Review: 2014 SRT Viper GTS

In an era of safe, sanitized supercars, the demanding Viper is like nothing else on the road.

Mess with a snake and you might get bit. That's what the SRT division of Fiat/Chrysler is hoping happens to fans of this former Dodge nameplate. Redesigned for 2013 following a brief sabbatical, it returns with more performance, craftsmanship and technology than ever before. The Viper has recoiled, and with fangs bared, is now ready to strike.

But all is not perfect at SRT headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the Viper assembly line has been scheduled to idle for more than two months in an effort to pare down inventory. It could be the last effect of the winter doldrums, when sales of such vehicle typically slow down, or a total paradigm shift away from supercars, but the brand is currently looking for customers.

With the possibility that there might be some good deals to be had at your local SRT dealership, could this be the next hell-raiser in your garage?

What is it?

The 2014 Viper GTS is the halo car for the entire brand of Chrysler products. Now in its fifth generation, this two-seated terror packs a truck-derived 8.4-liter V10 that makes 640 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 600 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. That it requires your undivided attention and respect is the understatement of the century.

With its gargantuan displacement and pushrod configuration, the V10 is definitely from a different era. SRT still hasn't taken advantage of direct injection yet, but the all-aluminum engine does boast variable valve timing, forged aluminum pistons, a three-piece intake made of composite material, and a forged-steel crankshaft. All the better to wind it up and out, you know?

All Vipers utilize a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission. Currently our favorite high-performance manual gearbox, it features a 1st to 4th gear jump feature for optimized fuel economy, as if that's one of the owner's main concerns. The final drive includes a limited slip differential.

The suspension is a four-wheel independent kit with aluminum control arms and knuckles. It is capped off with a pair of sway bars front and rear, and an aluminum engine bay x-brace increases the Viper's structural rigidity by 50 percent. Steering comes from a hydraulic-assist rack and pinion system, while braking is derived from 14-inch Brembo rotors, front and rear, for the 18- and 19-inch tires. Our tester's curb weight came in at 3,399 lbs.

SRT engineers state that there is supercar performance in every model. We would have to agree. There's also a lot of the racecar in the street version, with the two sharing a common frame. A space frame chassis, it is constructed of high strength steel, cast magnesium, extruded aluminum, and carbon reinforced plastic.

Aerospace technology also finds its way in to this snake, helping it to shed more than 150 lbs. over the previous model. The huge clamshell hood is constructed from hand-laid carbon fiber, resulting in a 30 lbs. weight deduction. The carbon fiber continues over the taller, more helmet-friendly yet still low cut roofline, to the rear deck.

But it's not just the aerospace tech that does the trick with this new model. Standard electronic stability and traction control crosses over and offers optimized street and track performance. A rain mode is now included. A standard launch control kit is included for straight-line performance that maxes out with a top speed 206 mph.

Our tester was a GTS model, which brings combination leather/alcantara upholstery, a navigation system and a rearview camera. It also includes driver-adjustable Bilstein DampTronic shocks that can transform the Viper from a semi-comfortable street cruiser into a full-blown track terror.

For those seeking even more performance, T/A (Time-Attack) version adds stiffer Bilsteins, track-optimized springs and anti-roll bars, and a carbon fiber x-brace.

What's it up against?

The Viper slots directly up against factory hotrods like the Nissan GT-R, Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Porsche 911 Turbo. If you feel like broadening the scope of comparison, you might also include lower-priced musclecars like the Shelby Mustang GT500 and the Camaro ZL1. All offer fearsome power that can only be fully exploited on a track.

How does it look?

As over the top as you might imagine, the Viper features a sinewy body with big, bulging fenders, a Coke bottle shape and supermodel hips at the rear. Although new in 2013, this fifth-generation model still pays homage to the original that created a sensation when it first hit the scene in 1992.

Wider than wide, it stretches the tape measure to just over 76 inches. Overall length is 175 inches, and the wheelbase checks in at nearly 99-inches. In addition to the hand-laid carbon fiber, the Viper also sports a pair of aluminum doors for added weight savings.

