I’m not a “car guy.” That may sound odd coming from someone who has been racing cars for 23 years, but it’s true and I thought it would be a good place to start a story about what I think of the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR. I consider myself a racer, and there is a difference.
I’ve been interested in racing all of my life, and when I was a kid that transferred into street cars. However, as the years went on, the commercial b.s. from the auto industry became thicker, and I stopped paying attention to the claims, listening to the commercials, or trying to understand the 100 different terms for stability control. Increasingly, it seems more money is channeled to the marketing team to “individualize” a car than what is allocated the team whose job it is to make it perform. I got to the point where I did not enjoy learning about the cars because I did not know what information to trust.
(Full Disclosure: When Dodge asked us if we wanted to drive the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR our first reaction was “Duh, thank you.” Our second reaction was “Maybe we should get someone faster than us to drive it.” The very cool Andy Lally agreed to do it and Dodge flew Roselli down to shoot it and filled him with BBQ. Andy mostly subsisted on Clif Bars — Ed.)
This is why I couldn’t be happier for a group like Jalopnik to have contacted me. They reached out about a month ago to see if I would be interested in giving a fresh take on a car review, with the goal of having someone with a decent amount of track experience flog a very powerful car around Virginia International Raceway. Little did I realize at the time this would be right up my alley, and for more reasons than I thought.
The new Viper ACR is my first unscripted car review for a completely independent company, one where I can give a fully honest opinion. Doing this with Jalopnik is even better because they often throw politically correct out the window, which seems to be a trait we both share.
Our day started with a short presentation and introduction from the Dodge reps about the car. The heads involved with the design and engineering of the car were all on-hand to share some of the highlights about the car from their point of view, as well as tell us of improvements over the previous model.
I made a mental note that I was the only person in the room not writing any of this stuff down. I cared... but not really. I just want to go drive this thing. The only thing I kept thinking was: I’m going to punch the first guy that raises his hand with a stupid question and delays me from getting on track sooner.
I didn’t care what these guys were telling me at the moment, I only wanted to talk to them AFTER driving the car. That’s when I was going to have the important questions.
I give the Dodge guys a lot of credit, they were available all day as I tried to uncover the “how’s” and “why’s” of the development process and their reasons for certain decisions in the design process. They were transparent on all the issues I brought up and it was refreshing. From the engineers, to the interior designers, to the test drivers and heads of marketing, I was able to ask whatever questions I wanted and felt satisfied that I was not being fed the company line.
The Good Stuff: This is a Race Car
When I finally strap in and pull out of pit lane I’m instantly impressed. Racers made this car.
645 HP and 600 ft/lbs of torque gets going quickly, even in a 3,300-pound car. The launch embeds my back in the seat, but at the same time still inspires confidence that all is well under control.The car shows no signs of slowing down until the fifth gear shift at 145mph.
The drag created from the massive amount of downforce increases exponentially as you go faster and approach the aero wall, which is listed at 177mph. The combination of a well-engineered suspension and huge 335/25/19 rear tires from Kumho keep everything tracking straight even when all stability and traction control is turned off.
Under hard braking into the corners from high speeds, you can appreciate the many engineering combinations that went into this car. The carbon ceramic brakes combined with a non-intrusive ABS system, big downforce, well balanced shocks and springs, plus lots of contact patch give you a secure feeling on the initial brake hit, and that stays with you all the way to the apex. The Viper’s platform is versatile enough to both trail brake or release-and-roll, whichever fits your style or the demands of the corner you are going through.
The Kumho is a DOT tire but reacts and drives very much like a racing slick, while giving a good feel to the driver as it breaks traction both at the front and the rear. One interesting note was that the rear tire is an existing Kuhmo design, but the front tire was specifically built around the front end of the ACR.
A positive factor about where the tire is differentiated from a regular slick was that it doesn’t take long to get up to a comfortable operating temperature. Granted it’s an 80 degree morning, but I’m the first one in the car and left the pit lane flat out to see exactly how it performs in that situation. I’m 85% into Turn One, and 95% by Turn Five. I’m flat out before the end of lap one. This is an excellent trait of the car, and especially suits a hobbyist that may not be on track every week. It’s possible this feeling may change in colder weather, but until you are at extremely low track temps I would wager it still feels stable.
The downforce created by this car is enormous and confidence inspiring. The ACR makes WAY more downforce than the car that I am currently racing in the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship. The rules in modern GT racing make it difficult to fully exploit the technologies out there, so not having to build to a rules package meant the engineering department could take full advantage of what they had.
