The Viper's initial performance impression can be summed up in one word: T-O-R-Q-U-E. At just 1,200 rpm, the big V-10 has 400 pounds/feet of it on tap. Nail it and the car catapults ahead from most any speed and in most any gear. There's uncanny flexibility here. Sixth gear at 55 mph shows just 1,000 rpm, but you'll not notice any strain cruising at 65 in fifth. Shifting can become an afterthought. Anchor it in third to carve up mountain roads. Plant it in fourth to slice through freeway traffic.
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There's no tangible gain from revving the V-10 within more than 1,000 rpm of its 5,600-rpm redline. Do so, however, and you unleash an alliance of exhaust moan and engine hiss almost frightening in tone and intensity. Troll in town, and Viper envelops you in a warm baritone burble. Accelerate at a moderate cruising pace, however, and it bleats. If a Ferrari V-12's song is "ripping canvas," then a Viper at part-throttle is "ripping cardboard."
"That's one thing that I wish were different on the car," explained Chrysler President Bob Lutz, citing federal noise limits. "When you slide behind the wheel and twist the key, you're expecting race-car sounds. And when you stomp on it and take it up to the redline, you wish for that full throaty cry of unbridled power. What you've got now is the unbridled power, but you really don't hear the exhaust; you just hear a rush of air. Having said that, you get used to it very quickly. Once you're accelerating in that thing, everything is forgotten."
Indeed, unleashing even a good portion of Viper's power when the front wheels aren't pointed straight will kick the tail out. And hard acceleration on rutted or broken surfaces requires extra attention because the enormously wide front tires tend to seek out and follow pavement grooves or channels that otherwise go unnoticed.
Major controls -- steering, clutch, brakes, shifter -- demand firm, decisive inputs, but they're not tiring even in the constant use of city/suburban grinding. The clutch, in particular, proves surprisingly manageable, much mo re so than in the typical Corvette. And shift action is quick and direct. The second-gear lockout isn't so bothersome as the linkage's narrow gate, which requires extra concentration to slide the lever into the correct gear. Most troubling is that there is no reverse-gear lockout, so it is possible to inadvertently shift into reverse even while accelerating forward.
Steering is simply terrific: very responsive on initial tip-in, properly assisted for high-speed work, and always communicative. The brakes initially feel dead to the toes -- heavy and with scant pedal travel -- but they're discernibly powerful and fully up to the task of scrubbing off lots of speed quickly, consistently, and safely despite lacking ABS.