The Viper, Chrysler honcho Ralph Gilles, and Motor Trend have history. A few years back, we outran the Viper with a ZR1, at the time setting the lap record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca by a lot more than the SRT team saw in their home-court comparisons. Verbal barbs flew, like, “Randy has always struggled with the Viper.” Sure, the potential was there, but it was very hard to extract, even for—ahem—me. To our great surprise and their immense credit, SRT created the TA model, and brought it back to MRLS for another shot at the title. And put me back in the car. And won it back by less than a tenth of a second.
Meanwhile, Corvette launches the formidable Z06, and that model’s track-loaded Z07 Performance package. The pendulum swings. I felt a little sorry for SRT as that new ‘Vette is a monster. Well I’ve just stepped from the latest counterattack of this rival Detroit gang: the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR, and I’m not mincing words, friends. This car will send the Z07 back to the garage for upgrades. SRT has come back with guns blazing. How?
Downforce, the magic of increased tire load without increased mass. The new ACR Extreme Aero package flaunts the most enormous wing I’ve seen this side of Pike’s Peak. Mounted high in the airstream, it splits into dual elements on the outsides, earning the nickname X-wing (“Star Wars,” anyone?). Beneath it is one serious diffuser, designed with six strakes intended to rub the asphalt. Balancing that load is a detachable front splitter extension, and genuine dive planes to knock off when dive-bombing your friends, just like the pros. Dodge’s mad speed scientists claim over 1,700 pounds of downforce, and my neck strain meter supports that.
Brakes, now carbon ceramic 15.4-inch front rotors with two more pistons in the Brembo calipers at six than the 14.2-inch rear rotors with four pistons. Seems carbon setups sink the heat into the pads much more than the iron, which soaks the rotors. Corvette and Z/28 brakes are among the world’s best, and they now have a new domestic challenger. Bite is very strong, and fade not evident. The Viper’s tendency to wander under deceleration is still there, exacerbated a bit by the vivid stopping force.
Tires, Kumho Ecsta V720 are DOT-legal, and at 295 front and 355 rear are the widest total footprint available on any production car. They feel like good slicks, and are a major boon to the new ACR. They will run a wide slip angle happily, having that soft, cushy feel near their limit. I love this new Viper-specific spec because it allows an aggressive attack, and scrubs speed while still maintaining some directional control, a trailbraker’s dream. The Dodge SRT engineers give Kumho a lot of well-earned credit.
Handling. Oh, the handling. Wait, it’s a Viper, known to challenge even the greatest of drivers. Same chassis, same drivetrain, same beast? Russ Ruedisueli and Jeff Reece, SRT and Viper engineering, have created, in their words, a new paradigm. The ACR works. With two-way ten-click adjustable competition coilover Bilsteins, and twice the spring rates of the TA, this beast has become a beauty on the track. The package answers my complaints with a level of at-the-limit drivability never before felt on factory Vipers. Enormously rewarding tossable grip in fast transitions. Tossable? A Viper? I love this car, Ralph! Your SRT team has got a home run on their hands, and God Bless America, imported from Detroit.
In spite of the greatly increased spring rates, at VIR, the Viper ACR was not at all harsh on the track’s curbing. The Viper had no problem getting its 600 lb-ft of torque to the pavement, including a couple sweet little drifts out of increasing-radius second-gear corners, a tough dance move for the cars of the past. The car’s naturally aspirated 8.4-liter V-10 is good for 645 hp.
The brawny capabilities that the Viper always had are now accessible and controllable for a much wider range of drivers. Hallelujah. The ACR will now make more heroes than zeroes. Another reason for this is the smooth, nearly invisible operation of the carefully calibrated stability control. SRT is proud of this, too, and has a right to be.
Stir in the asking price of $122,490 USD (including $2,495 for destination and a $2,100 gas guzzler tax), and this street-legal track killer is an absolute grand slam. For the highways of this great country, that wing is outrageous. The splitter is nuts. Vipers have always been outrageous, and now the ACR version measures up to the hype and beyond. The beast has got a leash, and with no loss of ferocity.