Aston Martin organizes several ice and snow driving experiences in northern Finland, Switzerland and Colorado. One of our family member had the opportunity to go to the 2013 edition of Aston Martin’s On Ice driving experience in Saint-Moritz, to try and see if the Grand Tourers built by the British manufacturer can be used even in the toughest weather conditions. During this amazing practice day, we had the opportunity to try out four different cars: a V12 Vantage Roadster, one of the latest Aston Martin Vanquish, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage S, and the four-door Aston Martin Rapide. Text: Mickael B., Romain D. Images : Mickael B. ©
“Time to see if the James Bond cars could really cope with the freezing temperatures”
Thanks to very cold temperatures and two frozen lakes, Saint-Moritz offers an amazing playground to enjoy snow driving. Aston Martin has been organizing these ice driving experiences since a few years, and it was a real privilege to be part of one. Moreover, it is not everyday that you get to drive such a sports car in these conditions. Time to see if the James Bond cars could really cope with the freezing temperatures (-2° Celsius at our early arrival), the snow and the ice. The first thing that really surprised me was that the cars were simply fitted with winter tyres, no studded tyres ! I could not really believe that it would be sufficient to keep correct traction on these rear-wheel drive beauties, but then I recalled the famous Fifth Gear episode where Tiff Needell tests out a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 on a snow track with simple winter tyres as well. Still the Gallardo is a four-wheel drive mid-engined berlinetta so I was very curious about how these big front engined Grand Tourers were going to cope.
I started on the morning with the closest car from what I was used to, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage Roadster, one of only 101 ever built. It was actually the only manual gearbox car of the lot, and actually the only V12 Vantage. Start up the familiar 517 horsepower V12, and off we were. Actually, with the traction control still on, you can floor the car and nothing happens. Impressive how this electronic assistance manages the fury and the incredible torque of the V12 engine on the snow tires. So of course, all the fun happens when you cut the electronic assistances and let the 507 horsepower of the 6 liter engine express onto the snow. Of course, if you floor it, you will notice that you won’t move an inch, but if you are careful on the throttle, you might even get moving. It’s not that complicated after all. Except if you have a very heavy right foot. Like me. A few practicing of appropriate dosage of the throttle and it was time to start the few training exercises.
“With the assistances deconnected, floor it and you won’t move an inch”
First of all, understanding the sideways car behavior that the car puts itself to at each corner. In fact it is very difficult to corner the car as you would do on the road, with such low traction. So the idea is to stick the front to a precise position and then let the rear do the rest by carefully dosing the throttle to maintain the drift. After a few (quite a lot in fact) spins, I started to feel much better the car. Still, as an encouragement, the instructor told me that the V12 Vantage was probably the most difficult car of the lot, because of its shorter wheel-base and big engine. Excellent decision I had made to start with the most difficult car of the lot. Then the instructor had put in place a little track in order to play with the cars, and experience the balance from side to side, trying to maintain the perfect drift throughout the track’s route.
Last exercise was the famous G turn. Start in reverse, then handbrake, turn in and slowly back on the gas to do a full and perfect G turn. It was probably the funniest exercise of the lot, as it is actually much easier to perform it on the snow than on the road. Still it required some training, as at the beginning, I was actually more doing 270 ou 360 degrees than the 180 degrees required. Though the V12 Vantage was probably the most difficult car to control it switched from one side to the other with great ease. Overall I was really impressed with the capabilities of the car in these conditions throughout these first tests and was looking forward to experience the other cars, in order to see what differences I was going to notice between the other cars brought by the british manufacturer.
“Spin, spin, spin, spin… It requires some practice”
Second car to test was the latest Aston Martin Vanquish. With its even more powerful engine than the V12 Vantage, and flappy paddle automated gearshift transmission, I swept in and fired up the V12. The One-77 inspired interior felt great, especially the central console compared to the V12 Vantage Roadster. With all its tactile elements, its ergonomics are much better. The only problem relies with the square steering wheel, which is rather awkward to take in hand. While in full automatic mode, the gearbox was smooth, but once switching to the full manual mode, one could really feel the bad progressivity of the gear changes. As these were pre-2015 models, there were equipped with the old gearbox, which has now changed for a hopefully much better one. Still it was interesting to already feel the difference on the sliding abilities between the two cars that I had tested due to the difference in wheel base. The Vanquish, being longer, was much easier to keep sliding, and G turning.
Back to a shorter wheelbase, I was offered the possibility to experiment the Aston Martin V8 Vantage S, and I must admit that I was very disappointed. Not by the car itself, which was fine, its behaviour being very similar to the V12 Vantage Roadster, but easier still to maintain sliding thanks to the less powerful engine. The gearbox had several problems, failing numerous times. Basically what happened was that the Aston refused after a certain time to change any gear. The solution to this problem was to stop completely the car, and restart it after a while, once the gearbox had decided to work again. Quite annoying. Especially it made me wonder where the problem came from: the tough temperature conditions, the gearbox itself or another issue ?
“The V8 Vantage S refused from time to time to change gears. Quite annoying.”
The last car I was proposed to test was the only four-door of the brand, the very subtle and elegant Aston Martin Rapide. Basically a longer DB9 with the usual 6 liter V12 developing 450 horsepower. Although the British manufacturer always claimed that the Rapide was a proper four-people grand coupé saloon car, anyone which has tried to sit in the rear places must have felt actually not so comfortable. The rear legroom is very limited, especially with tall people in the front. Interestingly though, as there weren’t anyone in the rear seats, I didn’t pay attention to this, and expected a similar behavior than the one I had experienced with the Vanquish. Well, I was wrong. Of course, the power difference between the Vanquish and the Rapide is significant, as well as the weight but I didn’t really felt it much. Actually, it was the funniest car of the lot ! Thanks to its very long wheelbase, the car was just the smoothest to keep drifting, as well as to do the G turns.
“The Rapide was probably the funniest car of the lot, thanks to its wide wheelbase”
The day was now ending and looking back at all these Grand Tourers, in such a beautiful landscape as the Engadina, I was savoring even in the great cold. It had been a great experience opportunity where I had learned interesting and useful driving skills. It had as well opened my mind actually that even though an Aston Martin is much more enjoyable in summer conditions on the road, the fact is they are cars, and have been designed to stay fun and usable even in a much tougher environment, such as on snow and ice, with simple winter tyres.