What is it?: Two-seat, V-10-powered American supercar
Price: $117,500 + gas guzzler tax
Pros: Unsurpassed cornering speed for the price; race car levels of downforce
Cons: It may be street legal, but you better have a good chiropractor handy
Too often we, as a society, surrender to the shiny-shoed bean counter. This logical soul — residing within our very own skull — informs us of all the things we shouldn’t do — like jump out of a moving plane or spend our lifesavings on a speedboat or stay up late drinking too much Fireball.
Captain Sensible does have a point. And on most occasions, it’d perhaps be advisable to defer to his way of thinking. But periodically — just sometimes — shouldn’t we insist Señor Practical buzz off?
That’s where the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR comes in. It features a rear wing so large a hipster could nap on it. The front splitter protrudes sufficiently to create a palatial balcony for mice. The tires boast more rubber than Snoop Dogg. And at 8.4-liters, the V-10 engine has about twice as many cylinders as it needs to create all 645 horsepower.
To Mr. Responsible, this makes no sense whatsoever — a stupid concoction only for people with flat-billed caps and daddy’s money. And for Dodge, it’s a massive investment into a machine that few will ever purchase.
So why do it?
In short, to make a statement. To show the world what Dodge is about — and what it can be. That’s why we have Vipers and Hellcats. It’s why cars like the Lexus LFA and Bugatti Veyron existed, despite both losing money every time one left the showroom. And yet to us, the Gearheads — to car culture, even — it’s a dying breed of stupidity we so desperately need.
The outgoing ACR — Dodge’s most capable, barely-street legal Viper to date — once held the record for the fastest production car ever to lap the legendary Nurburgring. This new one is a different animal. Ignore that the Bilstein suspension derives from racing and boasts 10 settings for bump and rebound, along with 3 inches of ride height adjustability. And forget that the new carbon ceramic brakes are shielded by 295/25/19 front, 355/30/19 rear Kumho Ecsta V720 damn-near slick tires. The big story here is the downforce.
Many automakers boast about having “net downforce” on their fancy performance cars. For instance, the new Cadillac ATS-V has “net downforce” — meaning it produces aerodynamic push into the tarmac at speed rather than aerodynamic lift — but if you ask the engineers how much downforce, they’ll just say “enough to call it ‘net’” and then shuffle off into a dark corner and bury their heads back within the PC in which they came from. Then you look at some true, specific sports cars, and a few will even be able to claim a couple of hundred pounds of downforce at maximum velocity.
That’s mighty impressive. Until you hear how much the Viper ACR makes at 177 mph.
Almost one whole ton. Yes, the equivalent of a good-sized buffalo is perched on the roof of the car at speed, pushing those massive Kumho tires deeper into the racetrack.
Such downforce levels are achieved via that giant rear wing and front splitter, but don’t forget the monster rear diffuser at the back that helps suck the car to the ground. To get this level of downforce you must option the $6,000 “Extreme Aero Package,” and in doing so your regular Viper’s top speed of 206 mph drops to a measly 177 mph; that’s how much drag is created by these aerodynamic add-ons. In fact, the drag aero efficiency number changes from in the 0.2s to 0.54. That’s massive, but for a track-focused car, it’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make in the name of extra cornering speed.
Up until now, the TA (for Time Attack) was this latest generation Viper’s most track-focused, hardcore model. And yet the new ACR boasts a scarcely believable three times more downforce than that machine, and its suspension set-up is twice as stiff (600 lb. front springs, 1,300 lb. rears). Given how great the TA is on track, it’s hard to imagine quite how immense the ACR will be.
So I went to Virginia International Raceway to find out.
Immediately you notice more Alcantara in the cabin, but beyond that, it contains much of the niceties you’d expect from the regular model — like air conditioning, navigation and Bluetooth. This disappointed me somewhat. If I’m buying a track car that is, in the words of Dodge itself, just about “tolerable on the streets,” I want it to look like a race car from behind the wheel — not just when I’m admiring it from afar.
Still, it handles just like a race car. The grip level is mighty; the braking is exceptional and the power from that naturally aspirated V-10 remains intoxicating. One thing Dodge has stripped from the cabin is all the sound deadening materials, so an already loud car is now positively ear bursting.
I like that.
With such vast downforce figures, you have to be willing to drive into the turn faster than it seems possible; the quicker you go, the more net downforce it produces, therefore the more speed you’ll be able to carry through a given turn. To me, I felt like the ACR boasted considerably better grip than the Corvette Z06 I tested last year (you even hear the diffuser and splitter grinding against the racetrack during heavy braking or in compressions — something I’ve never felt in anything other than a full-on race car). It seemed faster to me than the Z06, too — and perhaps it was, or maybe the speed was just more easily exploitable. The cornering g-forces are so great, in fact, that you really do need a proper racing seat and five-point harness.
Vipers have a reputation as killers. But the latest generation really aren’t; they are, in fact, very predictable, with an extremely stable rear end. With that, understeer is the limiting factor, but it’s easier to build confidence in a car with push than it is in a car that wants to switch ends and send you backwards into a fence (thus you can attack corners with more vigor and unlock more of that insane aero).
The Z06 was, to me, a little too unpredictable at ten tenths, but it remains more livable away from the track due to its Magnetic Ride suspension. The upside to the Viper’s suspension is, while it will break your back on the streets, it provides vast levels of adjustment to perfect the cars handling on the circuit, allowing you to dial out that understeer if you wish — and even change the spring rates. This is, after all, a car only for the most hardcore.
Dodge says it limits Viper production to around 1,000 a year, but in reality, that’s because it’s having trouble selling them (the Viper models have recently received a large price cut). The team, though, seems bullish about their new ACR, and in its first week of availability, 65 orders have already been placed.
Would I buy one, if it were my hard-earned cash? Absolutely — although a 911 GT3 would be tough to turn down, as would a Z06 for more everyday usability. At $117,500 (plus $6,000 for the “Extreme Aero”) the ACR is a true performance bargain. It can do only one thing — and that’s corner unlike much else outside of a purpose-built GT race car. The problem is Captain Sensible would never forgive me. So instead I suppose I’d end up buying bonds.