Some people might have read the title to this article and thought that it is ridiculous to compare either of the Dodge Hellcat cars to the Dodge Viper, but over the past year or so, I have received a surprising number of emails from readers who are considering swapping their supercharged V8 for a naturally aspirated V10. Some people might think that it is a crazy comparison, a muscle car and a supercar, but keep something in mind.
For many moons, the Dodge Viper was the pinnacle of modern performance for the Mopar world. While the likes of the Dodge Stealth, the Neon SRT4 and a few other vehicles gave Mopar fans a performance car option, the Viper has been one of the world’s most respected performance cars since it was introduced in the early 1990s. While the kids who were Ford and Chevy fans had posters of the Mustang, Camaro or Corvette on their wall, Mopar kids in the 1990s and 2000s usually had the Viper on their wall. As the top-of-the-hill performance vehicle in the Mopar family from the 1990s through 2014, it was the car that many Dodge lovers dreamed of owning. In fact, as a Dodge-driving teenager in the 1990s, the Viper was my ultimate dream car and that dream car status is what is leading many Mopar fans to make the move from a Hellcat Challenger or Charger to the Viper.
However, with the Viper and the Dodge Hellcat cars being so vastly different, many people who are considering the move have concerns and some of those people ask me for my opinion. Ive driven every generation of the Viper on the street and Ive driven the last two generations on the track. I have also tested all of the Hellcat cars on the road and on the track, along with owning a Challenger of my own. My experience with the Viper, the Hellcat Challenger and the Hellcat Charger leads people to ask me whether I would make the switch myself.
For me, it is a resounding no. My Hellcat Challenger is my daily driver, rain or shine and even in some snow. I have a family and I need more than two seats, which immediately makes the Viper an unviable option for a daily driver. I am also a participant in the world of drag racing, where both Hellcat cars outshine the Viper in a big way. Finally, the Challenger is considerably more comfortable and, while it might sound absurd, it is far more fuel friendly than the Viper. For me, trading my Hellcat for a Viper would lead to too many compromises, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
The Viper Allure
While I wouldn’t trade my Hellcat Challenger for a Viper, I have spoken to several people who have and they are very happy with the move. If you aren’t into drag racing, driving comfort isn’t a key concern and you don’t need a back seat to carry passengers, the Viper might be ideal for you. While the Challenger and Charger are insanely quick – and they both draw loads of attention everywhere you go – there is something truly special about the Viper. No matter where you go, no matter which generation of Viper you have, the Dodge supercar draws a crowd. The car is a legend and just about everyone knows that. People who don’t know cars look at the Viper and recognize that it is something rare and special. Even the early models with 400 horsepower get the same general respect from onlookers as the last generation with 640 horsepower based on the unmistakable design. There is no “is that a Hellcat or an R/T with a hood package?” There is just the Viper in all its glory.
The Viper is an amazing performance machine, but what makes the Viper so special is that it is more than just a fast car. It is the ultimate V10-powered American supercar, built to slay the Chevy Corvette and anything that the Europeans can build, but more importantly, it has an exterior design that allows it to stand out in any crowd. The Viper will wow the driver and passenger on the road or the track, but it wows just about everyone even when it is sitting still. That is why it has been featured on countless magazines, video games and even its own television show.
While the distinct appearance is really what has made the car so popular beyond the auto enthusiast community, the distinct sound and feel on the road is what makes the Viper so popular with people who love to drive. The Viper is incredibly raw, providing a connection to the road like few other cars in the world. Regardless of the model year, the throttle response is crisp, the clutch pedal is heavy and the movement of the shifter gives you the clear feel of the transmission moving from gear to gear. The steering system accentuates the connection between the driver and the road with help from the suspension setup. The Viper surpasses the normal sports car feel, instead feeling like a race car that you can drive on the street, from the seating position to the rail-like handling to that sweet V10 roar. If you truly enjoy driving, there are few vehicles that deliver the experience as well as the Dodge supercar.
The Viper Compromise
I imagine that some of you read the section above and are now checking online to see how much Vroom will pay you for your Hellcat Challenger or Charger, but there are some downsides to the Viper.
My biggest issue with the Viper is interior space. They are really, really snug inside. Snug enough that if I have a passenger and my camera bag, which is about the size of an average backpack, there is no space for the bag. The footwell is tight on both sides, so the passenger cannot keep a bag near their feet without sitting uncomfortably, but the trunk has a decent amount of space for small bags and other things that an airline might consider a carryon.
Next, most people know this but the Viper is only available with a manual transmission, which is great for spirited driving in the countryside, but it is not so great in rush hour traffic. If you are not comfortable with a manual transmission, the Viper is not the car for you. Buy something cheap with a manual and learn how to work the clutch pedal before getting into a high performance car with three pedals.
Finally, you have to look at what type of driving really matters the most. If you want a car that handles like it is glued to the ground, with downforce attributes that improve with speed, you will be hard-pressed to find a car that will surpass the Viper without getting in to a six-figure European exotic. That is why the Viper has set track records all over the world, but those handling abilities come with a compromise in driving comfort. You feel every little imperfection on the road and hitting a simple pothole feels more like you are hitting an open storm drain. It can be jarring and, compared to a Hellcat Challenger or Charger, the Viper ride quality is not great.
In a straight line, the Viper is certainly no slouch, but the manual transmission makes flawless drag strip passes very tricky. Even when well driven, a stock Viper is at best an 11-second car. When moving at speed, the Hellcat cars still have a clear advantage over the supercar, provided that the road is long and straight. Plainly put, if drag racing is your preferred form of motorsport, the Hellcat cars (with an automatic transmission) are the better choice.
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a car to drive on weekends, you don’t need the extra passenger space and you don’t care about winning straight-line races, the Viper is the car for you. There aren’t many road cars in the world that offer the same level of all-around performance as the Viper, so if you are buying a toy, you can’t beat the Viper for the price. Of course, that all-around performance is coupled with the unmistakable Viper design and the lovely exhaust note of the gurgling V10.
If your Hellcat is your daily driver, the Viper can do that too, but it is nowhere near as comfortable and in the older models, you don’t get the interior technology that you do with the Hellcat cars. The Hellcat cars also offer far better fuel economy and if you come across the need to lay down a 3-second 0-60 time alongside a new Corvette, the Challenger and Charger are going to bring you more wins than the Viper.
My Hellcat can and has beaten a few Vipers in a drag race and as someone who prefers muscle cars over supercars, my Challenger is truly my personal dream car, but the 90s kid in me still dreams of owning the legendary Viper someday. It sounds cheesy, but the Viper has an aura of sorts that leaves no question that this is one of the world’s greatest performance cars. Trading from a Hellcat to a Viper requires some compromise, but in exchange, you get to enjoy one of the world’s best all-around performance cars. For me, the feel of a 700+ muscle car is more enjoyable than the extreme handling capabilities and still-impressive acceleration forces of the Viper, but for those who want that legendary look and feel, this might be the perfect time to make the move from the supercharged V8 to the naturally aspirated V10.