Aston Martin Vantage: Twin-turbo V8 sportscar tested on ice
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Heavenly doesn’t begin to describe the beauty of Wanaka’s Snow Farm and Automotive Proving Ground, nestled pristinely 500 metres above the Cardrona Valley and the Pisa mountain range is an exquisite backdrop to hundreds of swishing Gore-Tex jackets that migrate here each winter for automotive tyre and drivetrain testing amongst the expanse of pure white surrounding the facility.
It’s now the norm for premium car brands to offer their customer’s experiences on ice at the snow farm and for the last few years Aston Martin has offered a boutique Kiwi ice driving option for global customers as part of the brand’s Art of Living experience programme.
Art of Living is almost as fundamental to Aston’s aggressive business strategy as the Vantage I’ve come to skid around in. In its sights: Porsche’s 911; to say Vantage is a cornerstone for Aston Martin is like saying Richie McCaw is quite good at Rugby.
They’ve definitely nailed the looks. The Vantage, from every angle, is indisputably handsome. The stark whiteness of the surrounds here accentuates every subtly of the car too, the proportions and body surfaces seem even more impressive.
From behind the wheel driving the Vantage on ice requires finesse. There’s 3 driving modes (standard, sport and track), but Aston’s far from getting wrapped up in All-Wheel Drive, torque-vectoring, technology showcase hoopla, it’s high horsepower rear-drive and I’m very ok with that.
For optimum “driving fun” we have the stability control system deactivated and applying the 4.0L V8 twin turbo’s 375kW and 695Nm of torque through only the rear wheels, keeping it pointing in the right direction and not binning it completely takes all my concentration as I thread my first slalom with a satisfying rooster tail of snow behind me.
Not that the car is unwieldy, even in these nominal grip circumstances you easily get the sensation of the car’s ideal 50:50 weight distribution. That balance with the Vantage’s short 2705mm wheelbase and lightweight aluminium underpinnings, it’s all you want from a car when making rapid directional changes and before long, I’m hammer down, feeding the Aston full lock.
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The sound is epic. A mix of studded tyres scratching violently at the sub-zero road surface below, ice and snow peppering the Vantage’s sculptured bodywork and the gruff, forced-induction growl of that V8. Think the bear scene from The Revenant and you’re getting close.
While more premium materials for touchpoints like the dash vents wouldn’t go astray, the Vantage’s cockpit really is ideal for this type of thing. The hunkered-down seating position is skewed to sports driving and I’m snugly secured into the car with press-fit tolerance. The focussed ergonomics let me simply point the car with the steering wheel, rather than brace myself with it mid-drift.
After a few increasingly challenging cone exercises, the day culminates with the drift circle, a 50-metre diameter circle of solid ice. The aim here to steer the vehicle almost exclusively with the throttle, keeping steering input to a minimum and, ultimately, finding the sweet spot where you can balance the vehicle at a consistent angle.
It takes some getting used to and I repeatedly over rotate the car. My instructor reminds me to be more delicate, less throttle with a more consistent application holds that V8 in the thick of its torque range, you can feel the chassis respond with impressive accuracy and steering is now minimal almost pointing straight ahead. A few attempts and the Vantage is gliding effortlessly in a beautiful, Bond-film-esque, sustained drift. Result!
The scenery may be heavenly but learning to drift a high horsepower rear-drive sportscar on snow and ice like a God. Nirvana surely?