The 2003 Viper Was Vastly Improved But It Looked Like A Corvette


Did it lose some of its Viperness?

By 2002 the Viper was 10 years old and impractical as ever. Dodge had learned a lot by then regarding what worked and what didn’t. The 1996 refresh addressed some issues, such as those side exhausts that scorched off leg hair, but there was still much room for improvement. Thus a major redesign came in 2003. One look at the new exterior and you’ll notice big differences. For starters, the hood line was lowered in order to improve visibility. Instead of the first generation’s round, almost bubble-like look, sharp creases and more angled lines were applied.

Even the restyled hood vents looked more conventional. Some dug the new look, while others felt the Viper lost some of its exoticness and too closely resembled other sports cars, such as the Honda S2000 and even the C6 Chevrolet Corvette once it was unveiled in 2004. But one thing people had no complaints about was its improved powertrain. The 8.0-liter V10 was increased in size to 8.3 liters and produced a new total of 500 hp at 5,600 rpm and 525 lb-ft of torque. The six-speed manual transmission from the previous gen was carried over. Despite that power boost, the new Viper was put on a diet, losing around 100 lbs. The chassis received some much needed attention, becoming both more rigid and lighter.

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However, the original plan called for a stronger and even lighter chassis, but that was deemed too costly. A redesigned rear fascia and partial underbody tray, according to an Edmunds review at the time, further reduced the car’s drag coefficient by 7 percent, and those hood vents actually worked in conjunction with the large front grille to more effectively move air through the engine compartment. Anti-lock brakes were back as well, but overall braking performance didn’t improve as much as it probably should have. Essentially, the Viper became a much more functional high-performance sports car. Oh, and those side exhausts returned. The A-pillars were pushed forward by 3 inches, and its wheelbase was widened by 2.6 inches.

What did that accomplish? The creation of space for larger doors, thus easier access to enter and exit the cabin. Speaking of which, the interior was also a main sticking point that had to be addressed. And it was. Kind of. There was still no mistaking the interior for anything other than a Viper, but Dodge did make it more driver friendly. For example, the center console was slightly angled towards the driver and gauges were given a more professional look. Pedal placement was adjusted and a dead pedal was finally added. For whatever reasons, Dodge combined both the SRT/10 and GTS trims, opting to give the new Viper the SRT/10 designation only.

Initially, only the convertible was launched and it wasn’t until the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, nearly two years later, that the SRT/10 coupe was revealed. Like its immediate predecessor, it still had that double bubble roof along with the GTS’s taillight design. The coupe’s output was slightly higher than the roadster's, rated at 510 hp and 535 lb-ft. Not surprisingly, the Shelby Blue and white stripe from the GTS was carried over for the First Editions. What Dodge didn’t do was improve the coupe’s chassis, making it a bit heavier than the roadster with slightly slower acceleration times. But because of its stiffer frame and reduced drag, handling and overall high-speed performance were improved.

0-60 mph was clocked at 3.7 seconds for the coupe and 3.8 for the roadster. Both coupe and roadster managed the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 123 mph. Top speed was 192.6 mph and 189.5 mph, for coupe and roadster respectively. Impressive as that may sound, the Viper as still slower than its main rivals, the Corvette Z06 and the Ford GT, but was priced in between both. In other words, the Z06 was still the best bang-for-your-buck high-performance American exotic, as the current C7 Z06 is today. To its credit, Dodge took note of the second gen Viper’s shortcomings and began preparing a response.