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2008 Dodge Viper SRT10
Dodge rolls out the same Viper, only more of it
ON SALE: September
BASE PRICE: $83,995
DRIVETRAIN: 8.4-liter, 600-hp, 560 lb-ft V10; rwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3450 lb
0 TO 60 MPH: 3.9 sec (mfr)


Hurtling up the hill toward a roller-coaster complex, details from an earlier recon run start to blur. Take turn seven deep, turn in late, carry speed through turns eight and nine. Got it. Then brake slightly for 10, and quickly get back on the throttle through 11 and 12 up the hill. So far, so good. But the sharp right-hander at the top is blind from below its crest and calls for setting up properly long before reaching the turn-in. By the time the car rounds the corner and faces the steep downhill exit, it’s off-line and going way too fast.

Don’t lift, don’t lift . . .

Sometimes the right foot has a mind of its own. It lifts.

The rear end starts to swing wide left. Quick hands, to the left, back right, then left again, chasing the tail as it yaws this way and that across the asphalt, horrific visions filling the mind, of black flags, a humiliating walk through the pits, every eye fixed on the bonehead who threw grass and gravel across the track and left the rest with one fewer car to drive, a sit-down with the editor, a tarnished reputation. Weirdly, ambulances and emergency rooms don’t even figure, just a banged-up ego.

It feels like an eternity, but in just three or four corrections, the car straightens out, without spinning off-track or even dropping a wheel, and in time to make the left-hand corner at the bottom.

The only reminders of the slithery ride downhill are a pair of taxed adrenal glands and knees that won’t stop quaking—and no one has to be the wiser, including the editor. Exhale.

Yup, it’s a Dodge Viper, all right, a car that’ll bite you in the butt in a blink if not handled with more respect than you reserve for your own mama.

In more ways than not, it’s the same Viper that’s been rolling out of Dodge’s Connor Road assembly plant in Detroit since the big redesign for 2003, only more so. The engine gets a few significant modifications, including redesigned camshafts, a slight bump up in compression and a bit more displacement. The hood has been changed for better aerodynamics, while the only major revision to the suspension involves new tires and the requisite adjustments to shocks and springs necessary to accommodate them.

Still, it only took those few modifications. The car now boasts a true 200-mph top speed.

Pushing the car to that speed is a V10 now displacing 8.4 liters, up from 8.3, each cylinder seeing a one-millimeter increase in bore diameter. The bigger engine now sucks air through CNC-shaped ports and combustion chambers, uses larger valves with hollow stems and features a cam-in-cam variable valve-timing system, whereby the cam lobes adjust relative to each other as they turn on concentric shafts. Combine all that with a revised air box, a 10.2 compression ratio (up from 9.6), new throttle bodies borrowed from Dodge’s 4.7-liter V8, a fuel system with 15 percent increased flow and a 20 percent improvement in exhaust flow, and the result is a whopping 600 horses of power.

That’s 90 hp more than the outgoing model, with 25 more lb-ft of torque (560 lb-ft at 5000 rpm) to boot.

Dodge is quick to point out that although power peaks at 6100 rpm, most of the torque can be had between 4000 and 6000 rpm. Truth is, there’s a ton of torque everywhere.

Stomp on the gas, and the car flat goes, laying down rubber without the fuss of wheel hop or excessive spin. All the modulation necessary for a good launch comes from a decisive right foot.

While the suspension is essentially a carryover design, the Viper does get a new speed-sensing limited-slip differential to help put power to the road. The action from the new TR60 Tremec six-speed manual, upgraded from the former TR56, feels like an improvement, too, with a much-needed reduction in shifter travel. The tranny’s new dual-plate clutch manages significantly more torque while producing 15 percent less inertia than the unit it replaces. The result is greatly improved pedal effort, appreciated not only in banging through the gears on a track but also when negotiating a tight parking lot at low speeds.

Carving a line through the twisting north course of Virginia International Raceway, the Viper turns in as quickly and precisely as any car we’ve driven, with more grip than we know what to do with. This Viper handles so well it’s difficult to tell how much difference those extra ponies make; 600 hp sounds impressive, and we appreciate how instantly the car powers out of turns, but the headline-grabbing number does little to tell the story of how incredibly the car handles. All of our ham-fistedness aside, the new Viper eats up the track and spits it out like nothing else with a sticker less than $100,000.

We only see 115 mph, maybe 120 down the front straight, though the Dodge folks say this Viper can hit 145 before reaching the braking zone. We take their word; the kink next to the flag stand is nastier than it looks on track maps, and barreling toward it flat-out saps whatever nerve we might have mustered from successfully negotiating the near loop on the hill.

Still, we appreciate the new rubber even from those speeds. Michelin Pilot Sport 2s replace the former run-flats and, with help from 14-inch vented discs gripped by big Brembo calipers at all four corners and ABS, erase speed more quickly than expected by the time we stomp the binders. Dodge claims it will come to a complete stop from 60 mph in less than 100 feet; if that pans out in tests, it will match the best yet tested, the current Porsche 911 Turbo (99 feet), for braking.

The Viper shares something else with Porsche, if Dodge is correct: a 0-to-60-mph time of less than four seconds. Again, if it’s able to match that time in tests, it will put the Viper in the rarefied company of cars called 911 Turbo, Carrera GT and GT2 and Ford GT. The last Viper tested, the redesigned-for-2004 SRT10, boasted 500 hp but couldn’t come close to Dodge’s sub-four-second claim. This time, there’s little doubt it will hit that mark or turn a quarter-mile run in 12 seconds or better.

For all its added go, the Viper looks almost identical to the outgoing model. Even for a mid-cycle refreshening, the design changes are minimal. From the outside, styling differences for both roadster and coupe models involve only the hood, with a bigger air scoop and larger louvers. There are also five new exterior colors to pick from, including Snakeskin Green, which, disappointingly, doesn’t come embossed with scales.

The interior is largely carryover, including the push-button ignition and adjustable pedals, but Viper shoppers now have five interior color schemes from which to choose, from all black to black combined with red, blue, slate or tan, and a choice of bezel finishes on the instrument panel and center console. A navigation system and Sirius satellite radio are also available for the first time. Otherwise, the only serious change inside the cabin involves front airbags, which now feature a weight-sensing system that ensures deployment of the airbags with a force appropriate to the sizes of the occupants.

As per tradition with the Viper, the coupe will cost more than the roadster when they begin trickling into showrooms this month—but neither will cost more than it did for the most recent model for 2006. With a $580 destination charge included, the roadster will sticker at $83,995, with the coupe coming in at $84,745. That’s a heckuva lot of bang for the bite.

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