First Drive: 2008 Dodge Viper SRT10 ACR

Dodge Viper ACR – Click above for high-res image gallery

I have to admit that I'm biased when it comes to the Dodge Viper. I've had a soft spot for the venomous snake since the GTS coupe hit the streets in 1996. The aggressive design, powerful 8.0-liter V10 with 450 horsepower (doesn't sound like much now, but it sure seemed like a lot then), and the blue paint scheme with white racing stripes were the ideal combination for my dream sports car. I'm going to be that guy at the 2030 Barrett-Jackson purchasing a mint, low-mileage, numbers-matching 1996 or 1997 Dodge Viper GTS, and, of course, you'll be the one watching on SPEED commenting how I'm paying way too much for a classic American muscle car.

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All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

My personal fantasy aside, the Viper has made a lot of progress since then. Some of its raw, uncivilized nature had been removed when a more refined suspension and modern features like ABS brakes were added in 2003. The V10 engine was updated, getting a bump in displacement to 8.3 liters and an increase of 50 horsepower. Its redesign in 2003 also saw the Viper's aggressive look somewh

at tamed, with less curves and the absence of a coupe. My obsession with the Viper waned, even with the re-introduction of the coupe in 2006 and the upgrade to 600 horsepower in 2008. The current SRT10 will outperform the old GTS any day, but there is a pure aggressiveness and brutality about the original Viper that the newer versions just don't have.

That is, of course, until the introduction of the ACR (American Club Racer) version at last year's LA Auto Show. It's by far the most potent production Viper ever built, and for me it was love at first sight. The front splitter, asymmetrical stripe, and massive rear wing make the ACR the most aggressive looking Viper by far. In fact, it makes the previous generation ACR that was built from 1999-2002 look downright civilized.

So what makes the new ACR so special? Even the slightest glance will tell you this is no ordinary Viper. This particular car came in Viper Black with the unique two-tone paint scheme. The ACR can also be ordered in Viper Red, Viper Violet, Viper Bright Blue Metallic and Viper Very Orange, with only the Black and Red having the option of the two-tone paint. I haven't seen the ACR in anything but Red or Black, and can't imagine ordering it any color combo besides the one seen here.

But enough about paint schemes; the ACR is about one thing and one thing only: functionality. More specifically, putting down all that power from the 8.4-liter V10 to the pavement. To do this, the SRT team focused on aerodynamics, the result of which can be seen at both ends of the car. Up front is a carbon fiber splitter and dive planes that have been specially designed to increase downforce and reduce drag. An extension for the front splitter can also be added for increased aerodynamics at the racetrack. At the rear is an adjustable wing also made of carbon fiber that was specially formed using Computational Fluid Dynamics. So just how much downforce does the ACR produce? Try 1,000 pounds at 150 mph. That's ten times what the standard Viper coupe produces.

Additional traction is provided by massive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires (295/35ZR/18 front, 345/30ZR/19 rear) that are just barely approved for street use. The ACR also benefits from a track-tuned suspension consisting of KW adjustable coilovers and a stiffer front stabilizer bar. The coilovers can be adjusted without removing the wheels, which means that making the switch between street and track settings is an easy task.

In addition to the fine-tuned suspension and aerodynamics, the ACR also benefits from lightweight components, particularly in the all-important area of rotating mass. Lightweight forged aluminum wheels knock off a few pounds, as do the two-piece Stoptech brakes for a total savings of 40 pounds. An optional hard-core package doubles that amount with the removal of the audio system, underhood silencer pad, trunk carpet, and tire inflator.

With so many go-fast goodies on board, I was dying to get behind the wheel of the ACR. Unfortunately, none of us Autobloggers have been able to convince Dodge to hand over a Viper to review, so our chances of nabbing an ACR were slim to none. While we haven't stopped pestering Dodge, we decided to try and find an owner who might let us get behind the wheel, and our search led us to the web site and forums. Fortunately, a member in Southern California had recently taken delivery of a brand new ACR and was willing to let us use the car for a photoshoot and get some driving impressions.

After meeting up with the owner and taking a few hours to get all the necessary photos, it was time to take the Snake for a ride. Despite my previous knowledge of the hot sidepipes and the large warning on the door sill, I still managed to singe the hair on my legs while entering the car. Once inside, the ACR is quite comfortable. It doesn't look too different than a normal Viper, especially since this owner decided to retain the sound system. The only difference is the strip of red leather on the steering wheel that is a continuation of the red stripe on the outside of the car. My only wish is that Dodge would have included 5-point harnesses like they did on the previous ACR. There's more than enough room for my 5'8" frame, and although the seats are fixed, taller drivers can easily fit due to the adjustable pedals.

The red start button behind the shifter brings the V10 to life. There's enough torque at idle to get the car going without even touching the throttle, and I'm not about to put the car sideways so I take off with minimal throttle. As I get up to speed I'm pleasantly surprised that the ACR is quite streetable. I was expecting to feel every pebble in the road, but the suspension is relatively compliant. The clutch is lighter than expected, and not much effort is required to move the shifter that changes gears smoothly and precisely. While I probably wouldn't recommend the ACR for a road trip, the owner picked up the car at a dealership in Blair, Nebraska and drove it all the way home to Southern California with no complaints. That should tell you something.

But that doesn't mean the Viper is tame by any means. Dip into the throttle and the ACR roars to life. The exhaust emits a wonderful, deep sound that could only come from a Viper V10. This car eats up the road both deceptively quick and with a brutality that borders on being vicious. I know the car is amazingly capable, but it still manages to exceed my expectations. The tires provide limitless grip, although I freely admit I wasn't close to discovering the ACR's full handling potential. The steering also proved to be responsive and direct with plenty of feedback.

While my short drive gave me just a hint of the ACR's performance, it would take a full day at the track to explore its limits. What I do know is that the Viper has returned to its glory days of being the biggest and baddest street machine on the road. Dodge has created something special with the ACR, and it's a steal at under $100,000. I can't imagine a car that would provide more thrills at anything close to this price tag. But then again, I'm biased.

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All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.

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