There is a ‘road’ out there somewhere, but you’d only know it by the gap in the trees and the succession of poles sticking up stripy and proud out of the frozen whiteness.
Blanketed in thick, powdery snow that’s reflecting the hazy morning light in picture-postcard fashion, with heavy-laden pines stretching as far as the eye can see, the scene through the windscreen looks utterly serene. It’s not exactly asking to be disrupted by a 500-horsepower V8 – but never mind. Stuff happens, doesn’t it? Even in Lapland.
And however treacherous you might imagine those conditions to be, the car we’re driving has been coping with them just fine so far. It’s 14degC below freezing, and we’re 200 miles north of the edge of the Arctic Circle at the TestWorld proving ground in northern Finland.
Up ahead on the handling course we’ll shortly be turning on to, there will be sharp twists, steep gradients and nasty cambers. All of them are guaranteed to be slippery, and all of them easily convincing enough to make most Aston Martin owners I’ve met put their show ponies away and take the Range Rover to work. For most Aston owners I’ve met, the vague threat of an air frost and a gritter is more than enough to do that – and it’s an instinct I understand completely.
But Aston Martin still has to do as thorough an engineering job on all of its ‘second century’ products as Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, Jaguar or anyone else does on their new cars. That means mile after mile of durability testing is on the menu, as well as altitude testing, hot weather testing and cold weather testing not unlike the kind we’re getting a taste of today.
Having already done all of that (and being now just weeks away from the start of building customer Vantages at its Gaydon HQ), Aston already knows its new 503bhp entry-level super-sports car can cope with all of this – and nobody more so than the man on my left, Aston Martin head of vehicle dynamics Matt Becker. He knows the car’s optional Pirelli winter tyres work fine on compacted snow and in ambient temperatures colder than today’s. He knows the car’s 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 won’t be for very long. Becker will, for all these reasons and more, not be learning much today about the car he has been working on for so long. And yet, because it will be another few weeks until we can drive a Vantage on the road in conditions more conducive to meaningfully judging it as one of 2018’s most alluring new sports cars, we’ll learn what we can from our first turn at the wheel.
Becker has already delivered a technical briefing on the car that could have won awards for its shortness and sweetness. It went something like this.
“The car’s more or less the same width as a DB11, but shorter than a Porsche 911. I’m not sure you’d guess that last bit by looking at it, but if anyone’s to blame for that, it’s the colouring-in department.
“The chassis is 20kg lighter than the old Vantage’s was and also 30% more rigid, as well as being 10% more rigid than that of a DB11. It uses most of the same suspension hardware as a DB11, but it’s significantly differently tuned. And although the steering box is the same, the effective steering ratio has increased because the wheelbase is 100mm shorter than a DB11’s. Even on the snow, you’ll feel the difference.