It depends on what your definition of "fastest" is.
You’d think it would be simple, but it isn’t: When we try to decide what is the fastest production street car available today, the answer is likely to be complex.
Fastest in a straight line? Fastest in the quarter-mile? Absolute top speed?
Or fastest on a race track?
Ah. There’s the opening for the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR. There are faster cars – even faster Vipers – in a straight line. The top speed of the ACR is “only” 177 mph. Even the base Viper will top 200 mph.
But what makes the Viper ACR slower at top speed is what makes it so freaking fast on a race car – an incredible amount of downforce, from the adjustable, and removable, front splitter, to the massive rear wing.
Few cars have managed to tread the tightrope between “street legal” and “track only” with more success. We weren’t able to get numbers during our laps at Virginia International Raceway’s longer circuit – over four miles – but we can say with confidence that we’ve never driven a street-legal car so fast on a race track.
On the longest straight at VIR, we have been able to hit 145 mph in multiple Vipers over the years, and since the ACR has the same 645-horsepower, 8.4-liter V-10 as every other Viper, the fact that we saw about 145 mph in the ACR makes sense. (ACR, by the way, stands for American Club Racer, a designation Dodge has used since the 1990s.)
Beyond that, the downforce kicks in. That rear wing, the front splitter and dive planes produce 1,533 pounds of downforce at the ACR’s top speed. With the “Extreme Aero” package, an even more aggressive dual-element rear wing, a bigger front splitter and other aero add-ons, top-speed downforce increases to 1,710 pounds. It’s the most downforce available on any street car.
More than downforce
Downforce isn’t the only card in the Viper’s deck. The custom-built Kuhmo tires are just amazing – they have tread, but perform like slicks, and maintain their grip lap after lap. And the ACR’s standard Brembo Carbon Ceramic Matrix disc brakes are just incredible. Lap after lap, the Kuhmos and the Brembos – six-piston calipers up front, four pistons in back – just won’t give up. And we’re told the very lightly treaded Kuhmo Ecsta V720 tires can actually be driven on wet pavement, but if you encounter standing water, close your eyes and wait for the loud noise.
You might think that performance-enhancing weight savings – some lightweight carpet, a “minimal three-speaker audio system,” Dodge says; thin, manually-adjustable seats – means the interior is a penalty box. Not so. Alcantara is everywhere, including on the steering wheel; the “minimal” stereo still has a decent sound, and Sirius radio, navigation and Bluetooth; there’s air conditioning and power windows. What else do you need?
Yes, the clutch is expectedly heavy and the six-speed Tremec TR6060 manual transmission would never be confused with the MX-5’s shifter, but it’s no worse than past Vipers. In fact, it’s the same as past Vipers. This transmission doesn’t break, so you have to live with its moderate crudeness.
It’s the downforce, tires, brakes and suspension that makes this car a marvel. That suspension uses coil-over, double-adjustable Bilstein shocks that have 10 settings, and can raise or lower the car as much as three inches. The company is expected to offer some basic setup sheets for some sample tracks with suggested suspension settings and tire pressures.
So what’s it like to drive? Breathtaking. You can brake so much later than you think you can; you can take turns so much faster than you can imagine, as the suspension and the stunningly good Kuhmos – 295/25-19s on the front, 355/30-19s on the rear – work their magic. Incidentally, one place Dodge didn’t try to save weight is in the surprisingly heavy tires and wheels, because with all that downforce, the wheels and tires have to be beefy.
With 600 foot-pounds of torque, the ACR launches out of corners almost indifferent to what gear it’s in; indeed, first gear is good for 60 mph. Spirited driving is really pretty easy, as the ACR is forgiving, unless you dial out all the five-level traction control. (Don’t.) Brakes and steering are linear, and once you master the balky shifter, the average human can go pretty past.
Fastest lap ever
But it was a balls-out ride with one of the development engineers, Chris Winkler, a former racer and SCCA champion with thousands of laps in Vipers, that showed us just how fast this car is. I’ve raced in the now-defunct Viper Challenge series, and driven plenty of the old ACRs – they ceased production in 2010 – but my cut-parry-thrust ride with Winkler was the fastest I have ever been around a track in a street-legal production car. He says this car is at least five seconds faster on the track that the last ACR. I think he is being conservative.
If you want a track weapon – a car that can take a race track and destroy lap records – the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR moves to the front of the line. We’d suggest adding a roll cage – Dodge doesn’t offer one, but cages for the last-generation ACR will fit – and consider at least a four-point harness as mandatory, preferably six-point, because the standard three-point belt does nothing to hold you in the seat under the drop-anchor braking. (Keep the three-point belt in the car for street driving – in some jurisdictions, racing belts are illegal.)
This is not a car for your teenager, or for a mediocre track-day participant who would be better off with a used Miata. Price: $117,895, not including gas-guzzler tax and shipping. If you want the fastest street car – on a road course – this is probably it.