Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger

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Chrysler, which was on the brink of total collapse a few short years ago is finally in good health, thanks to majority holder Fiat. Turning a car company around is no small task, and at the core of the turnaround are the cars available for you and me to buy. With the Dodge brand, all eyes have been focused on the new, Alfa Romeo-based Dart, a compact four door sedan. In the mid-size department, Dodge continues to offer the Avenger, which is no spring chicken, having been around since 2008. Vilified by the press for awful interior quality, and crude drivetrains, the Avenger was an easy target. Things changed in 2011 with some refreshed sheetmetal, a vastly improved interior, and a brand new V-6. And consumers responded, with 2012 being the best sales year for the Avenger since it debuted, with close to 100,000 cars sold in the US.

Still, the improvements made to the Avenger, good as they are, still leaves it as an ‘also ran’ in the hotly contested mid-size sedan market. So, with an aging car and limited funds, what do you do if you’re Dodge? You make your mid-size car look mean. From the start, Dodge styled the Avenger to look like a little brother to the Charger. It’s butch, blocky, and undeniably American. Two years after a minor refresh, the Avenger still looks old school. However, our test car was equipped with the $495 Blacktop Package, and the reaction on the street astounded me. For that, you get 18″ gloss black alloy wheels, grille, headlight bezels and a rear spoiler. Pretty simple, right? Yet during my week with the Avenger, people would come up to me saying how bad-ass it looked. I was incredulous when an owner of a Honda S2000 came up to me at a car wash asking me questions about the car. I’ve driven every mid-size car available, and none generated the interest our Avenger did. When your competition has limitless funds, Dodge did the right thing by offering an option to make their car stand out. No, it’s not for everyone, but when I had a Toyota Camry, no one noticed.

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The Avenger’s greatest drawback was its interior, which rightfully drew immense criticism for dull as dirt design, poor quality and rock hard plastics. Dodge has gone to great lengths to improve the interior of the Avenger. I am happy to say they have succeeded, but still lag behind the competition. Our all-black interior made for a drab cabin, and the scant silver trim and white stitching on the seats and door panels did little to break up the monotony. That said, the Avenger’s cabin proved to be comfortable for four. Controls are clear and very simple to use-no need to consult the owner’s manual. Rear passengers did complain the Charger inspired kink at the rear fender severely reduced visibility, which is true, and the lack of a rearview camera or parking sensors compounds the problem. The absence of these and other features like a Stop/Start button are stark reminders that this is a car that has been on sale since 2008.

You can take your Avenger with one of two engines. The standard 2.4L four cylinder, rated at 173hp will get the job done. The base model is equipped with an archaic four-speed automatic, while higher trims get a six-speed automatic. For a mere $300 extra, I implore you to get the new 3.6L V-6, mated to a six-speed automatic. Rated at 283hp, the Avenger is one of the most powerful cars in its class. EPA fuel economy ratings are 19/29 MPG City/Highway. When pushed, the Avenger is very quick, and always composed. The steering was nicely weighted. Driver’s seeking an even more aggressively tuned Avenger should check out the R/T, which offers a sport tuned suspension and quicker steering. In the mid-size sedan world, the Avenger cuts a nice balance between the isolation chamber Camry and near-sport sedan Mazda6.

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When the refreshed Avenger arrived in 2011, it was offered in a staggering five different trim levels with funny names like ‘Express’ and ‘Main Street’. No more. You have the base SE, the SXT like our test car, and the sportier R/T. Our Avenger SXT has a base price of just $22,195USD. For that, you get the standard four cylinder engine with the six-speed automatic, auto climate control, SiriusXM satellite radio, power driver’s seat, and LED interior lighting. Options on our test car included leather, heated seats, the aforementioned Blacktop Package, V-6 engine, and the Sun and Navigation Group (6.5″ touchscreen, voice command, Bluetooth, 40 Gig hard drive for your tunes, GPS navigation, power sunroof, and auto dimming rearview mirror. Including delivery charges, the total price rings in at $26,225, which is an incredible bargain.

