Suspension components follow the same evolutionary path. There are subtle geometric alterations, such as reduced anti-dive and anti-squat characteristics, along with dimensional changes. The wheelbase has been stretched 2.6 inches to facilitate a more comfortable (civil?) cockpit layout. The front track is 1.8 inches narrower, in anticipation of accommodating racing rubber beneath the air-penetrating front fenders of the FIA and/or ALMS competition coupe. At the rear, the track dimension grows by a scant 0.3 inch. However, the muscular rear haunches house Michelin Pilot Sport radials that are one notch larger in section size and rim diameter (345/30ZR-19s versus the outgoing car's 335/30ZR-18s). Asked if there was a loss of adhesion with the move from conventional to run-flat rubber, Helbig responds, "Absolutely not. In fact, we gained performance with the new tires. The Michelin development team helped create an awesome package for this car."
The most ingenious solutions to design problems are actually hidden under the car, where few will notice. Reintroducing side exhaust outlets required a particularly clever bit of engineering. The challenge was to pass drive-by noise-level tests with the larger engine and a desire to avoid restrictive mufflers. Helbig reveals, "Our solution is extra pipe length. Exhaust from the left bank runs down that side of the car before crossing underneath to dump out the right side. Where the two 2.5-inch pipes pass in close proximity to each other, we added an H-connection to combine two sets of five firing pulses into one more melodious ten-cylinder sound." Each bank has a warmup catalyst close to the engine plus a regular catalyst and a resonator in the sill. In addition to satisfying pass-by noise regulations, the new Viper's exhaust plumbing also avoids the UPS-truck blat that plagued first-generation cars.
Viper engineers also invested about 1000 hours in wind-tunnel testing. Starting with knowledge gleaned from the racing Viper coupe, the goal was positive downforce at 150 mph to stabilize high-speed handling. A full-length underbody panel was too heavy and trapped too much heat, so the final design is a partial belly pan with what Helbig calls "under-car tricks." Strakes (vertical ribs hanging low in back) help straighten air flow and augment the downforce generated by designer Osamu Shikado's high-riding deck-lid lip. Louvers ahead of the windshield and openings slashed into the flanks relieve underhood heat and air pressure. Final lift and drag figures aren't available, but Helbig expects excellent stability, a slightly reduced drag coefficient, and about the same drag area (the Cd multiplied by the car's frontal area) as in the first-generation Viper.
The tire kickers will glide right past these aero subtleties on their way to the new Viper's interior delights. Watch the kids' jaws drop when they discover a speedometer calibrated to 220 mph. Serious drivers are more likely to appreciate the huge tach located just slightly to the right of center above the steering column and the four vertically stacked secondary gauges. The quality of trim materials smartly leapfrogs the Corvette, although that's hardly a paragon. While the bucket seats tightly wrap your ribs, their elegant leather skin is too slippery for life in the one-g lane. (Acknowledging that concern, Fernandez admits he's investigating suede inserts and other grippy materials to improve lateral restraint.)
Climbing into the car demands mild contortions. Although the cockpit is still cozy, at least there's no fight with the engine for leg space, and a proper dead pedal is included. Top-down turbulence is surprisingly low, thanks to subtle deflectors on the windshield pillars and short hoops behind the headrests. Ingenious top and deck-lid hinge designs guide the manual top into its storage well in a jiffy. The forward section of the roof is rigid to serve as an integral cover in the alfresco mode.
Fernandez, Helbig, and their dedicated band left us only one detail to gripe about: needlessly tall transmission and final-drive ratios inherited from the previous model. If you buzz the engine to the redline in first, you'll hit 59 mph before a shift comes due. Sixth is worth (a purely theoretical) 315 mph. For all intents, fourth through sixth gears are excess baggage.
The gear-ratio gaffe is a venial sin in light of the improvements throughout the new Viper. This is the first dashing Dodge that demands to be taken seriously. Now that the King of the Hill throne is under attack by both the Viper and the hot Fords warming up in the lab, reaction from the Corvette camp bears watching.