Viper roars back to life in New York

2013 SRT Viper sideViper fans can rejoice, their beloved snake is back. Piloted by SRT division chief Ralph Gilles, the 2013 SRT Viper took the stage at the New York Auto Show after a two year hiatus. Anyone familiar with the old Viper will instantly recognize this new model, but Chrysler’s Street and Racing Technology group has gone to great lengths to update and refine it.

For car fans and car executives alike, the Viper is an important symbol of Chrysler’s recovery from near-ruin. “It shows that we still have a soul,” Gilles said. It also shows that Chrysler can engineer truly great cars, particularly ones that go fast and make noise. That’s why the formerly Dodge Viper is now the SRT Viper; it will serve as a flagship for other SRT models, such as the Dodge Charger SRT8.

The styling is completely different, but still recognizable as a Viper. The extremely long hood and short rear deck remain, as does the gaping grille (minus Dodge crosshairs) from the 2003-2010 model. The 2013 Viper also retains side exhausts, which can double as a griddle. Exposed bits of carbon fiber in the side vents and rear deck add a sporty edge. The styling is already familiar to diehard car buffs, because a photo of a Hot Wheels Viper was leak over a month ago. To get itself in on the joke, SRT handed out the miniature Vipers at the reveal, something we thought might happen.

2013 SRT Viper rear three-quarterUnder that gorgeous skin is a bespoke chassis design, with added attention to strength and lightness. An x-brace makes the new car 50 percent stiffer than the old one. Superformed aluminum and carbon fiber make it light. As a result, the 2013 Viper is 32 percent lighter than the last one, tipping the scales at 3,297 pounds with the optional track pack.

A V10 engine is a Viper trademark; the one in this car displaces 6.4 liters and produces more power than before. Specifically, it makes 640 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque. Chrysler says the Viper has more torque than any other naturally aspirated car, and it’s probably enough to cause gravitational anomalies. It also means this new Viper has a higher power-to-weight ratio than a Lamborghini Aventador.

Clearly, the SRT Viper has enough muscle to honor the Viper name. However, Chrysler wanted to improve the car, by making it easier to live with. While Gilles was quick to point out that the Viper was designed and built in Detroit, Chrysler did go to corporate sibling Ferrari for some interior design help. The seats come from the supplier as Ferrari, and they’re a welcome addition. The old Viper may have been competing with Ferrari and Porsche, but it had the interior of a Dodge.SRT Viper interior

The old car was also known for being a widowmaker, which explains Chrysler’s most controversial change. The 2013 Viper comes with a host of electronic driver aids, including launch control, traction control, and stability control. Since stability control became mandatory on new cars, Viper purists have feared that electronic interference would take the venom out of their favorite snake. Luckily, all of those systems can be turned off.

The new car comes with other features that might bewilder past Viper owners. The GTS model comes with adjustable suspension, just like an Aston Martin. A touch screen with Chrysler’s UConnect sits in front of the six-speed manual transmission’s shifter. That seems downright luxurious compared to the original 1992 Viper, which didn’t even have a trunk.

Is the Viper getting soft? It’s hard to see why someone would need an infotainment system in a 640 hp supercar, but it’s hard to argue with a car that has more power and less weight. Maybe the better word is “smarter.” SRT surprised the press by unveiling a racing version of the Viper, which will contest the American LeMans Series next year. That’s a good sign.