The harshest critics will dismiss the Avenger as an ugly reminder of the neglect Daimler and Cerberus inflicted on Chrysler. I see it differently. Dodge engineers and designers were given an unpopular car with the directive to make it more competitive on a shoestring budget, and they delivered. It is not the most plush, refined and polished car in its class, but decked out as our test car was, it had an elusive quality called ‘character’, a trait almost never seen in a modern mid-size car. It isn’t like the rest of the herd. It stands out, and it got people talking. Isn’t that what we love about cars? Am I really saying this about an Avenger, a car our Founding Editor Gary Grant named the worst car of the year in 2009? Gary may have been right then, but since then, Dodge has cooked up a spicier Avenger with personality and a bargain price to boot.

Dodge Adds Charger AWD Sport to the Family

When you think of the Dodge Charger. what comes to mind? A big, modern muscle car perfect for families? Visions of smokey burnouts once the kids are dropped off at school? How about a perfect all-weather car? No? Well, Dodge wants that perception to change. While the general perception of the Charger is all about aggressive styling and available HEMI V-8 power, the Charger has been available with all-wheel drive, but this feature seems to have flown under the radar. What better way to highlight the Charger’s all-weather capabilities than to come out with a special model all about all-wheel drive?

Orders are being taken now, but expect January 2013 availability for the Dodge Charger AWD Sport. Consider the AWD Sport as a limited edition option package, as Dodge only intends to build Charger AWD Sports for about three months. The AWD Sport is based on the V-6 Charger SXT and HEMI V-8 Charger R/T trims. As for cost, Dodge is charging $1,395USD for the AWD Sport package, and $1,195 on R/T models.

So, what do you get for the money? The Charger AWD Sport distinguishes itself with a gloss black grille, gloss black painted 19″ alloys, and a rear spoiler. Inside, buyers are also treated to sport seats and Chrysler’s premium Beats Audio. The V-6 Charger AWD Sport gets a slight boost in power. The well-received 3.6L V-6 now boasts 300hp, thanks to a sport tuned dual exhaust and cold air induction system. The 370hp 5.7L V-8 is unchanged. The Garage sampled a 2012 Dodge Charger R/T which we thoroughly enjoyed. For 2013, both V-6 and V-8 Chargers feature an 8-speed automatic, as opposed to the 5-speed in our test car. Unique to the AWD Sport are paddle shifters and a Sport mode that will bang out quicker shifts and will hold revs higher in each gear. Kudos to Dodge for the shift paddles made from diecast metal instead of plastic. No word from Dodge, but I expect this to be available in other Chargers once the AWD Sport run is over.

But again, the emphasis here is on the Charger’s all-wheel drive capability, and to break the perception this is strictly a rear wheel drive brute. Dodge is quick to point out their active transfer case and front axle disconnect technology, where the front wheels have no power unless needed to improve fuel economy. Will it work? Hard to say, but I can’t blame Dodge for wanting to raise awareness that the Charger is available with all-wheel drive. Whether we see more Chargers rolling up to ski resorts in Stowe, Vermont, or Aspen, Colorado remains to be seen.

 

Dodge Adds Fuel-Sipping Dart Aero

Dodge has been rightfully accused of both getting wrong and completely misreading the compact car market in North America for years. The advent of the Alfa Romeo based Dodge Dart, which has been on sale since last summer is going a long way of reversing that, but Dodge is hardly resting on its laurels. While enthusiasts await the sporty Dart R/T this month, Dodge has announced the addition of the Dart Aero.

In an economy which is still lagging, and in the face of rising fuel costs, there is a strong focus on compact sedans. Buyers not only demand style, performance and technology, but strong fuel economy as well. Most of the major players like the Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus and Honda Civic offer a more fuel efficient version of their car, and Dodge now joins those ranks with the Dart Aero. To improve fuel economy over other Darts, the Aero features weight-saving aluminum chassis components, active grille shutters for improved air flow at the nose, an under body aero kit, a lower profile and low rolling resistance tires.

