Clawing at the Tarmac | Dodge Viper ACR REVIEW

Clawing at the Tarmac | Dodge Viper ACR REVIEW

The Dodge Viper ACR brings on a guilty feeling.  Do you know that sensation you’re getting after you’ve acted out on impulse?  It may cost heavily in the long term but right now you are so overwhelmed with sweet joy that you couldn’t care less.  Because the Viper ACR is anything but a commuter car.  In other words, you are looking at a track monster that’s just legal enough so that Department of Transportation will let you throw a license plate on it.

However, you would rather give the Viper ACR a license to kill – not a man, but to kill track times.  And for the most part, it’s able to do it without much hassle.  The Viper ACR holds the record on the renowned Laguna Seca circuit, smashing Porsche’s 918 record by 1.24 seconds.  “Yeah, I don’t think it’s that fast”, says no one ever, after driving the ACR.  Of course, being fast is not everything a car can do, and yes, the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR has its downsides on the street-side of the equation.  However, let’s keep surfing the awesomeness wave for a while.  Because it is worth it.

Fast, but not top-end fast

This version of the Dodge Viper is the one to cross the finish line first, compared to its relatives – and this is possible thanks to two main features: aerodynamic downforce and power output.

Dodge uses the same drivetrain on all Viper units, the only difference on the ACR being a finned differential to aid the cooling process.  Apart from that, the hood reveals an 8.4-liter V10 with 645 screaming American horses and a 600 lb-ft of meaty torque.  Truth be told, we’ve seen bigger output numbers from smaller displacements and fewer cylinders.  On the other hand, there is the unique sound which can’t be synthesized and only comes out this raw from large 10 cylinder displacements.

There is little to no space to check out the rear of the vehicle through the interior rearview mirror.  On one hand, the rear window is rather small.  Also, the flamboyantly large rear wing doesn’t help much either in terms of visibility.  We won’t mind the wing, though, as it’s the main element giving the Viper ACR a go-kart feeling in tight turns.  When it comes to downforce, the bigger the better – to an extent.

Because it makes air push so hard on the car, the rear wing helps Viper ACR to tackle corners with very late braking, sometimes just a fraction of a second before the apex.  Unfortunately, this characteristic which gives it dynamic performance on twisty tracks is the one which heavily limits its top speed.

Taking into account the adjustable trunk-mounted wing, front splitter (which isn’t any smaller), fender vents and rear diffuser, the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR pushes 2000 pounds of downforce onto the Kumho tires.  The very same setup will generate a 0.54 drag coefficient, which also limits the top speed at “just” 177 mph.  To put it in perspective, the standard Viper SRT features a drag coefficient of just 0.34 (lower is better).

To conclude the drag vs downforce battle, it should suffice to say the Viper ACR is a track car, not a dragster.  It makes up for a weaker top speed value by tackling corners at higher speeds.  However, if you’re more focused on top speed, giving up the Extreme Aero package will restore it to 205 mph (330 km/h) at the huge expense of downforce.

Street-legal tires? Barely…

The 2016 Dodge Viper ACR comes fitted with Kumho tires on all four wheels.  It is important to know that the Kumho Ecsta V720 tires equipping the ACR were specifically designed for the car.  Development was initiated around two years before actual production of the Viper ACR, at Dodge’s request.

Kumho Ecsta V720 are classified as street legal tires.  From the distance, they look like veritable track-ready slicks.  You need to quite get close to notice the fine grooves molded into the rolling surface.  Presumably this is the minimum amount of tread for the DOT to slap the street-legal certification on them.

On the rear, the ACR boasts 355/30 R19 sized Kumhos, which is the same size as the SRT.  The front wheels maintain the standard 295 widths but the height is diminished to 25 from the original 30.  The changes are subtle at best, but weigh considerably over the dynamic behavior of the ACR, as we’ll discuss later on.  As a general thought, being specifically made for the Viper ACR, the tires are prone to providing the utmost level of grip, even better than the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which are the usual go-to model for high performance vehicles.

Suspension matches your style

The suspension system scores yet another point for the ACR.  Adjustable suspension is nothing new and definitely not something to be amazed by.  However, even the slightest experience with track cars will reveal that most of the time, settings are tuned only according to the track.  That’s where Dodge steps in and says “not enough”.

And why exactly isn’t that enough?  Because on the race track, there’s the car, the track and the driver.  Bilstein shocks are available for two-way adjustment, with ten levels of bump and rebound.  The best part is that you can actually feel the difference between the various settings.  The system provides enough feedback and customization for professional drivers, yet intuitive enough for your average Viper owner to play with.

Ground clearance can be adjusted between a minimum of 3 inches up to a top of 5 inches.    Thanks to the adjustable suspension behavior, you can go for the lowest clearance and still keep the front splitter from dragging over the tarmac.

The ride

Depending on how heavy you plan on getting on the throttle and brakes and on how much you want to push the limit of grip, ride may be easily replaced by race.  After all, we’re looking at a legitimate race car.  Indeed, the ACR is legal to drive on the street amongst a sea of boring cars, but its true nature is out there on the track.

The space is somewhat limited inside the cockpit, but you won’t struggle to get inside as you might do with a BMW i8.  Thankfully, the pedal box is adjustable for driver height (or rather the length of the legs).  While the close packed pedals are great for heel-and-toe techniques, it might get trickier to press just the throttle and not grip the brake pedal on the way.  Especially true if your shoe size is in the teens.

Once you get the hang of it, Viper ACR does a good job on shoving it to all those who at one point stated “muscle cars can’t corner”.  Because not only that it deals with turns, it sticks to the road way more than you would expect from it, and for the most part, the huge X-Wing is the one you have to thank for that.

Both front and rear wheels are equipped with Brembo carbon ceramic brakes.  That being said, it’s safe to say the stopping power of the ACR might take you by surprise the first time around the track.  The pedal is really firm, providing a heightened level of confidence; it basically lets you brake later into the turn and shave off seconds from the total time.

Grumbling about the gearbox?

The ACR comes with a six-speed manual and there is no plan for introducing an automatic.  Apparently, there are some local American shops that can hook you up with an automatic gearbox on the ACR – but is it worth it?  Taking in account the fact that the clutch is rather easy to operate and downshifting is really needed only on the very twisty tracks, there’s really no point in taking the trade-off.

After all, there little to no chance you will catch a Dodge Viper ACR going 3 mph in morning commute traffic to justify the comfort of an automatic.

Conclusion: muscles cars CAN turn

The 8.4-liter V10 is something you either love or you don’t.  It gets the 3,300 lb ACR moving quite fast without any noticeable lag.  Turn the ACR’s grip level up to 11 with the Extreme Aero package offering a Kung Fu grip to the road beyond what you would think is possible.  The on-track experience is hardly matched by anything within its range, unless you are looking for top speed numbers.

In the end, you are looking at a race-oriented machine that you can legally drive to the track rather than tow it there.  Regardless of how you get there, on the way it will turn a lot more heads than a top spec Z06 costing the about same.

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