First Drive: 2014 SRT Viper TA

For more than 20 years now, the Viper has had the reputation for being one of the most unmanageable, most ballsy cars available at any price.

“This is one nice, big, wicked-fast track.”

Those were the first words out of SRT CEO Ralph Gilles’ mouth as we looked down the hill at the Big Willow Raceway outside LA. We journalists had spent the morning up on the “the balcony”, where I proceeded to put down the slowest autocross times of the day. “Is everyone else here really a motorsports writer?” I wondered to myself.

It’s a caricature of a sports car, with every feature inflated beyond normalcy

Even as my times improved, the times of the other drivers seemed to improve faster. No matter – I feel more at home on the track anyway, After all, I had visited Big Willow just two weeks prior with AMG.

But this trip wasn’t about quarter-million dollar cars and all-wheel-drive systems that can save you in a pinch. Rather, what brought me back to Willow Springs Raceway was something that requires a more careful hand and endlessly more respect, lest you get bitten. This trip was all about conquering my Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, and this trip would focus on the 2014 SRT Viper.

Getting to Know You

Ralph Gilles is full of wonderful little quips about life, driving, and his cars. He’s not afraid to drop the occasional curse word, or to cut a mischievous glace over at his PR team when he says something a little too honest, a little off-color. And for that, the things he says have a sense of truth and passion to them that don’t feel rehearsed. So, when he looked almost pleadingly, describing the Viper as both “one of the most misunderstood” cars on the road, and one that “isn’t everyone’s cup of tea,” he had me hooked.

For more than 20 years now, the Viper has had the reputation for being one of the most unmanageable, most ballsy cars available at any price. Past models have lacked traction control, stability control, and virtually every other modern technology designed to keep the car in a straight line. Instead, it was a car that created one of the most intimate connections to man and machine, but in a way that was flat-out dangerous to inexperienced drivers.

2014 SRT Viper TA front intake

The SRT Viper, which debuted last year, came back to the market with more power, more technology, and more aides than ever before. Some purists complained that the car had been neutered, while others celebrated the fact that it was finally manageable for the masses. And while there’s an argument that the Viper may have only one real competitor – the Corvette – no one disputed that it remained the only exotic car built by an American automaker.

Today, it’s offered in three trims, all with the same 8.4-liter V10 producing 640 horsepower. There’s the base SRT, the lightest, rawest and most affordable of them all. For folks looking to spend longer trips in the car, the GTS offers a more comfortable ride with a quieter interior. And, new for 2014, there’s the TA (Time Attack), which combines track-ready brakes, tires, suspension and aero-work with a slightly better ride for daily use. It’s the race-by-day, valet-by-night model in the group.

Mostly Awesome

It’s hard to feel cute as you pick yourself up off the tarmac.

The Viper’s seating position reminded me of driving the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

Getting into and out of the Viper was a challenge, especially for my 6’2” frame. I’m all gangly arms and legs, and the side-mounted exhaust and ultra-low center of gravity meant I had to essentially fall into the car, and back out onto the asphalt between runs. At least I had a helmet to hide my blushing cheeks.

When I first saw the Viper, I thought I was enormous, with its monstrous hood and giant tires, shockingly, but it’s not. Rather, it’s actually two inches shorter than a Porsche 911, and just two inches longer than the very petite Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ twins. Maybe the folks at SRT are illusionists?

Once inside, the Viper felt much smaller, much tighter than its exterior dimensions suggested. The transmission tunnel rises up between the seats, and the console with Uconnect is angled toward the driver. I was in a cockpit, if there ever was one.

The seats hug in a way that a real sports car’s seats should, bolstered for the corners, but supportive enough for long days behind the wheel. And the six-speed was easy to manipulate, with excellent power delivery across all gears. That didn’t really come as a surprise with 640 ponies riding shotgun, though. My only complaint here is that the clutch is a little long for my taste, which required me to sit closer to the wheel than I would’ve normally preferred.

In truth, the Viper’s seating position reminded me of driving the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, another track terror that I truly love. On days spent at the track, I’m pretty convinced that the Viper might even be the better car, too, and that’s even before considering the fact that it’s half the price of the Benz. However, road trips will be better spent in the Mercedes. There are more creature comforts in the AMG powerhouse, and, as much as I love the nasty, wonderful exhaust note in the Viper, it’s a bit much when you’re trying to relax for longer stretches of road.