The Dart Aero will start at $19,295USD. Standard will be a 1.4L MultiAir turbocharged four cylinder rated at 160hp. Since fuel economy is the name of the game, a Dart Aero with a six-speed manual will get 41 MPG on the highway. Opting for the six-speed dual dry clutch transmission drops that figure to 40 MPG. Production of the Dart Aero commenced this summer, but Dodge gave no word as to when it would arrive in showrooms.

Under the guidance of parent company Fiat, Dodge has done an about face with its compact car offering with the new Dart. Yes, the bread and butter mainstream models are fully accounted for, but the performance oriented R/T and the fuel sipping Aero show that Dodge is finally in-step with the competition in offering something to suit most compact car buyers tastes, whatever they may be.

*Editor’s Note: The pictures shown are a Dart Limited, as Chrysler provided no media for the Dart Aero.

Ralph Gilles talks about Dodge’s decision to pull out of NASCAR

As many fans try to figure out why the Dodge brand has decided to pull out of NASCAR at the end of the season, Ralph Gilles sits down in front of the camera to explain the reasoning. Put short and sweet, they have not been able to put together a deal with a team like Penske that has a complete package. If a team has to rely on outside help, then it doesn’t make sense for Dodge to go racing with them!

Check out the video after the jump.
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Review: 2012 Dodge Charger R/T

Ask your average car buff to define what a traditional American four door sedan is. After pondering the question for a moment, what may come to mind is a big, rear wheel drive sedan with plenty of room, a big trunk, and definitely available V-8 power. It is a formula that worked and was extremely successful in America for decades. In 2012, however, the Charger is in a class by itself. The Ford Taurus is a fine car, while Chevy’s Impala has been in need of replacement for years, but neither of those company’s largest offerings have the formula of the classic, American full-size four door sedan. The question is, does that old formula still work in 2012? Or is the Charger just a rolling anachronism of a time gone by? Read on to find out.

The Charger returned to the Dodge line as a 2006 model after a long absence, and was a radical departure from the front-wheel drive Intrepid it replaced. Instead of the smooth, jellybean Intrepid, the Charger was in your face with aggressive styling. Well received at first, the Charger suffered from the malaise and lack of product development that was rampant at Dodge for the latter half of the 2000′s. As we know now, Dodge has undertaken an enormous initiative to update its cars, and the Charger finally received its first major revision in 2011.

The Charger remains the most aggressively styled mainstream full-size sedan available today. While the Charger may have Mercedes-Benz sourced bits mechanically, from the outside the Charger is full on, wave the flag American and proud of it. The sculpted hood and sides recall the muscle car the original Charger was, but xenon and LED lighting keep the Charger from being a rehashed retromobile. Our test car, finished in Redline Pearl was easy to spot, and you won’t mistake the Charger for any other car. With the Charger, Dodge has managed to style a full-size sedan with serious muscle car undertones yet manages the fine line from going over the top. Yes, it’s aggressive, but you won’t feel like a fool at the country club or rolling up to the valet at your favorite restaurant.

If the Charger had one glaring flaw, it was its interior. Plagued with cheap materials, blocky, uninspired styling, the cabin of the Charger was pretty depressing. Dodge has thankfully righted the ship, and I am happy to say the new Charger’s cabin was a revelation. When Dodge delivered the Charger, I swung upon the door, and upon seeing the gorgeous black and tan interior, I was dumbfounded at the light years of progress the interior designers at Dodge had made. Our Charger was brimming with the latest in technology but managed to be very user friendly. And the basic ingredients that made the Charger a success at first were there-a roomy cabin, spacious rear seat and large trunk.

