As­ton Martin has sought to put some fresh air dy­nam­i­cally be­tween the new Vantage and its DB11 grand tourer. We head to the roads of north­ern Fin­land to get an early taste of the re­sult


We get an early taste of the new As­ton Martin Vantage

IVALO AIR­PORT IS GREAT. TINY, A PUR­VEYOR of two sizes of hug­gable toy husky, and rock­ing a Christmas Eve aes­thetic all year round, Fin­land’s north­ern­most land­ing strip has some­thing al­most no other air­port has: charm. Make that two things: charm, and a win­ter-weather prov­ing ground lit­er­ally a snow­ball’s throw away. Called Test World, it was snapped up by the Mill­brook Group in 2015 to be an al­most per­ma­nently snowy ad­junct to its Bedfordshire-based fa­cil­ity, mainly spe­cial­is­ing in tyre test­ing where grip is lower than Ant Man’s in­step at this crunchy, deeply sub-zero time of year. Af­ter an even­ing of beer and bear burg­ers at a re­luc­tantly postChrist­mas, yet de­fi­antly twinkly Saariselkä – the re­gion’s win­ter sports re­sort – I seem to have time-lapsed back to the softly lit air­port and Mill­brook’s ad­ja­cent out­post to see the dawn break and suck in a few litres of lung-shock to dis­perse the fug. De­liv­er­ing a com­pa­ra­ble sys­tem jolt is the acid yel­low and black dis­rup­tor cam­ou­flage cling­ing to (and suc­cess­fully dis­rupt­ing) the sharky shape of this year’s As­ton Martin Vantage. It’s be­ing prepped for the morn­ing’s slither ‘n’ roll around Test World’s solid-white han­dling cir­cuit on be­spoke cold-weather Pirelli Sot­toze­ros, and as it’s still in the large, echoey on-site garage fa­cil­ity, its MercedesAMG-sourced twin-turbo 4-litre V8 is bur­bling a deeply gut­tural and re­ver­ber­ant, but as­sid­u­ously As­ton-ad­justed, bur­ble.

By the end of its six-week stint at Test World, this fi­nal Vantage pro­to­type will have cov­ered over 19,000 kilo­me­tres on set test routes, mainly in shifts by teams of lo­cal driv­ers chap­er­oned by a cou­ple of en­gi­neers and a tech­ni­cian. A diary is kept in which any un­to­ward oc­curences are noted and ac­com­pa­ny­ing data logged, to be re­ported back to As­ton HQ, where, if nec­es­sary, it can be acted upon. Se­vere cold has a way of tar­get­ing things we in Blighty would never even think of. Frozen starter mo­tors, for in­stance. But then that’s the whole point.

Half an hour later it’s out into -18deg C on Pirelli-pol­ished snow and, counter to ex­pec­ta­tions, I’m minded to steal a slightly un­gram­mat­i­cal lyric from the great Bruno Mars. Yeah, we drippin’ in fi­nesse. It’s freaky, bor­der­line bal­letic, the As­ton’s art­fully con­fused curves slowly van­ish­ing al­to­gether un­der a claggy coat­ing of air-flung snow. And no – given the po­tency of the AMG mo­tor’s 503bhp and 684.6Nm of torque, the rear-wheel drive and the mod­est length of the wheel­base – it don’t make no sense. Then again, it kind of does. What with the honed drift­ing chops of As­ton’s (ex-Lo­tus) dy­nam­ics chief Matt Becker and this be­ing the first As­ton chas­sis he’s de­vel­oped from scratch – and, more­over, in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the pow­er­train team. His silky me­ter­ing of drift via steer­ing, throt­tle, trans­mis­sion and elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial is a pal­pa­ble, ki­netic man­i­fes­ta­tion of engi­neer­ing in­te­gra­tion and co­he­sion, at least some of which should sur­vive when we swap seats and I get a taste of Test World, and some of Fin­land’s equally test­ing roads, in ar­guably the first As­ton that will re­ally take the fight to Porsche’s 911.

The Vantage is the Chris­tian Bale of method, with grace, flow and con­trol

The joy of find­ing a seat and driv­ing po­si­tion that in­tu­itively click – un­like in the old Vantage – is mas­saged by cabin ar­chi­tec­ture, ma­te­ri­als, switchgear er­gonomics and di­als even bolder and sex­ier than the DB11’s. Longer and eas­ier-to-use pad­dles, too, and an un­com­monly lovely steer­ing wheel, blighted only by its flat bot­tom. Over­all, though, I can’t re­call an As­ton with in­te­rior style and sub­stance so seam­lessly fused. Becker sug­gests I dial my­self in with a few laps of the han­dling cir­cuit, and quickly runs through the cu­mu­la­tive linked ben­e­fits of the driv­ing modes, adap­tive damper set­tings, eight-speed ZF auto, a rear axle sub as­sem­bly fixed di­rectly to the body with­out the cush­ion­ing in­ter­ven­tion of rub­ber bushes and, par­tic­u­larly, the e-diff, which he de­scribes as the chas­sis’ ‘most pow­er­ful tool’.

