While I should probably try to make out that this was a hard-won exclusive and the result of the sort of journalistic graft that normally wins prizes and pay rises, the reality is considerably more mundane. I couldn't make it to the Scandinavian ice-drive so Aston very generously offered to let me have a go closer to home. The journey starts at the company's new engineering base in Wellesbourne, and with the reassuring presence of the company's chief vehicle attributes engineer - and driving god - Matt Becker in the passenger seat.
The huge workshop at Wellesbourne is full of immaculate Vantages being prepared for the official press launch, in marked contrast to the general skankiness of the prototype and its peeling zebra-pattern disguise wrap. There's plentiful evidence of a life lived hard, from chips and abrasions on the exterior panels to fault messages on the instrument screen and a feral fug to the cabin itself. It smells like many engineers have spent many hours sweating in here.
Well before reaching faster roads it's obvious that the Vantage is a very different beast than the V8-powered DB11, with a much darker soundtrack when exhaling through what Becker says will become an optional sports exhaust, full of rasps and crackles. To my ears it sounds angrier than anything else fitted with this engine below, perhaps, the full-on AMG GT R.
The Vantage is both firmer and louder than the DB11, with the subframe that carries the rear suspension mounted directly to the bonded aluminium body rather than through refinement-enhancing bushes. Although the exhaust dominates most of the time, there's plenty of road noise when cruising, and some pattering from the prototype's front suspension as it deals with bigger bumps. Damping is more about control than comfort, Sport is pliant enough but there's always an edge to the Vantage's ride over rougher surfaces. It feels very stable at speed, tracking true at the sort of making progress pace the Fosse Way encourages. This is where the prototypes come to play, and it's not long before we pass a line of similarly disguised Land Rover mules heading back to Gaydon. The brakes feel great too. Becker admits that the 911 GT3 was the inspiration for the Vantage pedal's weight and feel, firm and with little travel but very easy to modulate through pressure.
Becker says that this can produce up to 1845lbs of locking torque almost instantly, much more than a mechanical LSD, but it can also disengage fully. So as well as helping to find traction it vectors torque across the rear axle to help the car turn, but adds none of the low-speed understeer that aggressive locking diffs tend to create. The Vantage feels nimble and secure even when being pushed hard, but with an impressive degree of throttle steerability with the stability control switched on. With nanny turned off it becomes predictably lairy - that peak torque arrives at just 2000rpm - but without turning scary.
Aston's development engineers travel the globe to tune new cars, from frozen lakes in reindeer country to the heat of Death Valley in the summer. But the greatest amount of chassis development work is done on the company's doorstep, right here in the UK. Which, on the basis of how well the prototype Vantage deals with the challenge of rural Warwickshire, is exactly how it should be.
And while our next appointment with the Vantage is at its formal launch, and in full production form, I reckon it will be the one after that which will be the most significant. Because I, for one, am itching to see how it will feel in direct contrast to a Porsche 911. Pretty bloody well, I reckon.
|Aston Martin Vantage - Specifications|
|Engine||3,982cc, V8 twin-turbo|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive|
|Torque (lb ft)||505@2,000-5,000rpm|