The Viper's standard selection of gear ratios includes a sixth cog that spins the engine just 1000 rpm for every 52 mph. Meaning 60 mph translates to a mere 1150 rpm in sixth and a theoretical 310 mph at the redline. (In reality, the Viper tops out at something closer to 180 mph.) And if you guessed that the gearing isn't on our side at GingerMan, where no straightaway lasts longer than a quarter of a mile, you're right. Third and a little second are all we'll require today. But with all that torque and horsepower and a chassis as neutral, unflappable, and grippy as this (a real step up from its predecessor, which would assume the sideways state at the merest provocation), the new Viper will go on to equal our best times in the Vette around the track, albeit extracting a high price in driver comfort while doing so.
When I take my turn in the yellow Z06 technical editor Don Sherman has brought along, it's like coming into the air-conditioned clubhouse, undeniably a more comfortable place to be than the SRT-10 (standing, I've become convinced, for seared-roasted-toasted in ten minutes, or your money back). It doesn't sound like much in this company, but the Vette's 405 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque are still deeply meaningful sums. To be sure, the dash plastics and fittings are cheesy in the Corvette, as is GM's wont, but they're shoulders above the synthetic fare of the Dodge, which, however much improved over the previous Viper's, still needs more improvement. The Vette scores heavily for ergonomics and a height-adjustable seat that makes looking behind the car when you're driving an option. One sits much lower in the Dodge's seats, despite its being a considerable three inches taller than previously, taller even than the old GTS coupe. The advantage comes in reduced wind buffeting, but, with no seat-height adjustment, the view out the rear-view mirror is now available only to the tall. (Check out the power-adjustable pedal box in the Viper, though. It's useful and trick, an elegant way to accommodate all shapes and sizes of drivers.)
On the track, a few more things to recommend the Z06 make themselves known; steering less corrupted and more enjoyable than the Viper's, to start, and a six-speed shifter handier and sweeter to use than the Dodge's. You also get gear ratios that actually make sense with the Corvette and an exhaust note that belongs in the Exhaust Note Hall of Fame.
Ultimately, it may be that extra bit more demanding of the driver to run fast in the Corvette, but the responses are so much more rewarding. Here's a car that wants to powerslide, or, as an alternative, offers the keen driver the choice of using the standard traction and stability control system in Competition mode. It's a smart idea, a sporty compromise, keeping things moving in essentially the right direction but letting the driver direct a little more of the action. Like its strong but short-lived brakes, the Vette's Goodyear Eagle F1 SC tires head south sooner than snowbirds from Syosset at the track; after only a few laps grip is gone. Still, there's no denying it. For most people's taste, the Vette provides more thrills and day-to-day driving pleasure than the Viper in a package that feels more chuckable, more easily accessed, and more practical. A lot of crucial pluses, even without taking the Viper's price into account. At $80,000, the Viper has moved itself a substantial $8000 increment up the sports car food chain. The Corvette isn't getting any cheaper, but at a hair over $51,000 for a more fully resolved car, it seems the clear value choice.