Buyers have some compelling choices for engines with the revised Charger. In the past, a V-6 Charger had ‘rental car’ written all over it. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. The base Charger receives Chrysler’s new Pentastar 3.6L V-6, good for 292hp. The Garage first sampled the new engine in the Charger’s little brother, the Avenger, and we came away impressed. While a five-speed automatic is standard on the base car, a new eight-speed automatic is available that offers substantially better fuel economy. Our test car was an R/T, which means we had the 5.7L Hemi V-8, belting out a healthy 370hp, paired to a five-speed automatic. V-6 and V-8 Chargers are available with either rear or all-wheel drive. In spite of a powerful honking Hemi residing under the hood, our Charger R/T was very low key on start up and puttering around town. You really had to stomp on it to hear the wrath of that glorious V-8, which pushed the big, heavy Charger with ease. The Charger never lets you forget it is a big car, but that said handling is pretty sharp, yet far more refined than I had expected. I don’t say this often, but the Charger R/T is a car that would be perfect to drive cross country.

The base Charger starts at $25,595USD, which I consider a more than fair starting point. Our test car was the R/T with all-wheel drive, which starts at $32,145, and comes well equipped. Our tester included the Max package, which added ventilated front seats, SiriusXM Traffic, Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, back up camera, Garmin navigation, nine speaker premium audio, power adjustable pedals, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, and heated/cooled cupholders. Other options included the paint, power sunroof and rear spoiler. Including delivery, our Charger R/T rang in at $40,645. Cheap? No, but for the size, power, comfort and up to the minute technology and all-wheel drive to boot, the Charger R/T represents quite a bargain for what you are paying for.

There are those out there who might consider the Charger to be an automotive dinosaur, but I would have to disagree. Options for people wanting a full-size sedan are plentiful, but how you can you get excited about an Impala or Toyota Avalon? The Charger represents the size, swagger, presence and power that were once the hallmark of the American family car that Chevy and Ford have shied away from. While it pays homage to its past, the Charger is bristling with the latest in technology. For features and bang for your buck, the Charger is tough to beat.

New Details on Chysler/Jeep/Dodge’s Future

What a ride it’s been at Chrysler these past few years. Neglected by parent Daimler and subsequent owner Cerberus, Chrysler was on the brink of collapse and on their knees in front of the US Congress begging for a bailout. Ironically, Fiat, a company who fled the US in the early 1980′s turned out to be Chrysler’s savior. And so far, the results have been encouraging. The bottom-feeder Dodge Avenger has been enormously improved. SRT is reviving the almighty Viper. The highly anticipated Dodge Dart with full Alfa Romeo DNA intact will be hitting showrooms soon.

There is no question that Chrysler had a myriad of problems, and it appears that Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is still at work at revamping the beleaguered company. According to a post from Autoblog, Marchionne confirmed the Jeep Compass will be killed off in 2014.  In spite of its 2011 redesign which modeled itself after the Grand Cherokee, Jeep’s attempt at targeting young urban types-especially females appears to have fizzled. The more successful Patriot, which shares the same mechanicals to the Compass has sold far better, with more traditional Jeep styling, but it is unclear what the future of the Patriot is. Still, these cars are dinosaurs, based on the now extinct Dodge Caliber which was mercifully let go in favor of the upcoming Dart.

The next casualty is the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. The Dodge Grand Caravan remains, which makes sense since the Caravan was the first minivan. Ever. Kudos to Sergio Marchionne for telling Chrysler it makes no sense selling the exact same car under two brands. Brand engineering is what nearly ruined the American auto industry, so killing off the Town & Country makes perfect sense to me.

In other related news, it appears there will be an SRT high performance version of the Dodge Dart that will sit above the Dart R/T. No word yet on what will sit under the hood. In sum, I find the news from Chrysler encouraging as failing and redundant cars are cut off, and under the control of Fiat they definitely appear to be a more focused company. The future looks bright.

