Driven: 2014 SRT Viper TA
The term "beast" gets thrown around almost casually in the automotive industry, as do the terms "track focused" and "high performance". But if you’re seeking the pure definition of these terms rather than some marketing line, Chrysler’s SRT division has a car for you. Limited to just 159 examples, the Viper TA – which stands for "Time Attack" – is a road course weapon of the highest degree, riding the line between street and track so tightly that one is left to ponder where "sports car" ends and "race car with a stereo" begins.
What’s the idea behind the Viper TA?
Motor Trend is quick to congratulate themselves for the birth of the TA, after their comparison between the new SRT Viper GTS and the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 resulted not only in a win for the ZR1, but a new production car lap record for the ‘Vette at Laguna Seca, set with former SCCA World Challenge GT champion Randy Pobst behind the wheel. It was a loss that cut particularly deep, especially considering that the former top time was held by the previous generation Viper ACR. MT paints a picture in which Chrysler suddenly went back to the drawing board, rethinking the whole thing, with the TA being the results of those efforts. As SRT head Ralph Gilles tells it, the TA was in the cards all along, and Motor Trend’s article simply forced their hand earlier than they would have liked.
Just nine weeks later, Pobst and company headed back to Laguna Seca, this time with the newly announced Viper TA, and brought the lap record back to Mopar’s corner with a 1:33.62 – more than two seconds faster than the lap posted by the GTS and faster than anything on offer at any price by Porsche, Ferrari, McLaren or any other carmaker at the time. So how’d they do it?
The Viper TA can be thought of as a "best of" in terms of the options sheet – all the go-fast parts you can opt to add to other Viper models come standard here, along with a few bits that are TA-specific. It includes the Carbon Fiber Aero Package, which adds a two-way front splitter up front and a functional rear wing which produces an additional 300 pounds of downforce at 150 mph, and the Track Package, which includes beefier Brembo rotors and pads which boast a 13.5% larger swept area than the standard set.
The TA also receives unique track-tuned adjustable dampers, spring rates and anti-roll bars, along with a carbon fiber X-brace over the motor, badging, and orange interior stitching that are exclusive to the TA.
Who might want a car like that?
The Viper TA is for people who would consider the more luxurious and more street tuned Viper GTS to not be enough. The TA is aimed squarely at hardcore performance enthusiasts, and more specifically, those who will actually take this car to the race track and put it through its paces.
For those shopping cross-town rivals, the C6 ZR1 would clearly be the most apt comparison, and for those who prefer naturally aspirated engines, the Viper is the domestic go-to choice by default. While the TA’s 8.4-liter V10 remains unchanged from the standard car, we see no problem with that. You will feel every one of those 640 horses trumpeting out of the TA’s side-mounted exhaust pipes every time you dip into the throttle, and the motor showed no signs of heat related power loss after repeated flogging around Buttonwillow Raceway Park on a 100 degree day – something which cannot be said of many supercharged engines.
The Viper TA also posts some genuinely jaw-dropping numbers: 0-60 miles per hour in a decidedly brief 3.3 seconds, a quarter mile from rest in 11.3 seconds, and 60-0 braking in a mere 94 feet. Supercar numbers by any measure, and they come at a fraction of the cost of many of the Viper’s European rivals.
Moreover, while the Viper’s unapologetic sense of bravado appeals to a certain kind of buyer, the TA takes that approach one step further. This is not a subtle sports car. Available in Orange, Black or White, the TA is capable of causing a legitimate stir anywhere it goes, with its distinctive V10 growl announcing your arrival to anyone who doesn’t happening to be looking in your direction at the time.
How does it drive on the street?
It’s rare that we test a car – even "track focused" cars – that deliver on the promise of a "hardcore" driving experience. Ultimately, the Viper TA is far more of a track car than it is a road car. The adjustable suspension’s settings are labeled as "Street" and "Race" but might be more aptly named "Firm" and "Really Firm". There’s no marketing gimmicks happening here – this suspension is designed to shine at the track, a place where you won’t run into many potholes, uneven patches of pavement, or driveways. You will, however, find these inconveniences on the street – ultimately the situation most Vipers, TA or otherwise – will spend the majority of their driving time.
Similarly, those used to the clutch pedal effort in more pedestrian vehicles might be taken by surprise at the relative stiffness of the TA’s, though we found it surprisingly easy to acclimate to. That theme of surprising manageability can be found throughout the car, but it isn’t without some caveats. For instance, the bellow that the Viper’s V10 creates isn’t overbearing at low speeds, but we did discover a very noticeable resonant drone from the exhaust when cruising at 80 mph in sixth gear. It turned out to be a bit of a non-issue though, as a flick of the volume dial on the Viper’s 12 speaker, 900 watt stereo (which includes not one, but two subwoofers) made short work of any unwanted engine noise.
