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Posts filed under ‘Dodge’

The Best Snake:
2nd-Gen Dodge Viper GTS

September 18, 2014 by Matt

Dodge Viper GTS Gray Grey

I’m not a Dodge Viper fan per se, but I have to concede that this is one of the most impressive American cars ever made.

Credit the automaker for not saying “Well, that was fun while it lasted” and closing up the Viper shop after the initial 1992-1995 run of crude 1st-generation cars. The automotive world is replete with flawed attempts by new players to mix it up with established heavy-hitters like the Porsche 911 and Corvette. In most cases, those efforts flicker out within a few years—but not the Viper. Dodge realized the formula had merit and there was room in the marketplace for more than one “authentic” American sports car, and injected development capital into the program, resulting in a 2nd generation car that was just as brash as the original, but less intimidating to drive, and much more progressive and capable.

Dodge Viper GTS Gray Grey

The characteristic 8-liter pushrod V10’s output was bumped up from 415 to 450 hp while the car’s weight actually fell by 60 lbs compared to the 1st gen Viper. Thanks in part to the addition of the roof, the car’s rigidity increased significantly, which allowed the thoroughly reworked suspension to interface with the road with far more fidelity than that of the ’92-’95 car. So while the 2nd gen Viper was still rough around the edges, rewards existed for those willing to contend with its challenges. In a track setting, a contemporary Car and Driver comparison test extolled the GTS as an “an easy and forgiving partner” and for its “benign behavior at the limit,” things that would never have been said of its predecessor.

Dodge Viper GTS Gray Grey

Still, it’s cartoonish to look at. Exaggerated, dramatic, visually aggressive—and yet somehow, it all holds together perfectly. I could even call it pretty, if I were into that sort of thing. I much prefer the later, solid-color 2nd-gen cars; the racing stripes are iconic but load the already-busy lines with even more clutter. Less turns out to be just right in this case. An indication of just how enduring the GTS’s look turned out to be is the design of the latest, 5th-generation car, which copies the 1996-2002 car almost line-for-line, except for a little ill-advised softening (read: melting) around the edges. With the original GTS, I really think Dodge got it right the first time.

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2nd-Gen Dodge Viper GTS

What Might Have Been:
The 2006-2010 Dodge Charger

July 23, 2013 by Matt

Dodge Charger R/T Red

It coulda been a contender.

I wanted so badly for this car to be good. Really good. Five years ago, I pinned my hopes for a genuine American sports sedan on three vehicles: The Cadillac CTS-V, the Pontiac G8 and the car featured in this article—the 2006-2010 Dodge Charger. And while Cadillac got it and continues to refine the formula, and Pontiac got it—briefly—when they offered a 6-speed manual in conjunction with the G8’s top-of-the-line V8, the Charger never received the same treatment. It was a missed opportunity.

Dodge Charger R/T Engine Motor Hemi V8

All the ingredients of excellence were present and accounted for: A workable RWD chassis developed from that of the previous-generation Mercedes E-Class, a world-beating 5.7l, 340-hp V8 engine, a team of suspension tuners potentially lifted from the Viper program and a plethora of 6-speed manual transmissions to choose from. And yet…it never came together, whether through Chrysler’s ignorance of what to do with the bits at their disposal or willful refusal to spend capital creating a car that would make enthusiasts salivate but would hold little appeal in the larger market.

Dodge Charger R/T Red

The styling reflects the same so-close-yet-so-far aura that afflicted the drivetrain and chassis dynamics. Highlights include a rakishly swept-forward nose, clean and elegant front and rear treatments, tastefully unadorned flanks and a jaunty pair of “hips” just forward of the rear wheels. All the elements are there, and yet…viewing one in the flesh, I can’t help but be let down by the fact that the proportions are just a little bit off, the whole car looks too bathtub-ish and not lithe and athletic like it should. Again, it’s a shame, since out of the three cars I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the Charger’s details gave it the most potential to be a real head-turner.

Dodge Charger R/T Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

For what it’s worth, the 2011-present redesign didn’t bring the car any closer to a state where it would hold any appeal for the true enthusiast, instead removing many of the more tasteful and appealing styling elements and introducing several, including the side scallops, that are distinctively chintzy. Furthermore, the curb weight increased a few hundred pounds and a three-pedal setup, or at least a dual-clutch transmission, is still notably absent from the option sheet. And the handling still leans (pun intended) more toward that of its cousin’s, the plush Chrysler 300, rather than targeting the taut responses of a BMW 5-Series or Audi A6.

Hopefully one day, one of the Big Three will come around and deliver something sports sedan buffs can get excited about—and for longer than the aborted tenure of the Pontiac G8. Shame the Charger wasn’t it.

Image credits:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting key decisions I wish automakers had made differently, for divers reasons. Read the other installments here:

6 Comments on What Might Have Been:
The 2006-2010 Dodge Charger

2013 SRT Viper Styling
Draws Cues From the Original

April 26, 2012 by Matt

2013 SRT Viper Dodge Red New Rear Back Taillights

The more things change…

The Viper has returned after a two-year hiatus, this time bearing an SRT badge instead of the old Dodge one, and with more power than ever, but design-wise, one could be forgiven for thinking they were in a kind of time-warp while beholding it.

Packing 640 hp from its signature 8.4l pushrod V10, the car’s developers insist a primary goal was to civilize the car, making it more livable and accessible while preserving its rawness and character, and I’ve no doubt they’ve made great strides in that direction. When considering its competition—the Corvette ZR1, Shelby GT500, various Ferraris and Porsches—its horsepower figure seems barely adequate; it was certainly easier top the supercar mountain when the original 400-hp Viper first exploded onto the scene in all its irreverent glory in the early ’90s. Brute power isn’t enough anymore, so there was little else for the engineers to do except make it more docile.

2013 SRT Viper Dodge Red New

That being the case, the chassis engineers seem to have charged the stylists with carrying the torch of the Viper’s innate essence. To accomplish this, the designers basically pretended that the previous generation ’03-’10 car never existed and penned a surprisingly cursory update of the original ’96-’02 Viper GTS coupe. Where the ’03-’10 car’s waistline was relatively undramatic, the new car’s flanks plunge in the manner of the original’s. The double-bubble roof and ducktail spoiler have even returned.

And as much as I’d like to criticize Chrysler for designing something so derivative of one of their previous products, I just can’t. See, the original Viper GTS coupe is hands-down one of the best looking American cars ever. It’s extroverted, yes, but all the lines resolve perfectly, whether on the front end, the side or at the rear. It’s a flamboyant, yet cohesive shape, and the new Viper’s stylists were right to recognize near-perfection when they saw it, and try to emulate it. It’s not like it’ll ever be mistaken for anything else.

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Draws Cues From the Original