For 60 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has held the title of “America’s Sports Car”, but it’s not America’s only sports car.
Since it first slithered onto showroom floors in 1992, the Street and Racing Technology (SRT) Viper, former under the Dodge moniker, has won fans and terrified unprepared drivers with its own unique brand of American performance.
While they’ve typically been separated by significant price and performance gaps, although the previous-generation Corvette Z06 and ZR1 essentially closed those gaps), the ‘Vette and the Viper have a lot in common. They both emphasize raw power and performance over finesse and luxury, which is why they’re both often viewed as unrefined compared to European rivals.
Now, there are new versions of both of these cars. Both General Motors and Chrysler’s SRT claim that each has the sophistication to take on the best from the Europe, but without losing any of the American brutality.
Which sports car truly deserves to represent America? Read on to find out.
The designers or the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray and SRT Viper had plenty of baggage; each car has its own iconic styling cues that would be hard to ignore without infuriating fans and detracting from the car’s character. Each carmaker dealt with this issue in its own way.
SRT played things relatively safe. The current Viper looks different from the previous version, but that’s mostly because of its snazzy LED-ringed headlights, and because the car’s two-year (2011-2013) hiatus gave people plenty of time to forget the old one.
Still, there wasn’t much that needed changing. The extremely long hood and short rear deck are just as alluring as ever, as are that gaping mouth of a grille and the many air scoops. And don’t forget those ankle-frying side exhaust outlets. Where many cars try to look aggressive, the Viper actually is.
However, while SRT was in preservation mode, Chevrolet was in innovation mode. The seventh-generation Corvette’s styling has drawn a lot of controversy, but the Bow Tie Brigade deserves a lot of credit for trying something different.
Except for its general proportions, the Stingray shares very little with previous Corvettes, yet it is instantly recognizable as one. The car looks energetic and lithe even sitting still, in stark contrast to the less-sharp flanks of the previous, C6 Corvette.
Both cars are gorgeous but, for daring to be different and representing a greater improvement over its predecessor, the Corvette wins this round.
Interior design, comfort, amenities
The Corvette and Viper are steeped in nostalgia, but no one wants to remember the interiors of the old models. Like most American cars of the past 20 years, they were known for being bad enough to embarrass a rental car.
For the Viper’s 2013 relaunch SRT added a little flash to the interior with a TFT gauge cluster taken straight out of the Dodge Dart. Don’t laugh: It’s about as advanced as anything in the Chrysler inventory, although the “Stryker” logo graphic that appears in the middle of the display is a bit much.
A second major addition was a pair of race seats from Sabelt, which also supplies seats to Chrysler’s distant corporate cousin, Ferrari. There’s also an 8.4-inch center stack screen, and copious leather in the upscale GTS model.
For the Stingray, Chevy added an 8-inch digital gauge cluster, and an 8-inch infotainment screen to match. The two displays form the basis for driver- and passenger-centric areas of the cabin, which allude to the twin-cockpit design of the original 1963 Corvette Sting Ray.
The Corvette also gets upgraded seats from Lear, the same supplier used for the C6 (and currently used by Porsche), and optional carbon fiber trim.
Both cars feature versions of their respective makers’ infotainment systems: MyLink for the Corvette, and UConnect for the Viper. But that’s not really why you buy a sports car, right?
There’s one more important feature that both cars share: a grab handle for scared passengers.
Each car’s interior is vastly improved over the previous versions, and in essentially the same way. This round is a draw.
This is all about American muscle. That means more displacement, more power, and not a single turbocharger in sight.
The Viper packs an all-aluminum 8.4-liter V10 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque – the most torque of any naturally-aspirated production engine, SRT says. That torque monster is mated to a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission.
The Corvette sports the latest version of Chevy’s small-block V8, known as the LT1. Displacing 6.2 liters, it produces 455 hp and 460 lb-ft, or 460 hp and 465 lb-ft with the optional performance exhaust system. It features new-fangled tech like direct injection and cylinder deactivation, which allows the V8 to run as a 3.1-liter four-cylinder under light loads.
The ‘Vette comes with either a seven-speed manual transmission with a clever Active Rev Matching system that blips the throttle for smoother shifts, or a six-speed automatic.
Anyone buying a sports car with more than twice the displacement of a four-cylinder family sedan probably isn’t that interested in fuel economy but, for the record, The Viper gets 15 mpg combined (12 mpg city, 19 mpg highway); the ‘Vette gets 21 mpg combined (17 mpg city, 29 mpg highway) with the manual, and 1 mpg less in each category with the automatic.
This round is a real battle between the subjective and the objective. The sheer brutality of the Viper V10 is hard to deny, and no Mopar fan would ever say that a Chevy engine is better. Still, the Corvette does a lot with (a little) less displacement, so it gets the nod.
Looking at the specs, you might think the 460 hp, V8 Corvette is a bit outgunned by the 640 hp , V10 Viper. You’d be right.
SRT says the Viper will do 0-60 mph in the “low 3-second range,” complete the quarter mile in around 11 seconds, and reach a top speed of 206 mph.
The Stingray will do 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds and run the quarter mile in 12 seconds (Chevy doesn’t quote an official top speed for the ‘Vette, but it’s likely below the 200-mph mark). It should be noted that these numbers are for a Corvette with the optional Z51 performance package.
The Viper will stop from 60 mph in 106 feet, while the ‘Vette requires an extra foot to erase all of its momentum.
So while the Corvette puts up a spirited performance, the Viper wins this round.
Future pairings may have different outcomes, though. SRT has already upped the ante with the track-focused Viper TA, and you can expect successors to the old Corvette Z06 and ZR1 performance models as well.
Both the Corvette and the Viper are often viewed as sports car “bargains,” because they offer performance that rivals traditional benchmarks like the Porsche 911 and various Ferraris without crossing the $100,000 line.
However, one of these cars is more of a bargain than the other.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe starts at $51,995 ($56,995 for the convertible). A fully-loaded ‘Vette costs $73,360.
The 2014 SRT Viper starts at $102,485; the TA starts at $118,485, and the fancier GTS model starts at $124,985.
While the Viper is faster, and has more an air of exclusivity, Corvette aren’t sacrificing too much considering how much less expensive the Chevy is. For that reason, the Corvette wins the price war.
Coolness isn’t a problem here.
Even if the names weren’t wrapped up in a flurry of brand loyalty, iconography, and patriotism, it’s hard to argue with the appeal of a powerful, rear-wheel drive sports car.
Each car has a string of racing victories for owners to brag about, although the Corvette’s 60 years in showrooms definitely give it the advantage in the history department. Plus, no one’s ever written a song called “Little Red Viper.”
Still, the two cars are more than their pasts; each has its own character. The Corvette is known for being a familiar set piece in American pop culture and – in the spirit of democracy – for being accessible to people with a wide variety of talent levels and bank accounts.
The Viper is anything but snobbish, but it’s also not for everyone. The more recent generations are tamer, but this is still a car with a nasty reputation for striking back at drivers who make mistakes. It’s price also makes it much rarer than a Corvette.
“Cool factor” doesn’t involve practicality, so the Viper’s bad attitude wins this contest, even if the car might be hard to live with. You’re also less likely to see another one at the stoplight.