Like other SRT products, the TA includes Chrysler’s 8.4 inch touchscreen display, a unit which we still prefer over the majority of infotainment systems available in performance vehicles today. The system is quick to respond to inputs, the menus are intuitive, the navigation is easy to use, and it simply functions the way it’s supposed to. The SRT Performance Pages also offer a wealth of interesting telemetry data, including lateral and longitudinal g-forces and the requisite 0-60 and quarter mile times.
Aside from the orange stitching, the interior appointments remain unchanged from the standard Viper. We don’t find this to be an item of much contention though, as things have come a long way in a generation – the new Viper’s interior features truly high quality materials that rival some of the best in the performance segment. It’s worth noting that the Viper TA’s 6-way manually adjustable buckets are far more ideally suited for track duty than for road trips though, offering excellent bolstering during spirited driving but a less than overwhelming amount of comfort when loping along in traffic. Also, although Chrysler made a concerted effort to address it with this new Viper, the side pipes still generate quite a bit of heat that is definitely noticeable in the cabin of the car, regardless of whether we were going 10/10ths on the track or merely heading out to dinner. Such is the sacrifice for awesomeness, we suppose.
Does it work well for track days?
It comes as little surprise that where the TA really comes into its own is on the race track. When you have this much power on tap and gear ratios that allow the car to hit 60 miles per hour in first gear, you simply cannot exploit the car’s full potential on the road. Even at the track it requires a bit of patience and restraint to eek out everything the TA is capable of.
Though it is a far less unruly animal than previous generation Vipers, with its 5-way traction and stability control along with more predictable handling and ideally weighted steering, you still have 640 horsepower at the command of your right foot – power which does not require spooling or high revs to deliver the goods. Overzealous mid-corner throttle inputs will still put this car sideways without hesitation, though the new electronic safety net means finding those thresholds is far less harrowing than it was in the past.
The Pirelli P Zero Corsas (295mm up front, 355mm out back) offer an admirable amount of grip for a street tire, and provided a good level of communication through the steering wheel about what was happening on the ground beneath us. Handling is also surprisingly neutral provided you can keep your foot off the go pedal until you’re fairly deep into the exit of a corner.
We spent an especially hot day at Buttonwillow Raceway Park with the TA, and lap after lap, the Viper swallowed up tarmac without complaint, with no signs of brake fade or mechanical maladies of any kind, though the ABS system seemed to have an undesirable habit of occasionally loading brake pressure in an unpredictable manner that sometimes left us wondering how much pedal was going to be required when scrubbing off straight line speed for a tight corner.
Those race seats also come into their own here as well, though given the performance capability of the TA, we’d suggest fitting the car with racing harnesses if you plan to actually spend much time at the track, as we regularly found ourselves bracing against the steering column during hard braking and cornering.
As you’ll see in the video below, sight lines are good at the corners of the car, making car placement an effortless task, though the low roofline might take a bit of time to get used to for taller drivers, particularly on sections of the track with steep elevation change.
There’s no question that the Viper has matured quite a bit as a track weapon – the TA is a blast to whip around the road course. With the Viper’s new-found poise you’ll also spend a lot less time wondering which wall you’re going to kiss before the day is over, making the whole experience a lot more rewarding and enjoyable for most than previous generation Vipers could offer. With the kind of legs this car has, it’s probably ideally suited to fast corner courses like Big Willow – configurations where you can really dip into the throttle and let the V10 do its thing. It’s truly thrilling.
How is the design?
Unlike many sports cars, just the sheer mention of a Viper evokes an emotive response from both gearheads and common folk alike. While not a revolutionary step forward from the design of previous Vipers, the new car feels new enough to be thoroughly modern while retaining the trademark elements that made this car an icon in the first place. The Vper is utterly forthright about its bid for your son’s wall space. Indeed, we found ourselves giggling like an 8-year-old just from the sheer sight of the car parked in our garage, and people will stare at it in traffic. Crucially though, it delivers on its promises – from the vented and scooped clamshell hood design that proudly showcases that monster of a motor, to the gigantic 355mm Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires out back and the no-nonsense six speed manual shifter atop the transmission tunnel, the Viper looks, feels and performs the absolute business.
At the end of the day, for most people considering sports cars of this magnitude, brand allegiances mean quite a bit more than instrumented test results. Is the Viper TA a great sports car? By literally any measure of performance metric, the TA is flat-out world class. Whether it’s the right car for a particular enthusiast is perhaps more than just a matter of taste, but a matter of personality. For us, the TA truly clicked when a curious neighbor inquired about the car:
"Wow! Is that a V6 or a V8?"
With a measure of proud reserve came the response:
"It’s a V10."
2014 SRT Viper TA
Price: $99,885 (base), $120,480 as tested
Engine: 8.4-liter V10
Output: 640 horsepower, 600 lb-ft of torque
0-60 mph: 3.3 seconds (est)
Fuel economy: 12 city / 19 highway / 15 combined
On sale: Now