The hard-worked prototype wears a ragged zebra pattern disguise and the scars of a life that’s been lived hard. The dashboard reports various functions are unavailable and the interior has the unwashed aroma that suggests many engineers have spent many hours sweating in it.
It feels tighter inside than the DB11, and not just because of the lack of rear seats, with switchgear and gear selector buttons clustered lower on the centre console. The position of the seat closer to the windscreen also means that the fat A-pillars eat more front-quarter visibility.
Starting the engine proves that despite a high percentage of shared componentry, there’s no chance of confusing the Vantage with the DB11 V8.
It's louder and angrier from idle, with the prototype’s optional sports exhaust adding a savage rasp to revs and responding to every throttle lift with pops and crackles. It sounds more aggressive than anything else using this engine except, perhaps, the full-on Mercedes-AMG GT R.
The Vantage is definitely Aston fast. The engine produces plenty of low-down grunt, but it really impresses when extended. There’s lots of drama on the way to the 7000rpm redline, with the Vantage pulling increasingly strongly over the last couple of thousand revs – the area in which most modern turbocharged units start to feel tight.
The marriage with the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which AMG doesn’t use, is a particularly happy one as well. It's refined under gentle use but swaps cogs practically as fast as a twin-clutcher under manual control or with the powertrain in its more aggressive Sport Plus and Track modes.
The Vantage is firmer and louder than the DB11, thanks to both chunkier chassis settings – the adaptive dampers lack a Comfort mode, with Sport their base setting – and a rear subframe that's mounted directly to the body without any insulating bushes, improving rigidity at the expense of refinement. It’s certainly not crude, but there's a fair amount of road noise evident beneath the exhaust note. Still, the car tracks impressively straight and accurately at higher speeds.
Onto twistier roads and the steering starts to really impress. The Vantage’s rack and its ratio are identical to that of the DB11, but the car's shorter wheelbase increases the effective ratio, making responses feel much keener. There’s plenty of front-end bite, even in the damp conditions we drove the car in, with corners giving the electronically controlled differential a chance to prove how clever it is.
The device can produce a huge 1845lb ft of locking torque almost instantly, but, unlike a conventional limited slip differential, can also fully disengage when not required. The result is outstanding traction, with the addition of some torque vectoring to sharpen responses yet none of the low-speed understeer that sticky mechanical lockers usually engender.
The engine has more than enough low-down torque to keep things interesting, especially with the stability control switched to its more permissive mode or full de-energised. But even when the Vantage is sliding, it never feels wayward or excessively lairy. Drivers are going to have a huge amount of fun in this car.