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What is it?

After a brief hiatus, the Viper V10 sports car returns as an SRT, not a Dodge, for the 2013 model year. There are major revisions across the board to boost performance and comfort, and a two-model lineup to broaden the Viper’s appeal.

Let’s start under the hood. The 8.4-liter V10 now uses a lighter, higher-flowing intake manifold made from composite material, replacing the previous cast aluminum unit. Other changes include forged pistons instead of cast pistons, lightweight sodium-filled exhaust valves, an aluminum flywheel and a single catalytic converter instead of dual units for better exhaust flow. All the engine changes deliver an additional 40 hp (to 640 hp) and 40 lb-ft of torque (to 600 lb-ft) over the previous Viper. And the 2013 engine weighs 25 pounds less.

The six-speed Tremec TR6060 manual transmission gets tighter spacing between the gear ratios, a shortened 3.55 final drive (from 3.07) and gear throws that are shorter by nearly 12.5 percent.

To help corral all that power the Viper gets standard traction control, multi-mode electronic stability control and launch control.

Like the engine, weight savings was the theme for the chassis. Chrysler engineers shaved more 100 pounds by using the newest high-strength steels for the space frame, carbon fiber for the hood, roof and rear hatch, aluminum body panels and lighter-weight wheels. The SRT Viper is also stiffer, with torsional rigidity up by 50 percent over the old car, helped in large part by the engine compartment X-brace lifted directly from the Viper GTS-R and Competition Coupe race cars. The increased rigidity improves the car’s steering response.

Also helping to improve front end response is a wider, 62.4-inch track (up from 61.7 inches), and retuned Bilstein shocks, springs and hollow antiroll bars. Rear suspension geometry has been revised with the toe links relocated from behind the rear axle centerline to in front.

At the corners are Pirelli PZero tires–295/30 ZR-18 front and 355/30 ZR-19 rear– with four-piston Brembo brakes providing the stopping muscle.

The base SRT Viper uses fabric-covered Sabelt seats and skips the sound deadening material. The driver’s seat is lowered by 0.8 inch for a better fit for taller drivers and drivers wearing safety helmets. The seat height can be adjusted by 1.6 inches. Seat travel has been increased by 3.5 inches and the center console is set lower for easier access to the shifter. In another Viper first, cruise control and push button start are standard.

The range-topping GTS model gets two-mode Bilstein Damptronic dampers with street and track settings–you can change modes with the push of a button on the center stack. A four-mode electronic stability control system adds speed sensors in each wheel and yaw, lateral-g and steering-wheel angle sensors. There’s a sport mode that allows for significant lateral slip, a track mode that cuts out the traction control and allows even more lateral slip, and full-off mode that cuts all the electronic aids.

The GTS gets a sleeker, two-outlet hood and split six-spoke wheels instead of the SRT’s five-spoke design. In the cabin, hand-stitched nappa leather covers the six-way power-adjustable seats, dash, center console, door panels and A-pillars. There’s sound deadening material for a quieter ride and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. An optional premium interior package adds Laguna premium leather throughout the cabin and an Alcantara headliner.

Those looking for maximum performance will want to spring for the available track package, which adds two-piece StopTech slotted lightweight brake rotors, lighter wheels finished in black and Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. The track package is offered on both the SRT and GTS models–it cuts 57 pounds from the car’s curb weight.

What is it like to drive?

Based on brief drives of development vehicles around GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Mich., we can say that the 2013 SRT Viper is an easier snake to tame.

Before going out in the 2013 Viper we got a refresher session in the old car–where we quickly were reminded of that car’s brutal nature. Under hard braking the back end dances around, while in corners you could feel the car just waiting for a chance to bite if you made any bonehead mistakes. But once you got the weight shifted there’s gobs of grip available.

From there we moved to the 2013 Viper SRT with the track package. This car felt more forgiving and the rear felt better planted under braking, but you can still feel it get slightly skittish. Turn-in is sharper and weight transfer from side-to-side is more controlled, which boosts your confidence through corners. The hydraulic steering system keeps its weighty feel and good feedback comes through the thick-rim, flat-bottom steering wheel. The V10 roared down the back straight on GingerMan’s shortened track configuration, with thrust available anywhere in the rev band and excellent throttle response.

Finally, we saddled up in the GTS and took a lap with the adjustable suspension in street mode. We immediately noticed more body roll in turns, which didn’t feel great on the track. However, we are certain that on the street the extra give in the suspension would be welcome.

Then we set the dampers to track to experience the most-planted setup of the afternoon. Body roll in the corners was virtually nonexistent. The stability control was a nice safety net, though you can switch it off if you feel like wrestling the snake without any help.

In both base and GTS Vipers we liked the nicer interior surroundings, although SRT representatives were quick to point out that they weren’t production spec and didn’t allow photos. Even so, what we saw is a heck of a start with nice touch points all over and comfortable Sabelt seats that offered plenty of support. We’re also happy with the shift action on the six-speed manual that requires more of a flick of the wrist to change gears.

What would we change? The brakes don’t offer the initial bite that we like–there’s a bit of travel in the pedal before the Brembos really start to clamp down. It’s an unsettling feeling in this car when you go to the brakes and don’t get instant grab. Then there was the jumpy tach needle on the central LCD gauge cluster that bugged us–it’s a known problem and will be fixed by the time production begins in November.

Do I want it?

If you’re a member of Viper Nation, you certainly do. The 2013 SRT Viper is not as raw and unapologetic as its predecessor but retains enough of the original Viper aura to keep the faithful happy.

Despite the weight cutting program, fuel economy falls to 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway (from 13 mpg city/22 mpg highway for the old car).

Even hardcore enthusiasts should prefer the higher-quality interior over the Spartan black plastic cave the Viper had been. Compared to other high-end sports cars, the Viper is still quite raw from the drive perspective, which has always been a part of its charm.

For the many people who would never have considered a Viper because it was too crude–and SRT says there are a lot of you–the GTS is worth a look. The adjustable suspension saves your kidneys from punishment on daily drives yet sharpens things up for fun track day outings. The leather-lined interior offers a higher level of refinement and there are now useful things such as storage cubbies on the center console and doors.

The 2013 SRT Viper friendlier and better dressed–but still packs biting performance.

2013 SRT Viper

On Sale: Orders begin in November, deliveries start in January

Base Price: $100,000 (est)

Drivetrain: 8.4-liter 640-hp, 600-lb-ft V10; RWD, six-speed manual

Curb Weight: 3,354 lbs

0-60 mph: 3.5 sec (mfr est)

Fuel Economy (EPA): 12 mpg city/18 mpg highway