Starting at the front there is a gigantic splitter option that, when coupled with very functional dive planes, fender louvers, hood vents and the traditional and very recognizable “gills” in front of the doors, creates downforce and cooling efficiency that you will not see on any other street-legal car around.
Underneath the car there is a straked diffuser that helps suck the car to the ground and was tested to not just get the biggest downforce number in a straight line, but to make stick where it matters most: in the corners. Any serious race team visiting a wind tunnel tests their cars in yaw, essentially mimicking the slip angle of the car through the corner. This is often very different than just hitting the car head on with air.
Even 2-3 degrees of yaw will change how you move bits and pieces around on the car to create downforce at the right time. The diffuser on the Viper ACR is an example of well thought out engineering and practical application.
We finish our aero talk-up with the most noticeable piece on the car: The giphukinormous rear wing. Dodge calls it their “X-Wing” because of the look achieved by its dual element sides and single element center. This is another part that was designed and developed both in the wind tunnel and in simulation specifically around the ACR. It works.
One of the best features of this car is that it is tunable to the track you are at as well as your driving style. Two-way adjustable shocks give the more advanced driver a tuning tool, as well as giving the beginner something to learn from. The Bilstein shocks have 10 clicks of both bump and rebound with a pretty wide range, and changes that you can feel.
In addition to that, you can change the ride height of the car from three inches at a low point to five inches at a high point. This is a great compliment to the shock tuning as you can set your nose as low as it can go without dragging the splitter off and adjust your rake accordingly. Having all that bolt-on down force on the car also means that you can unbolt it! If your track day takes you to Daytona you certainly don’t want to run as much downforce as you would at Sonoma or Lime Rock. You can decrease the rear wing angle while taking off the front dive planes which are probably the highest-drag additions to the front downforce package.
As for the less exciting stuff….
There is an interior, it’s cool looking. Don’t make a thing out of it. There is a radio, it’s average. I didn’t really listen to it.
There is an adjustable pedal box you can move to suit your length, this is excellent. There is A/C, and I was especially fine with this while sitting with my helmet on before heading out on track — you will be too. There is bluetooth connectivity. You can bring your phone on track and talk to your mechanic during the session, no need for a push-to-talk radio button!
Finally, The seats are made from a combination of beautiful and functional Alcantara and vinyl. In other words NO LEATHER. This is a great thing as no auto manufacture on the planet has any reason to put dead animal parts inside my race car. Every other manufacturer still using leather should take note of this!
The Bad Stuff: This is a Race Car.
This would not be a review without a critique, so I waited until the end to point out what I would have done differently.
My first impression was that the steering is fast. Maybe a tiny bit too fast. I did get used to it by the middle of the day and most customers will probably do the same but I would still change the ratio a bit. I’m not sure if they expected the front end of the car to respond as well as it does during initial design.
Second gear is too long. Don’t get me wrong, it still comes off of a tight corner really well and in reality may have been built purposely long to keep a lesser experienced driver from getting themselves in trouble if they use the gas pedal like an on-off switch, but if I were making changes to the next version I may give myself a bit more of a stump puller. Maybe a good evolution to the rumored ACR-X that may or may not already be testing? Did I type that out loud?
With the ability to make adjustments on a race car comes the ability to adjust yourself right out of the ballpark. It would be cool to have track specific recommendations in a neatly prepared package… maybe one where a professional driver could make a baseline set up and group like tracks together, coming up with three basic set ups for the three basic styles of track. Dodge, I know a guy that might be interested in that. Just sayin’.
Last but not least, if you are serious about buying this car please take these next words as serious as you will take any other advice. BUY THE SIX POINT SEATBELT UPGRADE. I did three flying laps in this car with a regular belt and had to pull into the pits because for as much grip as you can generate, a regular shoulder belt does not keep you in place well enough.
In Dodge’s defense, I was vocal about this right away and they explained that they are prohibited from selling a street car with these belts. They did have a car on-site with six-point belts installed and it was much more pleasant. The car is built so that you can easily install them. Check that box when ordering.
I had a lot of fun doing this and hope everyone watching and reading enjoyed this point of view. Let us know in the comments section and maybe ill be able to come back and do more! Special thanks to my very brave camera man at VIR, Michael Roselli. He is either the bravest or stupidest guy I have ever met. You won’t see many camera guys putting themselves in this kind of potential danger to bring you these kinds of speed shots on many other websites!
Andy Lally is a four-time Daytona 24 class winner, three-time Rolex Grand AM Champion, street luger, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt, and enthusiastic vegan. He will be disappointed to learn that every press event involves BBQ.