Review by Paul Williams, photos by Paul Williams and courtesy Chrysler

Chelsea Proving Grounds, Chelsea, Michigan – The last time I drove a Viper was in 2005. Vipers were still called Dodges then, as SRT didn’t separate into its own brand until the 2013 model year.

The occasion of my previous drive was an event held at the wonderful Mont Tremblant racetrack in Quebec where Canadian auto journalists were able to drive the full range of Chrysler’s SRT (Street and Racing Technology) vehicles, and get a look at the upcoming Grand Cherokee SRT8.

Ah, those were the days!

First Drive: 2014 SRT Viper GTS  car test drives srt
2014 SRT Viper GTS. Click image to enlarge

Later that year I was scheduled for a week-long Viper test drive in Ottawa, but the journo’ who had it before me wrapped it around a telephone pole. Fortunately he was okay, but as far as I know, our kind have never been allowed behind the wheel of a Viper again.

Then came the troubles. Vipers were expected to go the way of Plymouth, and so would end a small but bright chapter in performance-car history. Until last year, that is, when the 2013 Viper appeared and all was well again at the Conner Avenue plant in Detroit where Vipers are still pretty much hand assembled.

Chrysler’s annual vehicle preview at its Chelsea Proving Grounds outside Detroit recently made two 2014 SRT Vipers available to the press. So after a very long wait, I was again behind the wheel of this celebrated, controversial and somewhat intimidating car.

What’s changed and what remains? Well, what’s changed is that the Viper is less of a handful than it was before. I can tell you that previous-generation Vipers put many an owner or tester into the ditch because their massive and instant torque would completely surprise the inexperienced and unsuspecting driver. Even if you were trying to take it easy you could be overwhelmed because Vipers, by nature, didn’t take anything easy.

First Drive: 2014 SRT Viper GTS  car test drives srt
2014 SRT Viper GTS. Click image to enlarge

This fifth generation 2014 Viper, in slight contrast, is a more tractable and mildly forgiving machine. The Viper GTS, which we drove, has a driver-selectable, two-mode suspension system featuring Bilstein DampTronic Select shock absorbers for street or track use. And like the standard SRT Viper, it comes equipped with a multistage stability control system that now adds a Rain mode to its traction control and four-channel anti-lock brake system.

So there are what some people might call nanny electronics in the Viper these days, but as Le Mans winner Allan McNish said to me once in reference to the stability control system in his Audi R8, “I leave it on. I’ll take all the help I can get.”

In other words, it doesn’t diminish the car to have some state-of-the-art stability technology in the car.

What’s also different is the overall build quality and interior appointment of the 2014 Viper. Compared to previous generations, it’s positively luxurious in that cosy cabin.

All the major surfaces are sewn and wrapped, with additional padding applied in comfort areas. On the GTS model, Nappa leather–wrapped surfaces surround the cabin and seat inserts are made of Alcantera. Triple paint-finished gunmetal appliqués enhance the instrument cluster bezels, HVAC outlets, window-switch bezel and passenger grab handle on the centre console (an optional Carbon Fibre Accent package is available).

First Drive: 2014 SRT Viper GTS  car test drives srt First Drive: 2014 SRT Viper GTS  car test drives srt
2014 SRT Viper GTS. Click image to enlarge

The standard high-performance Sabelt racing seats are built on a lightweight shell and are deeply bolstered. These proved comfortable in the short term, and may be quite acceptable for a longer journey.

There’s a seven-inch, colour customizable instrument cluster designed specifically for the Viper, along with an 8.4-inch Uconnect radio display that doubles as the SRT Performance Pages readout. Numerous performance metrics can be calculated using this system.

In short, then, the cabin is finely appointed if still a bit cramped. The glass for instance is still short and outward visibility is compromised because of this. The leading edge of the roof tapers aerodynamically, but I imagine stoplights would be hard to see at a busy intersection.




About Paul Williams

Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based freelance automotive writer and senior writer for Autos. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).