In search of fun: Viper SRT vs. MB SLS (Gullwing) AMG vs. Jaguar F-Type
I’m in Club Sportiva which allows me to regularly drive supercars and not have to carry the full cost of owning one. Over the last two weekends I took out a Viper SRT, then the amazing looking Mercedes Benz SLS with the cool Gullwing doors in AMG trim, finally ending up with my Jaguar F-Type.
The deal is the Club can rent my car but then I can use one of the others instead. Problem is that, so far, I miss the Jaguar every time. The Jaguar is simply more fun and most of the reviews I’ve read really don’t convey this aspect of a car as important.
In fact of all the cars at the club, and it has a huge stable, so far the only car that I’ve truly enjoyed other than the Jag is the Mustang GT500, which was one of the least expensive cars in the pool but was also one of the most fun (it has since been retired).
Let’s talk about fun as we compare the Viper, SLS, and Jag.
IIf you ever get a chance to drive one of these, particularly if you like power and speed, you shouldn’t pass it up. The 2013 Viper SRT is wicked fast and it turns heads wherever it goes. What is weird is that it seems to bring out the racer in male Toyota and Infiniti drivers in particular because the number of folks driving those cars who acted like I was racing them was huge. After the first one I didn’t even try anymore because it just felt foolish.
I did have a mid-range bike try to race me on a dual-lane freeway on ramp and he ended up as a speck in my rear view mirror. When I say wicked fast I really do mean wicked fast. However, it is not a great deal of fun to just drive and god save you if you have to parallel park this beast because you are going to ruin a wheel. This is because you can’t see well out of the back and the front wheels are so far in front of you it is really hard not to hit curbs. This is one car that should have, but doesn’t get in SRT form, a mandatory rear view camera. The GTS version gets the camera but most reviewers recommend against this particular configuration, arguing it isn’t as much fun to own.
While I’ve seen other reviewers complain about the seats and that the ride feels like you are on a skateboard driving over marbles, I like firm and didn’t mind the ride. The stereo in the car is also very nice, at least when the engine isn’t running. But even at Freeway speeds there is so much engine and road noise in the car you really can’t enjoy the music. You wouldn’t want to drive this distance as the drone and noise would make a long trip painful.
In short, the Viper SRT is likely a ton of fun on a track or for short weekend hops but you’d never want this as a daily driver unless you were already partially deaf. And save money for wheel repairs with this car because, yes, you will hit curbs.
Mercedes Benz SLS
This is not a cheap date. While you will get to around $100K for the Viper, even used, the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG coup will be close to twice that. Where the Viper is a loud, obnoxious, but often fun beast the Mercedes Benz is a tank. It feels much heavier than it is and the sound insulation is so good my wife was next to the car yelling at me and all I could see were her lips moving (a feature?).
A fire truck came up behind me with lights and sirens and I only saw the lights, the sound insulation is absolutely that impressive. The sound system is pretty amazing too, both in a good and a bad way. On the good side? The highs are crystal clear and it had an adequate, though not overly impressive low end. The screwy thing is that unlike the Viper and Jag you needed an accessory cable for USB or phone because it didn’t do Blue Tooth Audio and it didn’t have USB slots built in. It also was equipped with a PCMCIA slot which I’ve never seen or wanted in a car.
Controls were somewhat complex and there were two times I almost went off the road because the suspension/performance dial seemed to work backwards. The seat had so many controls you’d likely have to get a doctorate in Mercedes Benz seats before adjusting it completely but it was very comfortable.
I hated the Gull Wing doors, which is likely why Mercedes Benz seemed to rush out a convertible version. They look really cool but after you’ve whacked your head on one 4 or 5 times they get old, really old. If you are short, you have to develop a new “getting in the car skill” where you grab the door and pull it down at the same time you slide in the car. Done right you do look really cool, done wrong, you look like you have nerve damage. The front nose of the car isn’t that low but it sticks out far and is relatively unprotected, suggesting an expensive "oops" is in the car’s future. It has sensors to warn you and they appear progressive, although they seem to just measure about 2” giving you a warning about the same time you’d hear the crunch if you are moving at any speed at all.
What is funny is that this car is the opposite of the Viper in that it would likely be a lousy track car but I could see driving this for distance. The thing is it isn’t fun to drive. I mean not at all, really, which was weird. It has 600HP, it is quick, it makes nice noises (and the exhaust is loud enough to hear inside) but it never really put a smile on my face. This may be why there appears to be so many for sale with under 10K miles on them. People did come up to ask about it and Mercedes and Porches would slow to check it out. I should point out that it did grow on me over time and after a week or so I’d likely be enjoying it more.
What finally drove this home for me was that my wife took the car to try it out, yet after a couple of blocks returned it. It just wasn’t fun and she preferred her supercharged Infiniti FX-35 instead. She’s never done that before with another exotic. (Well other than the Lotus Elise which was actually both painful to drive and more of a track car and not really a Supercar).
I’d revisit this with the convertible because I think a lot of the problem is the feeling you are driving a vault in the Gull Wing version. You feel very closed off and isolated which is unusual in a performance car. You do also feel incredibly safe which is also unusual.
Wrapping Up: The F-Type Wins
Here is the thing: the Jaguar F-Type is just fun. From the time you start the car until you get out of it it’ll put a big grin on your face and I’m not really that sure why. I think it is because the car feels light (though it’s really not), it is easy to park (the visibility pack gives you plenty of sensors), always has one or two fun surprises, and (we have the V8) is wicked fast. It has turned out to be one of the most popular cars in the club along with the S5 Audi (which also used to be our car) and we’ve had to take some pains to make sure we drive it ourselves from time to time because it always seems to be out.
With the active exhaust (something I’d always recommend as on option) it is quiet when you want and sounds like a beast on command. It is good on the track and on the road, as well as incredibly comfortable. The only downside is a trunk that appears designed to hold the lunchbox you had as a kid and little else.
I think that is how we should pick cars, if it puts a grin on your face that’s a car worth buying, if it doesn’t, you know life is short and maybe you should choose something else.