There are three pow­er­train and damper modes apiece – Sport, Sport+ and Track – which can be paired-up any way you want. ‘We’ve shifted ev­ery­thing one to the right com­pared with the DB11,’ says Becker. So the ‘soft’ GT mode is for­got­ten and Track is added, which it­self is more fo­cused and ag­gres­sive than Sport+. The na­ture of the pro­gres­sion from one to the next is much the same, though: pre­cisely cal­i­brated in­cre­men­tal stiff­en­ing of the damp­ing, quick­en­ing of the throt­tle re­sponse, weight­ing of the steer­ing and bal­loon­ing vol­ume of pops and bangs from the ex­haust. The com­men­su­rate slack­en­ing off of the trac­tion con­trol is im­ple­mented by the ESP-con­trolled e-diff. Un­like a purely me­chan­i­cal LSD, this can go from fully open to 100 per cent locked in a blink and works hand-in-hand with the braked torque-vec­tor­ing. Or you can turn it all off and trust SBA (Snow Bank As­sist) should driver tal­ent part com­pany with what Becker as­sures me is the chas­sis’ be­nign nat­u­ral balance.

Nat­u­rally, there’s no op­por­tu­nity up here to get a true feel for the Vantage’s AMG-nour­ished per­for­mance – 0-100kmph in 3.6 sec­onds and 314kmph V-max for the record – but the way the V8 and ZF auto do sub­tle, smooth and gen­tle at lower speeds, and mea­sure their con­tri­bu­tion to the balance and trac­tion of the chas­sis, is just as im­por­tant. And if your smart elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial is tasked with so much, the ultra-low-mu sur­face pro­vided by Test World’s com­pressed snow cer­tainly gives it plenty to think about.

To start, I stick with the gen­tly buffered slip an­gles of Sport+ and more right pedal cir­cum­spec­tion than Gor­don Lightfoot could sum­mon. Not slid­ing, how­ever, isn’t a re­al­is­tic op­tion and, in­deed, an insult to Test World. Be­sides, even with the Becker fac­tor side­lined and elec­tronic aids stood down, the Vantage is the Chris­tian Bale of method on snow and ice, a car that tran­scends the script with flat­ter­ing lev­els of grace, flow and con­trol, able to par­lay even the most ten­ta­tive stabs at sus­tained arcs of drift into some­thing ap­prox­i­mat­ing a Ken Block trib­ute act. Per­haps just as im­por­tantly, its di­rect and beau­ti­fully weighted steer­ing has bags of lock, so se­ri­ously side­ways is usu­ally re­cov­er­able. If not, there’s al­ways SBA. And be­fore we break for a snack and re­sump­tion of busi­ness on the road, it comes in handy. Let’s call it a helpful nudge in the right di­rec­tion at the op­ti­mum mo­ment.

The qual­ity of the pow­er­train is more ev­i­dent on the road to… well, to be frank, who knows? On the Merc-sourced sat­nav the smat­ter­ing of names like Nel­lim, Ala­järvi and, my favourite,

Lem­men­joki, seem promis­ingly di­verse but, in re­al­ity, ev­ery­thing looks the same: uni­formly off-white-smeared rib­bons of tar­mac scyth­ing a mostly straight, gen­tly un­du­lat­ing course through end­less, al­most unimag­in­ably pretty pine forests. There isn’t a breath of wind. The Vantage is find­ing its voice, and it’s a glo­ri­ous sound. ‘We haven’t gone as ag­gres­sive as AMG,’ says Becker. ‘We didn’t want to make it sound as if some­one’s shoot­ing a gun at you on down­shifts. This is crisper and more re­fined, more As­ton.’

Fit­ted with a shal­lower, As­ton-de­signed wet sump so it can sit as low and far back in the chas­sis as pos­si­ble, the V8, as it ar­rives from Af­fal­ter­bach, also has a new in­duc­tion and ex­haust sys­tem and be­spoke en­gine man­age­ment soft­ware. Such is the ex­tra­or­di­nary flex­i­bil­ity of the mo­tor, ef­fort lev­els are al­most van­ish­ingly low on these roads, with lit­tle need, other than gra­tu­itously, to dip down into the ZF trans­mis­sion’s lower ra­tios. So I do. The shifts are all but im­per­cep­ti­ble, yet seem as swift as any dou­ble-clutch sys­tem’s, strik­ing just the right balance be­tween sporty ur­gency and re­fine­ment. It’s an idea that in­forms the spirit of the car – any Becker-de­vel­oped car, to be fair.

De­vel­op­ment met­rics set the dy­namic agenda. ‘One of my clear briefs when I ar­rived at Gay­don was to dy­nam­i­cally sep­a­rate the cars,’ he says. ‘To make sure DB11 is the GT car and Vantage is the sports car. The key dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion is a met­ric called roll-per-G: how much roll do you get for 1G of lat­eral ac­cel­er­a­tion. DB11 is around 3 de­grees per G and Vantage is just over 2.’ But, as Becker proved at Lo­tus, pin-sharp han­dling and com­fort aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. It’s as clear as the ris­ing sun here in Fin­land. The new Vantage steers so pre­cisely and rides so smoothly it can be guided with fin­ger and thumb. There are no rough edges, ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, or hid­den sur­prises. In short, it’s got the cold down cold, and in some style. But I have a feel­ing it’s the prospect of what comes next month, when we swap snow and ice for tar­mac and pit­lanes, that’s giv­ing ex­ec­u­tives in Zuf­fen­hausen the shiv­ers. ⌧

Top and above right: Cam­ou­flage dis­guised the new Vantage’s shape ahead of its re­cent re­veal. Above: Cabin hits the bulls­eye, despite flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel. Right: AMG en­gine puts out

503bhp and 684.6Nm

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