Judge not, lest ye yourself be judged. Pretend not to know how crude and terrible and irrelevant the 2014 SRT Viper TA is until you yourself have placed a butt-cheek in the ballistic-fiber seats and tested your own mettle and mortality on a racetrack.
The Viper Time Attack Special Edition is the most direct production sports car sold in America, which means it will do exactly what you tell it to do. Like an irritable, three-quarter-broken thoroughbred stallion, nostrils flared, the car judges the rider atop its back, looking for weakness. It’s incumbent on you not to fall off.
The Viper is a beast, but not necessarily a crude one. While it doesn’t truck in subtlety, it doesn’t drive like a truck, either. Too many would-be drivers see that big snout and think of the days when the car had no traction control and “holy shit!” was its default mode.
No longer. Testing at the extremely long and superfast Willow Springs International Raceway in California, we left the 2014 SRT Viper TA in Sport Mode rather than Track and never felt the traction control intercede. The suspension is too sorted for shenanigans. And then there are those tires — so wide you could sub them into the rear of a dually truck (P295/30ZR-18 front, P355/30ZR-19 rear).
If you find yourself so out of shape that you need the electronic gods to intercede, it’s already too late. (All 2014 Vipers now get a rain mode as well.)
The TA is basically the third Viper model, slotting between the basic (and lighter) SRT and the more grand-touring-centered GTS. (As if anyone would actually go touring in the Viper.) The Time Attack package adds $16,000 to the SRT’s base price of $99,885; including gas guzzler tax and destination, the Viper TA comes to $120,480. (The GTS starts at $122,385.)
President and CEO of SRT, Ralph Gilles, says the TA is aimed at the 20 percent of buyers who take their SRT to the autocross, racetrack, or drag race. “This probably isn’t the car you take on date night,” he says.
Nor is it the balls-out ACR from the last generation. The biggest difference we could suss out was the way it rides, with much firmer damping, stiffer springs, extra camber on the tires, and adjusted shock valving. Two-mode Bilstein dampers allow you to go from uncomfortably stiff to rebar rigid. “The platform is more stable,” says Gilles succinctly.
The TA edition has the same power (640 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque from its 8.4-liter V-10), and weighs only 25 pounds less than the GTS. Front carbon-fiber splitters and a rear spoiler rising from the deck lid add considerable downforce: SRT says 278 pounds at 150 mph.
This limits top speed to 193 mph from the SRT’s and GTS’s 206 mph.
What the Viper is not: scary. We drove lap after lap in a GTS during this year’s Automobile of the Year testing at Michigan’s GingerMan Raceway, and it gained our trust. The Viper goes right where you point it. Traction is absolute: Pick a line and it will hold it, almost to a fault. There is no playful tail wiggle at the exit, no artful rearranging of a line halfway through the turn. The thing is thisclose to a race car.
You have to push the TA edition perilously hard to get the benefits of the added downforce. Which brings us to our biggest gripe: the braking. While the TA gets new two-piece Brembos with better heat resistance, the car’s power and speed cry out for carbon-ceramics.
Hurtle in at high velocity and the rear waggles under extreme braking; more than once we feared the car wasn’t going to shut down in time. Compared with the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series (which has carbon-ceramic stoppers) that we drove at Willow Springs only weeks earlier, you simply can’t brake nearly as deep going into a corner.
The majority of the 2014 TAs will be painted a shade of mandarin orange that looks like it was made with high-fructose corn syrup. The SRT emblems have been replaced by TA stickers, ostensibly for weight savings, and the new aero bits make the shape sharper and shapelier.
Couch critics complain that the Viper isn’t as dynamic as the new Corvette Stingray. They are right. In nine out of ten situations the Corvette is easier to drive, more comfortable and better thought-out. But take the Viper TA to the tenth situation — a fast track like Big Willow — and it is a beautiful beast.