Abstract In this work we use in the simulation of a viscoelastic turbulent channel flow a modification of the finitely extensible of non-linear elastic dumbbells with the Peterlin approximation (FENE-P) constitutive model for dilute polymer solutions, applicable to high extensional deformations. The new feature introduced by this modification is that the free energy of the polymer (since it is assumed to be entirely entropically driven) remains always bounded (FENE-PB). The characteristics of the model under steady shear flow, pure elongational flow and transient extensional behavior are presented. It is found that the FENE-PB model is more shear thinning than FENE-P. Most importantly, it also shows a higher extensional viscosity than the FENE-P model. Although the steady-state Trouton ratio asymptotically reaches at high extensional rates the same limit as the FENE-P model, the transition from the Newtonian value is sharper and faster. We use the FENE-PB model in direct numerical simulations (DNS) of viscoelastic turbulent channel flow using spectral approximations. The results for various statistics of the flow and the polymer conformation, when compared against those obtained with the original FENE-P model and the same rheological parameters, show an enhanced polymer-induced drag reduction effect and enhanced deformation of the polymer molecules. This indicates that it is not only the asymptotic but also details from the extensional rheological behavior that matter in quantitatively specifying turbulent viscoelastic flow behavior.