Viper GTS: Supercar for all seasons

Viper GTS: Supercar for all seasons

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Viper GTS: Supercar for all seasons

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A couple weeks ago, Team SRT racer Jonathan Bomarito agreed to test a Viper GTS for us on the streets of Long Beach, for a story in the next issue of RACER magazine and a video soon to be found here on RACER.com and YouTube on The RACER Channel. Making these arrangements inevitably meant a degree of flexibility was required in scheduling photographer/driver/car/city permit, which meant for a couple of days I had the keys to one of America’s iconic sports cars. (Poor me; yeah, I know.)

Subtle in color though the silver beast was, I’m not sure I could have attracted more attention if I’d appeared on the evening news with evidence resolving the Amelia Earhart mystery. At one point in my tenure, the Viper triggered an informal Q&A session with a few guys, one of whom (complimentary expletives deleted), said: ?Man, the Viper used to be a mean-looking car, but this one’s a beauty?but badass, too, y’know??

Yeah, I know. Compiling questions from various interested parties over the days that followed, I realized they’d pretty much covered the whole range of Viper talking points, so having delved into the spec sheets and also rearranged my brain cells after a couple of standing starts worthy of Matt Hagan’s Funny Car, here’s what I should have said.

Q: When did this Viper come out?

A: Gen. 5 model was first shown in 2010, but went into production in 2012.

Q: What’s it got under the hood?

A: It’s still a V10, like every Viper right back to the first one in 1992, but it’s now 8.4-liter?

Q: Eight-point-four? You’re kidding! What’s that putting out ” 500 horsepower?

A: Umm, keep going. It’s actually 640 horsepower and 600lb-ft torque.

Q: No way! What’s it weigh?

A: With me on board, about 3,500lbs, so yeah, that’s a pretty good power-to-weight ratio.

Q: So have you taken it to the strip yet?

A: No, I’m looking after it for a friend. But looking at Car and Driver magazine, it does 0-60 in about 3.2sec, and the quarter-mile in 11.5sec.

Q: What’s it top out at?

A: Official SRT figure is 206mph, and I’m not surprised. It feels like it could pull forever. It’s kind of insane that way.

Q: Gas mileage?

A: You had to ask that, huh? I don’t know, but like any car, it’s pretty dependent on how you drive it and where you drive it. It’s got a 16-gallon tank, so that should give the KC-10 pilot long enough to find me.

Q: Can it go around corners?

A: You bet. But don’t ask me what its handling’s like because I haven’t a clue. On the road, I couldn’t get either end to seriously break away while cornering; just a bit of understeer if you really harshly crank on more steering input mid-corner. But anyone who does that shouldn’t be driving anything. Those Pirellis have got so much grip and are so wide that I’m told the Viper has the biggest contact patch of any production car sold here. So what I’m saying is that unless you’re going to ignore the law in a major way, you’re not going to reach the limit of grip on most dry surfaces: this car will just go wherever you point it. Freeway on-ramps and exit ramps are fun though?

Q: Has it got ABS yet?

A: Yeah, Vipers have had that for 12 years. Regulations have given it stability control too, and traction control. Ralph Gilles [SRT CEO] always said he wanted this Viper to be more usable for everyman. Our man Jonathan Bomarito put it best: ?Ralph wanted this car to be scary-fast but not scary.?

Q: So how is it?

A: Astonishing: I can’t get over how easy it is to treat it like just another car. It’s only when people start staring and pointing or getting the hell out of your way if they see you in their mirrors that you remember that a Viper is intimidating-looking. It’s really unintimidating to drive ” although I haven’t driven it in the wet. The traction control is irrelevant in the dry because of all the grip, but when I tried a few standing starts, it did allow some wheel slip which is good. I hate traction control that dumbs and numbs a car’s natural behavior.Q: You’re pretty tall. Is there enough room for you in there?

A: Remarkably, yes. Getting in tidily takes a bit of practice ” a Viper is only 49.1in. tall ” and extricating myself requires the sort of body movements you’d expect from a seal attempting to climb the Spanish Steps, but while in the cockpit, there’s loads of room, even when the seat back is up against the rear bulkhead. The ?double-bubble? roofline helps headroom. The pedal box can slide back and forth according to size/taste, the steering-wheel adjusts for rake and the gearshift falls naturally to hand. The windshield is shallow so a couple of times I had to scrunch down to see when overhead stoplights turned to green, but actually you get used to the view out really quickly. Made me think of being in a racecar, what it would be like to race a Viper at Daytona or Le Mans?

Q: Talking of racecars, I thought it would look kinda bare in there, but it looks pretty comfortable and it’s got some toys.

A: Yeah, but it’s surprising how often you don’t want to use them! For the record, this is the GTS model so it’s got some extra luxuries like leather upholstery, extra-nice door inserts,  Harman Kardon audio, more sophisticated sat-nav, and so on. But there’s a ton of options that can be added to the ?base? model, too. With the Track Package ” which can be added to either model ” you get the Pirelli Corsas, two-piece brake rotors, lightweight wheels and so on. It’s good old-school American hot rod ” you can spec it every which way you want it.
For me, the most important part is the adjustable Bilstein DampTronic shocks, so you can take the GTS on track, stiffen it up and go for it, then drive home with the dial turned to ?street? mode.

Q: Does it work?

A: Like you wouldn’t believe. I’m not going to throw any rival manufacturers under the bus, but I think several of them need to pay attention to what SRT has done here in making this car stiff yet livable with. It’s not only the comfort that improves from the relatively supple suspension; it’s the confidence it induces in the driver. There are some super-quick cars that are too demanding too much of the time, ones that make you feel like an inexperienced jockey barely holding onto a horse. Cruising down a none-too-smooth freeway in the Viper, I suddenly noticed I was holding the wheel at the 5:35 position, making just tiny adjustments. Rough surfaces or grooved lanes caused by overfilled semis on overheated pavement don’t send the car tram-lining of its own accord or delivering kickback through the steering. When you consider the width of the wheels, that’s a remarkable achievement, in my opinion.

Q: Doesn’t stick shift piss you off after a while?

A: No, not when it’s as good as this. The gearbox is very easy to use, very positive, and the engine’s tractability at low revs is really amplified by the long travel of the gas pedal: you never find yourself applying more juice than you planned. I always cringe when I hear inexperienced or clumsy drivers in manual cars slipping the clutch in order not to stall, but I sympathize with them, because on some cars it can be a tricky balancing act. On the Viper, the relationship between clutch, throttle and gearshift is slick and natural.

Q: Sounds like this Ralph dude achieved his ambition of making the Viper more usable by more people.

A: Yeah. I mean, it still requires a certain amount of commitment and acceptance of what it is. Sure, it’s got enough room in the trunk for two small roller bags, the sort you’d use as carry-on luggage on a plane trip, but you wouldn’t use a Viper when you’re doing your Thanksgiving shopping at Target or to collecting building materials from Lowe’s. What else? Well, there are times when you slither it diagonally over speed humps so as not to scrape the front splitter. Oh, and it’s wide, too. As the driver, you quickly get used to that, but I’m not sure you’d ever quit worrying about what careless people might do to it in a cramped parking lot.

But if you’re spending $100k on a sports car, you’re committed. The point about the Viper, particularly in GTS form, is that if it was your only car, it wouldn’t annoy you with compromises, and wouldn’t demand too much of you on the nights when you’re heading home, too tired to tear pavement, when you want to use it like you’d use a Corolla ” a means of getting from point A to point B. The SRT Viper GTS is the supercar for all seasons.

 

 

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