The shapely headlamps are surrounded by LED accent lighting, while our GTS gets an exclusive ventilated clamshell hood. Hand painted to a show car-quality finish, the Viper gets its pigment from Prefix Coatings in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In addition to handling all the paint on the Vipers, the firm is responsible for creating concept cars for Chrysler and other manufacturers.

And on the inside?

Interior quality was never a strong point for older Vipers, but things changed when Fiat and Sergio Marchionne came to Auburn Hills. With Ferrari now a distant family relation, it didn't take long to assume the best practices of the "Prancing Horse” crowd from Maranello when it came time to design the cabin of the Gen-five version.

The attention to detail in this new GTS is remarkable. Utilizing fine materials such as hand-wrapped leather with contrast stitching, this Viper's interior ends up looking as though it was lifted from a Ferrari 599 Superamerica - there's an entirely new level of refinement inside. But don't be fooled into thinking that this refinement makes it a great cross-country tourer.

Comfort does tend to take a backseat….wait, there is no backseat in the Viper. A week with the Viper reveals a couple spots in need of some tweaking. One would be the uncomfortable, tightly-bolstered Sabelt performance seats, which at least feature lightweight shells and anchoring for multipoint safety harnesses. Also, the engine's width constricts the footbox and had us accidentally contacting the clutch while trying to use the deadpedal.

The electronics have undergone a reworking, with the centerpiece being a new 8.4-inch touchscreen with Chrysler's Uconnect system. The driver's IP features new digital gauges and configurable displays. An SRT software suite can measure G-Forces, 0-to-60 and ¼ mile timer, braking distance timers. An optional Harman/Kardon 18-speaker audio system with sub-woofer let us drown out the sounds of the big 8.4-liter engine.

Finally, the coupe features 14.6-cubic feet of rear cargo space.

But does it go?

For all the Viper's gains in the area of refinement, the coupe remains a gut-busting experience whether you're behind the wheel or in the passenger's seat. The aggressive acceleration from the V10 kicks you straight back into the seats with the force of a flying dropkick to the chest by a masked member of the WWE. By the numbers, the Viper GTS rockets from zero-to-60 mph in the low three-second range, with a quarter-mile time of 11.6 seconds and a top speed of 206 mph.

This car has amazing naturally aspirated power. The roar from ten throbbing pistons is enough to put hair on a bald head. When firing in anger, the feel of 600 lb-ft of torque shuffling through the cogs of the Tremec TR6060 would rate a 5.0 on the Richter scale. And with all that power and torque come a heaping dosage of respect for the output at hand. Thankfully, there are enough electronic nannies onboard to save almost any driver from him- or herself.

Steering and handling are both brutally good and hard at the same time, gluing the GTS to the ground so it can slither along the blacktop during its daily excursions. Flicking the ride adjustment controls to change up the adjustable Bilsteins can result in a ride that goes from harsh to worse. This is a racecar after all, even if it is masquerading in production vehicle skins. It corners flatly and grips with tenacity when cornering, but to properly push the Viper around a turn is an exercise in finesse.

And while the EPA says to look for 12 city/19 highway, we were lucky to average 12.4 mpg, not that fuel economy would ever be a concern of a typical Viper owner.

Leftlane's bottom line:

The 2014 SRT Viper is an automotive schoolyard bully. It's loud, throbbingly brash, compromising, sinister and brutal at the same time. Uncouth and unrefined, it's sort of like a friend that you can only tolerate for a couple hours at a stretch.

And in the immortal words of the late Hunter S. Thompson, "There's also a negative side.”

2014 SRT Viper GTS base price, $122,385. As tested, $136,080.

GTS Laguna Interior Package, $7,500; Mopar car cover, $500; Venem Hyper alloy wheels, $1,100; Gas Guzzler tax, $2,600; Destination fee, $1,995.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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