The Dodge Viper is crude, rude, loud, unsophisticated, unsafe, inconvenient, impractical, ridiculous, and I have to say one of the most enjoyable vehicles I have ever driven. With today’s technological brand of super-car, it is not often that one gets to drive their own vehicle without the intervention of a computer. Where the only thing standing between you and the road is your foot, brain, and 600 horsepower, 560 lb-ft of torque.
While some like to criticize the Dodge Viper for its simplicity and lack of features that many other high performance vehicles in its class have, I prefer to celebrate that. The Viper has really not changed a lot since its early introduction in the nineties, other than a few extra liters of engine, a bit more horsepower, a couple additional safety warnings, and a slightly modernized body style.
The interior is still just as simple as it ever was, with only the very essentials, including sport seats, tilt steering, 300-watt stereo (optional navigation), 220 mph speedometer, accelerator/brake pedal (electronically adjustable for 2009), and a 6-speed manual shifter. It doesn’t feature traction control or side airbags, but thankfully it at least comes with a roof and side glass now.
The 2009 Dodge Viper may be impractical, but compared to the 90’s models void of windows, top, door handles, etc., it is now good for more than just a few circles around the neighborhood and then back into the garage. The Viper now comes as either a coupe or roadster complete with weather proofing, locking doors, and barring the necessity for a little extra mousse or sunscreen, you won’t find a heck of a lot of difference between the two.
The coupe has a little extra trunk space, more cold weather convenience, and a slightly more comfortable highway presence, while the roadster offers the open air experience of a lifetime. Both the coupe and roadster will prove far beyond the capabilities of most drivers, therefore one is really no better than the other beyond its basic aesthetics, weather resistance, and noise factor.
Whether you are driving a Viper for your first or four-hundred and fifth time, it will bring butterfly’s to your stomach. Perhaps that is just the sensation of your breakfast slapping against your backbone as you command full acceleration from the big V-10, but others say it is the fear factor that 600 horsepower brings. Many critics of the Viper, however, say that it is not as refined as it should be.
Perhaps by refined they are referring to the fact that driving a Viper in the inner city is like walking a Dalmatian through downtown Tokyo during an attack from Godzilla. There is just too much energy bunched up within its 8.4-liter and not enough opportunity to release it. The Viper does not respond particularly well to the daily grind of stop and go traffic, but neither will the driver for that matter.
After cruising the 2009 Viper SRT-10 down the Las Vegas Strip, which is as practical as slicing bread with a chainsaw, it was a pleasure to finally open her up along the twisty roads of the Nevada red rock mountains. This is where I was reminded that the Viper remains just as raw as it ever was. The Viper continues to be only as good as its worst driver, and is still one of the few super-cars in the world which cannot compensate for a bad driver
The Viper works off the age old equation that a gigantic engine plus enough rear wing force to keep its rear wheels on the ground, can propel a gutsy driver to speeds in excess of 200 mph (0-60 in 3.7 seconds). But just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. This car commands the same respect as a 1,000 cc sport bike. It may feel safe being behind a hood that is longer than the entire chassis of a Chrysler/Daimler Smart Car, but with a minimum of safety equipment beyond its massive 14-inch rotors, there’s little room for mistake.
I had planned on about a half day of road testing the 2009 Dodge Viper Roadster along the open Nevada dessert, but that quickly stretched through the morning and late afternoon. Despite the fact that I could have barbecued a rack of lamb on the exhaust flange, pork chops on the hood, and an egg in the passenger seat by mid-afternoon, the discomfort was not enough to dissuade me from the Viper’s eminent charm.
The Viper is everything it should be; quick, deadly, unpredictable, logs terrible gas mileage (12/22 mpg), and in the hands of the right person it can be one of the most enjoyable and potent sports-cars’ for under $100,000. It is fundamentally unchanged for 2009, beyond an extra notch hidden deep within its chassis, signifying yet another year it has bullied the Z06 Corvette out of first place. As Ferris Bueller once said, “Oh, and the car? It is so choice—If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”