Forgotten Sporty Cars, Mother’s Day Edition

All of us here at The Garage hope you treated your mom’s right on Mother’s Day, and we offer a belated happy Mother’s Day to the mom’s that read our blog. En route to lovely Knapp’s Landing restaurant in Stratford, Connecticut, my wife spotted a cool car on our way to lunch. Not wanting to be late, I vowed to check it out later. A tribute to my lovely wife for her keen eye.

After lunch, I drove to where she spotted the car, and what I found was cooler than I ever could have imagined. Not only was it a cool car, but it was resting on the flatbed of an equally, if not more cool flatbed truck, a vintage Dodge, rusted and faded, but what especially struck me was the barely legible painting on the doors for the shop it did duty for decades ago.

The little sports car, slowly atrophying to the elements is a Datsun 2000, also known as the Fairlady in its native Japan. The 2000 was the car that preceded the groundbreaking 240Z. Built from 1967 to 1970, the 2000 sported a 2.0L four, good for 133hp with a whopping 7,000 rpm redline. With a weight of just 2,000lbs, the 2000 could comfortably cruise all day at 120mph in fifth gear, an overdrive gear, but in fourth the 2000 could hit 140mph. Competing against MG, a five speed manual was exotic stuff for this class of car. Datsun wanted the car to appeal to SCCA racers, and offered an optional Competition Package with Solex carbs and special camshaft, bumping power to 150hp.

By all measures, the Datsun 2000 was years ahead of the MGB and Triumph TR-4 in terms of technology and performance, but at the time, the American sports car buyer just wasn’t ready to embrace a Japanese roadster. The 2000 was a limited production car, and lacked the British charm MG’s and Triumph’s offered. With World War II in the not so distant past, I have no doubt that for as good as the Datsun 2000 was, it was simply crossed off buyer’s lists for it country of origin.

But for anyone who respects and covets the Z-car, look back and see the Datsun 2000 as the final evolution of their sports car before launching the sports car revolution the Z created. For now, reflect on the beauty and/or sadness of the car that came before.

Review: 2012 Dodge Journey

I confess, my first experience with the Dodge Journey did not impress. It was 2009, and The Garage’s videographer, Scott Simmons had a rental Dodge Journey that would serve as transport for the 2009 IMPA Test Days held in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Riding in the back seat with Founding Editor Gary Grant riding shotgun, the Journey screamed rental car with an interior of inexcusable quality. I still recall Scott negotiating an off-ramp at 25mph, the Journey’s tires squealing in protest while the three of us were in utter hysterics at just how awful the Journey was.

But that was 2009, the darkest days of Dodge and Chrysler. The Dodge Journey received some much needed revisions in 2011, so it was finally time for The Garage to once again revisit the Journey. Would the Journey still be nothing more than a warmed over rental car special, or has Dodge transformed the Journey into a legit player in the hotly contested crossover market? Read on to find out.

From the outside, the Journey looks essentially the same as it has since it was originally introduced as a 2009 model. A new grill and front fascia are basically all that differentiates the Journey from the original. Which isn’t exactly a bad thing, as the Journey is not a bad looking crossover. It is not cutting edge or dripping with class. I’d call it just about right, with nary an offensive line to be found. That said, our test car, finished in Storm Grey Pearl off-set with rather plain looking 17″ alloys did a fine job of getting lost in a parking lot.

After my first trip in a Dodge Journey I was appalled at how cheap the interior was. Thankfully, Dodge got the memo that it sucked and finally made good with the 2011 refresh. This time around, it looks like Dodge actually paid attention to detail with the Journey’s interior. Quality of materials and fit and finish are vastly improved. Soft touch surfaces abound, as opposed to the rock hard plastics of the past. Apart from decent materials, the Journey was also quite roomy and comfortable to boot.

Base Journey’s are equipped with a 2.4L four cylinder rated at 173hp, coupled to a rather archaic 4-speed automatic. I would strongly urge anyone shopping for a Journey to go for the optional 3.6L V-6, good for 283hp and hooked up to a six-speed automatic. We have sampled this new V-6 in other Chrysler products and we remain impressed with its power and refinement. While four cylinder Journey’s are only available with front-wheel drive, V-6 models have the option of all-wheel drive. Our test car was a front-wheel drive V-6, with EPA fuel economy figures of 17/25MPG city/highway.

