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New Car Review: 2004 Dodge Viper SRT-10

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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MODEL: Dodge Viper SRT-10
ENGINE: 8.3-liter V10
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 500 hp @ rpm/525 lb-ft @ rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

From its inception, the Dodge Viper has been one of the more outrageous automobiles on the planet. After all, it has a huge 8.3-liter V10 engine. That's about double what most cars have in volume and 2.5 times the number of cylinders in the average car. That huge engine also delivers huge power - 500 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque.

Those numbers obviously deliver great performance. I didn't check, but Dodge claims 0-60 mph times of less than four seconds, 60-0 mph in less than 100 feet and, get this, 0-100-0 mph times of less than 13 seconds. It has a top speed in excess of 190 mph and can turn 1.5 g on the skid pad.

But the Viper is more than high speed and outrageous performance. While it's only a two-seater, the two passengers can enjoy a spirited ride, if hard, over any road, and know that if the driver makes the mistake of entering a corner or exit ramp at a speed above his or her abilities, the abilities of the car are better, and you'll survive. My wife was very upset with me several times when I "raced" through exit and entry ramps on Interstates, but those are really the only places you can enjoy the handling.

In fact, during the week I had the Viper, I don't believe I drove it as fast as I drive some other cars. First, it's very visible, and looks as if it's going twice the speed it really is. Second, why?

Like all sports cars, the Viper is designed for fun. The raucous exhaust note defines the Viper as something different, of course, as does the six-speed manual gearbox, hugging seats, and dramatic styling (revised in 2003 to a much more refined look than the 1992 original). But like all sports cars, you can have fun in the Viper at any speed.

I was particularly impressed with the redesign. The fenders are edgier, and there are louvers in the hood to allow engine heat to escape. The huge exhaust scoops in the front fenders remain, but they, too, are more refined. Where the original Viper was a tough looking vehicle, the redesign is more refined. It still isn't in the class of a Corvette, but the `Vette has been around through six generations.

The trunk is small, as in most sports cars. But still, it was larger than my old MGA. There's room for a roll-on and perhaps a briefcase, but scant more. Part of the trunk volume is taken up by storage for the convertible top. The top is still manually operated, and the trunk lid must be raised every time you raise or lower the top because the trunk lid holds the top in place.

With the top up, it's difficult to get into the Viper. With it down, of course, you can avoid the doors altogether and just jump into the seats. Even at my advanced age, I found that to be the preferred method of entry.

Once behind the wheel, you face a huge tachometer, smaller speedometer, and five accessory gauges, all in black-on-white. The steering wheel is adjustable and fits well in the driver's hands. The pedals, once canted off to the right, are now where they should be. Turn the key, push the "start" button, and the V10 comes to life, roaring out the dual exhausts. Shift into first, and you're off.

Shifting between gears is hard, but you can use only the odd-numbered gears, or only the even-numbered ones to cut down on the stress. There's enough torque in the engine that we generally used 2,3,5, and rarely used 6 except on long highway runs.

The Viper isn't a city car; it's designed for either long runs on a nice highway or back road, or hours on some twisty road that offers excellent scenery. The Big Sur Highway, when nobody else is around, would be perfect.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate