There is a path there, somewhere, but you’d never know the difference between the trees and the succession of sticks, stick a and proud of frozen whiteness.
Wrapped in a thick, powdery snow that reflect light of a misty morning in picture-postcard fashion, with the charge of pine trees stretching as far as the eye can see, the scene through the windscreen seems totally serene. This is not exactly asking to be disrupted by a 500-horsepower V8 â€“ but never mind. Stuff happens, isn’t it? Even in Lapland.
And however treacherous you can imagine these conditions, the car we’re driving has had to deal with them very well until now. It is 14degC below zero, and we are 200 km north of the edge of the arctic Circle to the TestWorld proving ground in the north of Finland.
Up ahead on the handling course, we will soon turn on, there will be strong twists and turns, steep hills and nasty cambers. All are guaranteed to be slippery, and all of them easily convincing enough to make the most of the Aston Martin owners I’ve encountered put their show ponies far and take the Range Rover to work. For most owners of Aston I met, the vague threat of a frost and a gritter is more than enough to do it â€“ and it is an instinct I fully understand.
But Aston Martin has yet to do that complete a job of engineering on the set of his “second century” products Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Jaguar, or someone else has on their new cars. This means that mile after mile durability testing is on the menu, as well as the altitude test, the hot weather testing and cold weather testing not unlike the way, we get a taste of today.
Having already done all of this (and now be a few weeks before the start of the construction client Benefits to its Gaydon HQ), Aston already knows his new 503bhp entry-level super-sports car can do in the face of all of this â€“ and none more than the man to my left, Aston Martin’s head of vehicle dynamics, Matt Becker. He knows that the car’s optional Pirelli winter tires good on compacted snow and in ambient temperatures colder than today. He knows that the car is traction and stability control systems will keep us out of the snow banks for as long as we care to leave them turned on. And he knows that this will not be for a very long time. Becker, for all these reasons and more, not to learn a lot of things on the car, it has worked for so long. And yet, because it will be another few weeks until we can conduct a View of the road in conditions that are more conducive to truly judge that one of 2018, the most attractive new sports car, we’re going to learn what we can of our first turn at the wheel.
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Becker has already delivered a technical briefing on the car that could have won awards for its shortness and sweetness. It goes something like this.
â€œThe car is more or less the same width as the DB11, but lower than that of a Porsche 911. I’m not sure you would guess that this last bit by looking at it, but if someone is to blame for that, it’s the colouring-in department.
â€œThe chassis is 20 kg lighter than the old View of the summer and also 30% more rigid, as well as being 10% stiffer than that of DB11. It uses most of the same suspension device as the DB11, but it is a different way of listening. And although the steering box is the same, the steering ratio has increased because the wheelbase is 100 mm shorter than a DB11. Even on snow, you will feel the difference.
â€œThe V8 engine is almost as you will find in a DB11 V8, but there are 7 ft lbs of torque more here, available on a wide range of tours, and we’ve done a lot of exhaust tuning to give the car its own character audible.
â€œDownstream, there are the same eight-speed transmission gearbox in a DB11 a, but we use increasingly clever electronic control (e-diff GKN. That allows us to adapt and control the View of the lateral dynamics of a lot more ways than we could with the DB11: low-speed, high-speed, during the maneuver, on track and in low grip conditions. We also have a rigid-mounted rear suspension frame where the DB11 is coated so that the driver gets much better feel for the rear axle.â€
Becker then showed us a Powerpoint slide show with a multi-colored graph of engine sound harmonics to prove his point of view about the single View of the engine note, but he soon realized that it would be much easier to start the engine of the disguised production prototype that we were gathered around at the time. And he did it. Bwarp bwarp, sneer snap, gargle, gargle. Hmm… it is still different: different from a DB11 V8 and the Mercedes-AMG GT. More angry than the DB, but not too bassy and not as comical, it is overdone on the overrun as some. Approving nods all round.
Now, after showing me the way around TestWorld arranged in the forest handling track and shooting look really easy to drive with the electronic aids fully operational and with them off, drifting through bend after bend in Track mode with just one hand on the steering wheel, Becker smiled, out of the Vantage’s driver’s seat and allows me to have a go. â€œThere is a particularly delicate point of descent, the tighter the turn where we saw a few incidents,â€ he said, alluding to other hacks who had obviously forgotten the test work they came to do and become carried away with the drift of the practice. Unforgivable. â€œBut keep the speed down, don’t forget that we are not on studded tires, and you’ll be fine.â€
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A quick glance around the cabin before we leave. This is a late prototype at the outside disguised with stripes tape, but it may not be too far from the production form inside. The materials look great, the finish is impressive, and the seats are of good quality (a little more than hugging a DB11, but all the same the better for it).
The central console is different from the DB11, too:-higher up and more occupied with buttons. Aston has moved the familiar band of the engine and of the transmission of the control buttons (Engine start/stop button, D, N, R, P) to the bottom and closer to the natural resting position of your left arm. He has also included a nest of buttons just below with shortcuts to the infotainment system and to turn off the stability control. The move certainly makes the interaction with the car easier.
Just as they are in the DB11, however, the Vantage s different modes of operation of the transmission system and suspension/e-diff is controlled by thumb switches on the steering wheel: it is to the left of thumb for modes of transmission, and, to the right of the suspension. But while a DB11 a GT, Sport and Sport+ modes, a View of the quarters of your options one step closer to the sport at the end of the dynamic spectrum and gives you Sport, Sport+ and Track settings to choose from with the thumb.
Becker admits the Vantage rigid-mounted rear subframe allows the car to roll more noisy than a DB11, but it is always so quiet, he thought, than that of a 911 or a Mercedes-AMG GT â€œand not without a decent ride compliance in Sport modeâ€.
We will have to take his word for today. Compacted snow is not known for its bumpiness, after all. But after tootling on the track with a fair bit of caution, it takes all of two or three corners to confirm what he said earlier about the Vantage s DB11-trim handling response. Even on snow polished marble, the car turns in the immediacy of the reaction that you would expect from a much lighter sports car, and it is not at all difficult to keep his nose where you want it.
The steering weight is just a mid-heavy, but that will change on a grippier surface with a bit of lateral load in the suspension, and its pace is fast, but sensitive. There is a lot of steering angle available, also. We may need only a minute. But the stability control is on and has worked hard and well until now, so as to maintain a tight control on the accelerator in order to make the View of the power delivery feel completely smooth and to keep their handling is totally benign, even here.
Time to start pressing the buttons. Its quiet settings, keep the throttle correspond perfectly linear, but it turns out that you need the powertrain in Track mode to make the V8 (optional sports exhaust fitted, by the way of a sound really exciting. This is what we’ll have, then. Put the suspension in Sport+, Becker tells me, to make the dampers firm up a bit and the e-diff can have the most invigorating effect on the car in corners ways. Righto. â€œCompletely locked, the gap can transmit 1844lb ft of torque lock,â€ he said, â€œthis makes a huge difference to the car to counter-steer and stability of the T-junction begin the traction. A typical mechanical slippy diff has a range of about 369lb ft to 738lb ft.â€
This looks awesome. But the e-diff is the effect on the View to limit the handling balance is much more significant than this might imply â€“ and so smart. In ESP off mode, the diff seems to have just the right amount of locking to a period of deceleration to make the car turn smoothly into the inside of the snow from the bank as you set its nose on turn-in. And then, as soon as you need to have sufficient power to stabilize the car’s attitude, pick up some lace and dynamics, and to lead smoothly, in the snow, 30 mph oversteer, the rear axle feels so controllable that it is strange to see. It does not take a lot of power to do it, either, so that the delicacy of these rear diff settings that really counts. Any inconsistency would display instantly. But there is nothing: it is incredible mid-corner for a quiet front of a car engine.
Sliding this 503bhp Aston Martin between the snow banks becomes completely instinctive. Easy? Not quite. The snow is not to forgive from an inch too much throttle, or tolerance of 2mph too far with speed, as I find with a little low rotation speed. Then, I meet what Becker and the team call â€˜the bench of snow for help â€“ what happens when you lean the outside of the rear wing of the Vantage on a powder snow just to the arrest of his ever increasing drift angle.
A couple more angles, and in his genial way, Becker reminds me that if I happen to be looking for it, I’ll find the stability control button on the center console, exactly where I left it. Tip taken. I had learned what I had about this car a moment ago: that it’s going to take Aston in a stronger position than the original Vantage ever claimed in this which is likely to become the most important segment of the performance car market. That seems indisputable â€“ even at this stage. I can’t say how fast the new Vantage feels, how the body control or the brakes, or if it will have a remarkable example of mid-corner quiet at 80 mph on a dry track as it does at 30 mph on a snow; but there was every reason to be optimistic on all fronts.
Most of all, it is great to see a real telling blow for the frontengined, rear-driven, old-school option is placed in a segment where almost all of the big policy-makers in recent years have been mid-engined. Right back atcha, then, NSX, 570S, R8, and others: the classic V8 sports coupe has a new champion of manipulation. And who knows just how good it may yet prove to be?
Aston Martin Vantage
Price Â£120,900 Engine V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo, petrol Power 503bhp at 6000-6500rpm Torque to 505lb ft at 2000-5000rpm gearbox 8-spd automatic kerb weight 1530kg (sec) 0-62mph 3.6 sec top speed 195mph Economy 26.9 mpg CO2, tax band 245g /km, 37%
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DB11 FLYING: ON SALE NOW
We drove the cabriolet DB11, available exclusively with the power of a V8, abroad last month and is going to drive on the UK roads very soon. The Production has started and deliveries are in progress.
VANTAGE: ON SALE NOW
The international press launch is underway in Portugal as you read this, and you will find what we think, at the beginning of April. But if your order isn’t in already, it’ll be 2019 before you get one.
DB11 V12 â€˜V2â€™: JUNE 2018
The grand-daddy DB11 gets a power hike around 630bhp as well as the chassis and the direction of the revisions which have been made in the last year version V8. Expect top speed to increase well beyond 200 miles per hour.
VANQUISH: JULY 2018
Aston Martin is the most powerful V12 serial production flagship model is the next to be replaced and set to become even more focused driver’s car. It is expected to be announced at the end of June â€“ and it has over 700bhp.
VALKYRIE PROTOTYPES: The FALL of 2018
The upcoming hypercar is expected to be at an advanced stage, ready for the trail ride stories, by the fall, with production starting in 2019. Still, we need to get our first taste of all 1130bhp of this year.
ST ATHAN PROTOTYPE PRODUCTION: FALL 2018
Aston’s new plant will eventually build its biggest cars â€“ the Lagondabranded SUV and Quick replacement is not due until the next decade. But parts of it will be open this year, including a workshop for prototyping.
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