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2013 SRT Viper First Drive Page 2

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Changes for the 2013 SRT Viper are multitudinous, but also minor, if taken individually. Each and every part of the engine has been massaged and enhanced, sharing almost nothing with the 2010 Viper's statistically identical engine. The sum of the changes, however, is an increase to 640 horsepower instead of 600 (and the engineers think it's underrated at 640), 600 pound-feet of torque, new engine control electronics that enable some shockingly advanced and capable traction control, and, mated to a new closer-ratio gearbox and 3.55 (instead of 3.07) rear-end ratio, truly impressive acceleration at almost any speed.

In fact, the Viper's top speed of 206 mph is now reached in sixth gear, not fifth. And yes, it's only available with a six-speed manual transmission.

That transmission is equipped with a new short-throw shifter that remedies much of the previous Viper's long, heavy throw issues, but which still isn't quite a delight, especially in track driving. Somewhat imprecise and not entirely intuitive, the shift lever's plane isn't perpendicular to the center tunnel, but inclined toward the driver, presumably for ergonomics. If trying to shift while still loaded on the exit of a corner, however, it can be difficult to find third gear at times.

That's not a problem unique to the Viper, however, and it hides a fact about the 2013 model that only those who've experienced the 2010 might realize: yes, you can be on the power while still laterally loaded coming out of a turn. In fact, you can be very hard on the power.

Part of that is due to the re-engineered rear suspension geometry, which relocates the toe links ahead of the spindle and adds some mild compliance (bushing) toe-in in place of the static toe-in and dynamic toe-out. It's also due, in part, to the bespoke tires offered on the Viper. For the track addicts, Pirelli's P Zero Corsa is the choice, providing massive grip, and, with 295/30/18 tires up front and 355/30/19 tires out back, just the right balance between cornering and power application. But part of it is due to the new traction control system.

2013 SRT Viper

2013 SRT Viper

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While we had feared the addition of traction control, now mandatory in the U.S., would vitiate the Viper's vituperative character, it has merely taken it to finishing school. The 2013 SRT Viper's traction control is, put simply, brilliant. In full-on mode (the only mode available besides full-off in non-GTS models), the Viper's traction control is ready for the track. It allows more wheel slip and yaw angle than you'd expect both on corner entry and exit, and when it does decide to step in, primarily when you're on the gas a touch too early, it does a remarkable job of not getting in the way, but enhancing what you're trying to do. This sort of traction control isn't unheard of, but it's certainly rare--and refreshing to find on the Viper.

In GTS models, which start from $120,395, there are two intermediary steps (Sport and Track), each progressively less intrusive until you reach the fully disabled mode, which relies solely on your inputs to control the car. That's a bit of a risky proposition even in the new and improved 2013 Viper, but it's far less visions-of-death inducing than it once was. But the real kicker here is you'll never likely need to turn the traction control fully off--it's just that good. In fact, the SRT team--many of them accomplished racers themselves--say they'd race the car in Track mode. We believe them.

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