Dodge has a habit of offering a dizzying amount of trim levels, and the Journey is no exception. Our test car was the mid-level SXT. We appreciated the dual-zone temperature control, but it seemed strange Dodge couldn’t offer auto climate control. Other standard features included a six-speaker stereo with XM satellite radio, and touch-screen audio interface. Our test car added the Popular Equipment Group, which included a trip computer, power driver’s seat, alarm, LED interior lighting, and UConnect Bluetooth technology. Including delivery charges, our Dodge Journey SXT rang in at a very respectable $26,785USD.

If you had asked me back in 2009 what Dodge should do with the Journey, I would have answered the car should be scrapped. Yet somehow Dodge was able to salvage a decent crossover from this horrible mess of a vehicle. With a fantastic new V-6 and a class-leading interior, Dodge has managed to transform the Journey from a joke to a legitimate player in the highly contested crossover market.

Dodge Prices out 2013 Dart Family

The Garage was at Dodge’s stage for the global premier of the 2013 Dodge Dart at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. The Dart looked sporty, and sounded good on paper. Dodge has been lost at sea in the white-hot compact car market for ages, and without a strong showing it will be very difficult for the brand to prosper. With the Dart, Dodge boasts of its Alfa Romeo DNA built in with the passion of Dodge. The Dart will be available for sale in June, while the top-spec R/T will be in around October. As promised, the Dart will start at $15,995USD, and will be offered in five trim levels. Read on for pricing and features and commentary for the Dart family!

Dart SE: $15,995 The starting point for the Dart. Standard features include 10 airbags, LED taillamps, power windows, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, as well as a 2.0L four rated at 160hp paired to a six-speed manual. Compare that to the base VW Jetta’s ancient 2.0L, good for only 115hp and down a gear. You might punish said Jetta all year from a stop, but come warmer weather, your ego will take a hit as you sweat it out without any AC.

Dart SXT: $17,995 The SXT adds AC, as well as 17″ alloys, power mirrors, power locks, keyless entry, six speaker audio, alarm, and folding rear seat. While the SE’s price will be seen in all Dart commercials, I see the SXT accounting for a huge majority of all Dart sales.

Dart Rallye: $18,995 For the car guy, this is where the Dart starts to get interesting. Dodge talks about a ‘customized look’ with distinctive front and rear fascias, foglamps and dual exhaust tips in addition to other sporty styling touches. Inside, the Rallye adds a leather steering wheel with audio controls and a trip computer. Unique to the Rallye is an available 1.4L MultiAir turbo engine. While there is no horsepower advantage from the base 2.0L, the smaller turbo engine provides more torque. I see the Rallye as an attractive alternative to buyers who find the Honda Civic Si and VW GTI four doors as out of their price range.

Limited: $19,995 Builds from the SXT and adds an 8.4″ Uconnect touchscreen, rear back-up camera, a unique 7″ configurable instrument cluster (so cool that SRT is using it for the new Viper) and a power driver’s seat. Positioned as the luxurious Dart, the Limited will appeal to buyers seeking premium features in a compact car. I see the Limited doing well with Gen Y and X buyers who demand current tech in their cars, as well as older buyers who may be downsizing from a larger car but still wanting premium features and creature comforts.

R/T: $22,495 The R/T won’t be joining the Dart line until October, but as the top-spec Dart, and positioned as the sportiest, it will offer its own 2.4L four rated at 184hp. The R/T takes all the standard kit on the Limited but goes back to the sporty styling bits of the Rallye, and adds 18″ alloys, sport suspension, leather interior, dual auto climate control, heated seats, and a heated steering wheel, a first in this class of car. You wouldn’t think it, but the hottest Dart presents the greatest conflict. The buyer is now edging closer to the GTI and Civic Si in terms of price, but falls short in terms of power, yet offers a level of standard equipment none of those cars can match. So, the R/T has a lower price, more premium features standard, but less power. And it is the latter feature that matters a heck of a lot with the demographic cross-shopping the three cars.

