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

Bigger battery and folding top add appeal, but BMW’s i8 remains ultra-niche

Want a high-performance vehicle that's more than just a frightening driving experience? Desire the look and feel of a sports car with the road manners of a luxury commuter? The BMW i8 is for you.
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.
Emerging Tech

With CabinSense, cars will soon know who’s riding in them and respond accordingly

What if your car could know who's riding in it and customize the entertainment and safety options accordingly? That’s what's promised by the new CabinSense in-car Occupancy Monitoring System.
Smart Home

Ford’s ingenious bed for couples keeps mattress hogs in their own half

Drawing on its driverless-car technology, Ford has created a smart bed for couples that uses sensors and a conveyor belt to prevent either occupant from straying onto the other half of the mattress while they doze.
Cars

Volkswagen’s hot-rodded T-Roc R is ready to shred its tires to confetti

Volkswagen released a teaser sketch to preview a hot-rodded SUV named T-Roc R. Insiders suggest it will be closely related to the mighty Golf R, meaning it will pack a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at about 300…
Cars

Honda’s Urban EV is shaping up to be a high-tech, high-style electric city car

Honda will travel to the 2019 Geneva Auto Show to unveil a close-to-production prototype that previews an adorable, city-friendly electric car. The Urban EV will offer about 155 miles of range, and its interior is a tech lover's dream come…
Product Review

The 2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country is a do-it-all Swedish army knife

Volvo laced up its smallest station wagon in hiking clothes to create the V60 Cross Country. It's a lifted, all-wheel drive wagon that laughs at icy roads while coddling its occupants. We travel to Sweden to try it out.
Cars

Audi’s Geneva-bound Q4 E-Tron concept will give us a glimpse of the future

Audi has released a trio of teaser sketches to preview the Q4 E-Tron concept. Scheduled to make its debut at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show, the design study takes the form of an electric SUV with a muscular design and a tech-filled interior.
Cars

Tesla’s Dog Mode lets good Samaritans know that Fido’s A-OK

Tesla's latest over-the-air software update adds two features called Sentry Mode and Dog Mode. Sentry Mode records footage and alerts the owner if someone breaks in, while Dog Mode runs the A/C so owners can safely keep their dogs in their…
Cars

Rock out in the carpool lane with Singing Machine’s Carpool Karaoke microphone

Carpool Karaoke fans can count down the days till summer. That's when Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke microphone will be available. Connect the Carpool Karaoke Mic to your car radio to make your next road trip a mobile karaoke party.
Cars

Bentley Bentayga Speed surpasses Lamborghini Urus as world’s fastest SUV

The Bentley Bentayga Speed has wrested the title of world's fastest SUV from its cousin, the Lamborghini Urus. But the Bentley is just 1 mph faster than the Lamborghini. It requires 626 horsepower to achieve that top speed.
Outdoors

General Motors cycles into a new market with its first-ever ebikes

When General Motors launched a public campaign last year to name its new ebike brand, many wondered if Bikey McBikeface might win out. But it didn't. Instead, it's called Arīv, and the two bikes are up for pre-order this week.
Cars

The Polestar 2, Sweden’s answer to the Tesla Model 3, begins taking shape

Volvo sister company Polestar has released a teaser image to give us our first look at the 2, its second model. Polestar tells us the 2 will arrive as a four-door fastback with a 400-hp electric powertrain and about 300 miles of range.
Cars

2020 Kia Soul and Soul EV continue to think inside the box

The 2020 Kia Soul is the third generation of Kia's boxy curiosity. The Soul maintains its signature look, but gets tech and powertrain upgrades. The all-electric Soul EV returns as well.