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 ofRACER 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.