the ticket-me red Viper into a parking space near the supermarket entrance, and silenced the massive V10's side exhausts. As my wife and I got out, a thirtysomething woman and her barely teenage male passenger pulled up behind us in a black Ford Taurus.

"Your car is just awesome," she said through a broad smile. "I've been following you up the road and in here just so my son and I could look at it. Must be fun."

"He only has it for a week," explained my wife, who probably wishes a week had five days, given her aversion to my boy racer proclivities in sports cars with lots of horsepower - 640 in this case.

The woman's expression suggested an unspoken question: Why just a week?

"He writes about cars," my wife said.

The woman said goodbye and headed for the parking lot exit. Later, as we drove slowly past the store entrance on our way home, people pushing shopping carts stopped to stare. Three men in the parking lot gave it long, longing looks before getting on their Harleys.

The 2014 Viper GTS Coupe they were gawking at was not your father's Dodge. When this fifth-generation Viper debuted as a 2013 model, it lost its Dodge label and was re-branded the SRT Viper, SRT being the Chrysler team that contents itself largely with creating higher-performing variations on some of the company's mainstream vehicles. It is Chrysler's version of Mercedes-Benz's AMG division, and the defunct Special Vehicles Team (SVT) at Ford.

But while it may have left Dodge to throw Darts and Challengers at its customers, some things remain the same. It is still a wonderfully wild, brash, outrageous machine that attracts incredible attention - and extracts incredible performance from a huge engine (8.4 liters) whose architecture isn't much younger than the Gutenberg printing press (pushrods actuate two valves per cylinder).

"So how fast is it?" asked the fellow customer in the liquor store, staring out the window at the Viper, which somehow seemed more poised than parked.

"It will get from a standing start to 60 in about 3.4 seconds, which is less than half of what it would take your average family sedan," I said. "The car tops out at 206 m.p.h."

"So, when you're driving it around town, do you ever get out of low gear?" asked the fellow booze patron.

"I do, and it's fun to take it through its six gears. It shifts nicely for a manual gearbox with that kind of mass."

Given its engine performance and remarkable handling and braking, the Viper is obviously selling steak. But if you look into the faces of those folks outside the supermarket, it is selling sizzle, too. It is a show-stopper, a big-voiced star of the automotive stage. And given its disappointing sales, it is a rather exclusive head-turner.

That exclusivity, of course, derives in part from the Viper's window sticker. The car starts at $99,885 in base form. The more luxurious, mechanically tweaked GTS model I drove opened at $122,385. But once you tacked on such options as $1,100 worth of Venom-Hyper Wheels, a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax, and a $1,995 shipping charge, the sticker finished up at $129,630.

As the gas-guzzler tax might suggest, the Viper's fuel economy is not going to encourage wet kisses from the Sierra Club. Indeed, EPA ratings of 12 city and 19 highway are about as P.C. as calling your wife "the little woman."

Ah, well, everything in life is a trade-off. If you want the visual and dynamic excitement of owning a Viper, you gotta ante up.


2014 SRT Viper GTS Coupe

Base price: $122,385.

As tested: $129,630.

Standard equipment: 8.4-liter engine, six-speed manual gearbox, rear-drive, and a generous amenity menu that featured leather on everything from the seats and the dash to the steering wheel, console and hand brake.

Fuel economy: 12 city and 19 highway.

Engine performance: Direct from the University of Mars.

Handling: Excellent, more forgiving.

Styling: Freeze-frames onlookers.

Ride quality: Surprisingly civil.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.


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