Winning at Willow

It didn’t take long for me to remember the lines that I needed to drive to move quickly through Big Willow. Even with an extra chicane intended to slow us down, I felt at home in the Viper, and it seemed like it wanted more from me.

My laps got faster and faster, and, as I approached my own driving threshold, I could tell that the car was only operating at 75 percent. Even as I tapped the engine’s immense power and the tires’ Velcrocity (you read that word here first), I wasn’t able to push the car to the old levels of insanity we feared from past Vipers.

That’s the beauty of this machine. It is absolutely faster than it ever has been, and it’s still one of the most connected driving experiences available on the market today. However, where some claim that it’s been dumbed down, I’d argue that it’s still every bit the expert’s car that it once was, with an added element of charm. It’s by no means a gentleman, but it might just be a bad boy with a nice streak.

2014 SRT Viper TA engine macro

According to Ralph Gilles, the Viper is SRT’s playground for testing new performance technologies. It’s a caricature of a sports car, with every feature inflated beyond normalcy. And that’s what makes it both misunderstood and completely unique in the market.

It’s also the only American car in the business to claim real exotic appeal, in performance, style and price. While it may be a little less terrifying than it once was, the 2014 Viper still demands the same respect its garnered since 1992.

Highs

  • A really, really cool way to spend $100k
  • Crazy power, crazy traction…with warm tires
  • Exotic car cachet, patriotic cachet, expert driver cachet.

Lows

  • Exhaust can overwhelm on long drives
  • Entry and exit is a feat of acrobatics
Product Review

BMW’s smallest M car is its biggest performance statement

The BMW M2 Competition is frighteningly quick in a straight line, and its short wheelbase lends itself to some hilarious power slides, but it’s the curvy roads and tight tracks where this coupe comes alive.
Cars

Tesla will have ‘autonomous robotaxis’ in 2020, Elon Musk says

Tesla will deploy self-driving cars in a "robotaxi" service in 2020, CEO Elon Musk said at the automaker's Autonomy Investor Day. Musk has promised autonomous Tesla electric cars before, but will he finally deliver this time?
Gaming

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.
Cars

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.
Cars

Toyota leads $1 billion investment in Uber’s self-driving tech division

In a move that has been a long time coming, Uber filed its S-1 documents, which sets the stage for the company to finally go public with an initial public offering. The company could be valued at more than $100 billion.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Samsung Galaxy Fold woes, zombie pigs, and more

Today's topics: Samsung Galaxy Fold, Facebook A.I. voice assistants, YouTube comes to Fire TV, facial recognition on airline flights, the SpaceX DART program, Yale's zombie pigs, and much more!
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Cars

Electric car buying guide: What you need to know before you buy

EVs are better than they've ever been, but buying your first battery-powered car can be an intimidating experience. Digital Trends has compiled a comprehensive guide that walks you through the process of buying an EV.
Cars

Carbuying can be tiring: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.
Cars

Apple’s interest in self-driving cars reported to be revving up

A new report suggests that Apple is in talks with a number of suppliers to purchase lidar sensors, an essential tool for self-driving cars. The news is once again spiking rumors that Apple might be building vehicles.
Cars

Café racer-inspired ebike hits 28 mph quickly and quietly with carbon belt drive

Ebike manufacturer Electra launched the Café Moto Go, an advanced ebike. The Café Moto Go's step-over frame was inspired by café racers. The Café Moto Go is a premium performance ebike built to run smoothly and extra quietly.
Cars

Where to go when your EV is low: Rich neighborhoods have most charging stations

If you're running low on juice in your electric vehicle, head for the rich part of town. A survey by Realtor.com found median home list prices in the 20 U.S. ZIP codes with the most EV charging stations were 2.6 times the national average.
Cars

Ford is keeping hackers out of its cars by putting key fobs to sleep

Ford found a way to stop thieves who try to hack their way into a car by duplicating its key fob. It developed a smart key fob that puts itself to sleep when it's idle for at least 40 seconds. It automatically wakes up when someone picks it…
Cars

This vintage Ford Bronco off-roader has a modern electric powertrain

Zero Labs took a classic Ford Bronco and replaced its gasoline engine with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. So you get the style and off-road capability of a Bronco, but with zero emissions.