2015-Dodge-Viper-Srt

In early November, 2,200 enthusiasts and 850 of the finest Dodges from 38 states and Canada assembled at Gas Monkey Live in Dallas for an event only one automaker could pull off. Dodge Rocks Gas Monkey started with the largest Dodge show in Texas history and continued with access to race simulators, thrill rides in Dodge Viper drift cars, drag runs in SRT Challenger Hellcats and a steady stream of foot-stompin’ Texas blues. It reached a crescendo after dark, when members of the rock band Motley Crae emerged from Hellcats and a haze of tire smoke to introduce themselves to those in attendance.

The iconic Criie proceeded to do the set list from its final “All Bad Things Must Come to an End” world tour, in the smallest venue it’s played since its bar days on the Sunset Strip—and free to the faithful. “We’re a bit like Dodge/’ bassist Nikki Sixx observed. “We’ve always been committed to doing it a different way.”

The next morning, hoarse with ringing ears, a group of Dodge executives, journalists and sundry Dodge freaks climbed into Vipers and Challenger and Charger Hellcats and headed across the Southwest. Three days and 1,600 miles later, having covered some of America’s iconic (or forgotten roads, this horsepower caravan straggled into Las Vegas for the Specialty Equipment Market Association exhibition. The festivities wound down with dozens more Dodge creations on the vast SEMA show floor.

It was a feast for the senses, an extravaganza of car riches— an epic adventure. Yet for some participants, the strongest impression was the solitary experience defining a core value of automotive enthusiasm: a driver, great cars and an empty road, somewhere southwest of Albuquerque.

State Road 6 in New Mexico is two lanes full of lifts, crests and big, sweeping bends. It’s generally deserted, only occasionally bumpy and rarely patrolled, which translates to fast— certainly faster than Interstate 40, running roughly parallel 15-20 miles to the north, and about as fast as a driver is willing to go. Trains on the adjacent Burlington Northern-Santa Fe line offer an opportunity to race, though it’s no contest in a 2015 Viper SRT. Catch the tail end of a two-mile-long, 70-mph freight in the expanse west of Los Lunas, and the Viper blasts you past the locomotives in minutes, without breathing hard.

NM 6 through Pueblo land could be half a dozen places in New Mexico or Arizona where the old road has given way to 1-40—”old” meaning U.S. Route 66’s original path (and yes, calling the Mother Road old is like calling the Appian Way a collection of stones). For those who savor the drive, the old road is preferred. In a car with the Viper’s capability, the remnants of Route 66 present a rare, relished opportunity to ditch the smartphone and congested freeways and just freaking drive.

At NM 6’s posted speed plus 50, the Dodge Viper GTS barely breaks a sweat. Steering that can feel a tad heavy circling a strip-mall parking lot is absolutely spot-on out here. The Viper turns right now, but only as far as you want it to and only when you want it. The hydraulic assist delivers feedback the best electric systems still cannot match, and soft leather on the thickrimmed wheel dissipates that slight build-up of perspiration under the palms. At twice the posted limit, the Viper’s front end stays planted like a race car. Yet if you brake full for a bend and it happens to be a bumpy section, you’ll feel the back end skitter a bit as the chassis electronics do their job, just to remind you the laws of physics are still in charge.

The shifter, too, makes a rare treat. The next gear up is a genuine—though forceful—flick of the wrist away, with no elbow- or upper-arm movement. The ratios in the Viper’s six-speed are so much better than they once were—closer and better suited to the Southwest’s old roads. There’s virtually no interruption in acceleration if you let the revs drop while shifting.

Refinements to the mighty, 8.4-liter VI0—now generating 645 hp and 600 lb-ft, with a curb weight less than 3,400 pounds—certainly help. The Viper engine feels less bound-up at the bottom end than it once did, thanks partly to its aluminum flywheel. It makes revs more freely no matter where you start to lay in fuel and delivers wads of torque more evenly across the range. If you choose to makes it so, the V10 holds itself 100 revs short of its 6,400-rpm fuel shut-off for minutes on end, with nary a flutter in power delivery or the carbon-fiber, clamshell hood— delivering a rich, trademark howl not mistaken for any other car. It reminds you what sucked you into this auto thing in the first place.

And you haven’t pressed the button for track mode. In street settings, the Bilstein adaptive suspension absorbs small- to medium-size divots in fine style. The GTS dash and door panels are fitted with luxury-grade leather, and the seats keep you fit through 500 hard miles. The magnesium cowl and firewall structure keep the heat and the 645 hp’s less desirable noises out of the cabin. Yet when you stop to answer nature’s call, or to ponder rural New Mexico’s glorious solitude, you’ll feel the heat of side exhaust behind your calves as you drop them toward the ground. It’s a Viper.

It’s the best Dodge Viper ever—modernized but timeless. SRT has built increasingly essential electronics into the 2015, with a great infotainment package and killer audio. It’s also left alone what was right and hasn’t lost track of the Viper’s core appeal. The Viper SRT isn’t for everyone, but for some it’s the only exotic car on earth.

Spend some time on old 66 and you’ll understand why. The Dodge Viper does most anything it’s asked in thrilling style few automobiles can touch. Simply ask with appropriate deference to the beast within and rejoice that enthusiasts can still enjoy this car.

If what you seek is family transport to the Southwest’s far-flung corners, or to the beach, then the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is the better choice. With the first supercharged Hemi V8, the 707-hp Charger Hellcat is quicker, faster and more powerful than sedans costing four times as much—actually, quicker and faster than any sedan in serial production. It’s tuned for the reflexes (and attitude) of a thoroughbred, and a certified 204 mph is fast enough for any job. Probably too fast for the remote stretches of old 66.

If bracket racing is your core value, or you’re simply fond of vaporizing expensive Pirellis, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat could be your car. It looks like a modern classic because it is, and it’s the most powerful muscle car ever, with a real backseat habitable by adults.

SRT’s Viper and Charger and Challenger Hellcats form a trio of ultra-high-performance machines no manufacturer precisely matches. They’re sleek, thoroughly modern automobiles. They’re loaded with the latest technology—active exhaust tailoring the engine note to the driver’s attitude,- customizable electronic controls, including a valet mode that keeps the parking guy’s hands off the goodies; and a safety suite that can include forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control and auto high-beam control doesn’t even begin to cover it. Yet the SRTs remain essentially, proudly, no-compromise throwbacks, offering that increasingly rare commodity in true high-performances cars: the manual transmission. They unequivocally put the thrill, the challenge and the satisfaction before CAFE, fads or government mandates

Along the remnants of Route 66, you’ll find relics of its heyday—broken-down motels or abandoned general stores or filling stations with analog pump displays. In the early 1950s, no one thought the Mother Road was going away. The world changes whether we want it to or not, but no one likes things taken away.

It’s still out there, unadulterated and everlasting. You must only look in the right place.