SRT Premiers 2013 Viper

The Garage has returned from a fantastic 2012 New York Auto Show, and without a doubt the introduction of the highly anticipated 2013 SRT Viper would be the highlight of the show. And yes, you read that right, it’s an SRT, not a Dodge. The Viper has been a remarkable car for the image and credibility of Chrysler on and off the track, and as Chrysler faced bankruptcy, the Viper was essentially put up for sale. With that in mind,  it was miraculous that Ralph Gilles, CEO of SRT, was able to show us a new Viper at all.

I’ve been reading about Ralph Gilles for years. Born in New York City and raised in Quebec, Ralph has been a Chrysler man for twenty years as a designer-credits include the very successful Chrysler 300. But if the Viper has someone to put a face to, it is Ralph Gilles. It is his baby, and his passion and commitment to the Viper has been outstanding. If you think the automotive greats who were passionate about supercars-Enzo Ferrari, Ferrucio Lamborghini, as I stood in the Javits Center to a packed room, stone silent hanging on every word, Mr. Gilles seemed the pioneer and hero of the Viper cause. Yet after a morning of press conferences with men dressed to the nines in custom tailored suits, Mr. Gilles, dressed in jeans, black Detroit (in Ferrari font) t-shirt and sport coat was causal, excited, easy with himself. This is a guy you’d like to take out for a beer.

But, forgive me-what about the Viper? In considering the new Viper, SRT did consider using platforms from it’s Italian parent, Fiat, but none seem to fit the right proportions SRT wanted. So SRT took the old Viper’s chassis and completely re-engineered it, utilizing technologies that did not exist before. The result is a lighter and stiffer structure. Extensive use of carbon fiber body panels make the 2013 Viper the lightest one ever made. Motivation for the Viper comes from an 8.4L V-10 rated at 640hp, with 600 lb. ft. of torque, the most amount of torque for a naturally aspirated engine available. The Viper has a 4.91 horsepower to weight ratio, putting it just behind the Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari F12. In layman’s terms, that means the Viper is going to terrifyingly fast, as it should be.

When the Dodge Viper debuted in 1992, it made no apologies for being a brutal, spartan sports car. It was essentially the modern interpretation of the Shelby Cobra. The purpose was to go as fast as possible, not to be pampered. With the new Viper, all that changes. Mr. Gilles admitted Vipers of the past had a reputation for kit-car quality interiors. Chrysler had taken mass-production car techniques to build a low-volume car, and for that the Viper had its share of detractors. In working with Maserati and Ferrari, the people at SRT learned how to make the Viper’s interior right. The Viper will be offered in two trim levels. The SRT Viper will cater to the hardcore Viper enthusiast with a minimal amount of creature comforts, while the SRT Viper GTS will offer drivers a more cosseting driving experience to put it on par with the competition.

At the press conference for the Viper, you could hear a pin drop except for Ralph Gilles talking to us about the Viper and its remarkable resurrection. With TV crews and a few hundred journalists dying to see a car that was miraculously never leaked, Ralph Gilles shared with us a poignant quote from the man who makes the decisions for Chrysler: Sergio Marchionne.

“There are times when you are given the opportunity to give life to something which is so beautiful and unique, so just and equitable, that you pay a lot less attention to the numbers, to the financial reality that surrounds it.

And so I leave you with this.”

And with that, Mr. Marchionne gave life back to the Viper. Mr. Gilles had walked off-stage, and as the room dimmed, and music pounding, from a wall about 15′ away from me the 2013 SRT Viper fired up. Even at that distance I could physically feel the bark and loudness of the Viper go right through me. It was a beautiful sound, and a great feeling. The SRT Viper GTS was literally lit up under under an endless torrent of flashbulbs as Mr. Gilles drove the car on stage. In watching video of the event today, Mr. Gilles is seen in the car, moved at the totality of the event, bowing his head in the cockpit of the Viper.

