First drive: 2014 SRT Viper GTS in the UAE
Most arm-chair car enthusiasts who’ve never driven legendary American powerhouses such as the constantly-cloned Shelby Cobra or the overblown Vin Diesel-spec Dodge Charger have an idealised view of such cars and lament their demise. However, a car exists today that harks back to those brutal larger-than-life super-muscle cars. It’s built by Chrysler and it’s so out-of-sync with their usual offerings that they gave it a whole separate brand now — the SRT Viper. The Viper itself has a similarly-celebrated reputation, and we found out what it’s like on the streets of Dubai.
The original Dodge Viper RT/10 was launched in the early 90s, with the Viper GTS coupe showing up in 1996. It was murder to drive, with a V10 truck engine up front, a cramped low-visibility cabin, loose build quality and no safety aids whatsoever. We saw one just last weekend at the Emirates National Auto Museum, and didn’t feel like actually getting behind its wheel.
There was also a second iteration that ran until 2010, which was supposed to be the last Viper ever, before the Fiat-Chrysler merger revived the nameplate for this new generation. And it’s finally coming to the GCC with a warranty and everything.
Looking better than ever, it’s available here only in GTS form, as identified by its fewer bonnet vents, top-to-bottom leather upholstery, racing seats, black exterior details and generally nicer trim. Painted carbon-fibre bonnet, roof and boot-lid as well as aluminium door panels and dark forged-aluminium wheels are all standard. It’s a very modern car than ones that came before it. It’s got navigation, rear camera, LEDs, adaptive suspension and, oh, stability control, all for the first time ever.
If it wasn’t obvious already, the Viper is trying to be more civilised now. Kind of like Tarzan in a suit. You can clearly see that effort in the side-exiting exhaust tips, known to burn people’s legs in the past, but the new model has a plastic enclosure and all to protect you better. That wide door-sill is still warm to the touch though.
Slither your way into the cockpit and you’re met with Lamborghini-grade screens and Ferrari-grade leather, all a convincing facade to make a dinosaur fit in a digital world. It’s still a bit tight in there, with a double-bubble roof, a small windshield, a high centre-console and, hey hey, a ball-shaped 6-speed manual shifter accompanied by three metal pedals. The pedals are offset a little to the left, but it wasn’t a hindrance as much as the door panel hitting my left elbow. This car demands an arms-outstretched driving position, even with the fully-adjustable powered seat, tilt steering column and power-adjustable pedals.
Under that extra-extra long bonnet still beats a V10 — an 8.4-litre motor making 640 hp and 813 Nm of torque, with a 6200 rpm redline, in a car that weighs little more than a Camry. That’s plenty, as we found out later. And it’s loud. Very loud! It’s all about tradition here. We’re sure their engineers looked into newer drivetrain tech. But a Viper wouldn’t be a Viper if they decided to stick a turbocharged six under there. That’d be as blasphemous as BMW making M-badged turbo SUVs or Porsche making automatic GT3s. Oh wait…
But damn is it fast. We didn’t get the time or the space to measure a drag run, but Chrysler claims the GTS can do the 0-100 kph run in just over 3.5 seconds, and it sure feels like it. It’s almost as quick as the pricier McLaren 12C! The only difference is you have to do your own shifting, so there’s a lot more drama.
With Pirelli P Zero Corsas, 295/30 on 18-inch wheels up front and 355/30 on 19-inchers in the rear, there is no real threat of wheelspin on a low-rev launch. But pile on the revs as you get moving, and it can get a little squirrelly, especially on the 1-2 upshift, with the ESP invisibly working overtime, as evidenced by a blinking warning light. Remember that all this is happening while the engine growls its heart out, and you can imagine how overwhelming the entire experience is.
Grip is unbelievably high, which is a given considering the rear tyres are as thick as tree-trunks. We entered roundabouts and kept lightly accelerating in an attempt to make the rubbers squeal, but we never reached their limits. There’s no body roll to speak of, so we didn’t even try the “sport” suspension mode. Yes, it handles really well.
Everything is stiff. The thick steering wheel, the pedals, the clutch and even the shifter all require a bit of muscle to move. It wasn’t a bother on open roads, or even in minor traffic, but we imagine it’d get tedious very quickly in an inner-city traffic jam.
The shifter itself is a bit notchy, but all the controls offer precise outputs for your inputs. The clutch’s bite point is easy to judge, the pedals work linearly and the quick-ratio steering allows you to drive around a cockroach on the road with a flick of your wrists.
On a lazier note, there’s so much juice that you can drive in third gear all day, whether starting off from a signal or overtaking wannabe-racers on the highway, so you can skip the shifting bit altogether if you really want to.
Comfort isn’t a priority for a car like this, but even then, the firm ride is pretty bearable, and the noise never got annoying probably because we took several breaks during our drive-time. We took it very slow over the speed-bumps and, surprisingly, it never scraped them. You may still need to take care of the long bonnet in tighter spaces, but we were already used to owning cars with long noses.
So is the Viper scary? The fear of the unknown hits you when sitting in it for the first time and you don’t know what you’re doing. But as the hours progressed, we got a lot more comfortable with it. Once you figure out its dimensions and trust that well-tuned ESP is always there, there’s no reason to be scared of anything, aside from the 20 litres/100 km fuel consumption and potential door-dings on the optional uber-expensive “Stryker Red” paint. It doesn’t bite back if you drive it smoothly and sanely. Our sub-editor Marouf was eventually claiming it was as easy to drive as our Honda S2000.
Chrysler claims their now-easier-to-live-with Viper has no direct rivals, and we kind of agree. In a refined world of electronics-driven GT-Rs, 911s and Ferraris, it’s a responsive car that offers a unique visceral experience and can still be manhandled like those monster-cars from the glorified old days, where you have to do all the work and be rewarded for it. It forces you to become a better driver. But truly exploring its high limits requires a higher level of skill. Will the Vin Diesels of the world please stand up?
For UAE & GCC prices, check out the SRT Viper buyer guide.