In a shocker, Mr. Gilles proceeded to show us footage of the new Viper in Microsoft’s Forza 4 racing game, toying that virtual racing was all on the table for now. While the footage played onscreen, another thunderous, even more violent Viper came to life-the SRT Viper GTS-R. Plans kept totally under wraps, the Viper GTS-R will race in the 2012 American LeMans race series. Fielding two cars, SRT currently has Dominick Farnbacher, Marc Goosens, Ryan Hunter-Raay and Kanu Wittmer contracted to race the Viper this season.

The close of the press conference was only the beginning of my day covering the Viper. I want to personally thank Lisa Barrow who takes care of Chrysler public relations on the east coast for inviting me to the SRT Viper Gala held in Soho that evening. The event was held for members of the Viper Club specifically. Arriving at Skylight Soho I was greeted with SRT’s other offerings on the street. That night I was a spectator at an event tailored for the truly dedicated Viper owners.

Ralph Gilles was again onhand to unveil the Viper not to the media this time, but to the people who buy Vipers. Playing again to a packed room, when Mr. Gilles took the mike, as a journalist I expected silence. Did not happen. About half the crowd was gathered around the stage listening intently as he rehashed his speech at the show, but the other half seemed to have cared less and talked loudly. Repeated shouts from the crowd for everyone to quiet down, and earnest attempts from Mr. Gilles himself were seemingly ignored. SRT was donating a considerable amount of money to local charities that night, and the crowd’s disrespect at letting these people who have been through hell and back have their say left a bitter taste in my mouth.

At the event, there was a lot going on. There was a silent auction for original artwork for the Viper, and a live auction for other Viper related items. On display was the mock-up concept for the Viper, the Dodge Viper GTS-R that won its class at LeMans in 1997, and the very first 1989 Dodge Viper concept car, which I admit looked pretty rough. After enjoying delicious food and premier beer, I scooted outside to call and wish my six-year old son goodnight, telling my wife I just needed to shoot pics of the original Viper concept, and then I would head home.

After a grueling day at the auto show, I sat down on a couch to finish my Brooklyn Lager, when I met Bob, a Viper owner. I ended up staying an extra hour speaking to Bob, and hearing from a man who is passionate about the Viper provided some terrific insight. Bob is a doctor from Arizona, and has been on the Viper bandwagon from the start-he has 0wned eight in total. Bob fits the profile of what I expected a Viper owner to be-this is a supercar, afterall, so you have to have the spare change to afford a the Viper as a second or third car. With a thriving practice, Bob fell in love with the looks of the first Viper and has been hooked ever since.

Interestingly, Bob had never owned an exotic or a sports car prior to the Viper, and he never cross-shopped any of the European competition. Bob relishes and exercises his Vipers to their potential, and has gone on 2,000 mile trips in them. His dedication to the Viper is remarkable, and in talking to him it comes as no shock to me he took the time and money to witness the reveal of the 2013 SRT Viper.

But as a hardcore Viper owner, I had my own questions for him. Mainly, I wanted to know how he felt about all the interior refinements. The Viper sort of wore a badge of pride for being so basic, so with that in mind I wanted to hear how Bob felt about such a leap forward. His take was very practical. In essence, for the Viper to remain viable, it has to appeal to a larger audience. He knows Viper fans have their core fans, but in order to sustain the Viper, interior refinements was the right way to go.

I told Bob my biggest regret was that SRT did not let anyone hear the Viper. As I was about to leave, Ralph Gilles corrected that. He fired up the Viper GTS, then shut it down. The crowd, egging him on,  jumped into the GTS-R for a wondrous thunder from the V-10. Welcome back, Viper.