Awesome Astons! New era: from mid-engined monster to electric Vantage and Rapide

Awesome Astons! New era: from mid-engined monster to electric Vantage and Rapide

Aston’s smarter game plan and new focus on electrification doesn’t rule out fun. Check out the new Valhalla, and the secret dossier of AMG aided EVs to follow. Words Georg Kacher and Ben Miller Illustrations Avarvarii.


PAUSE PLAY Aston’s game plan


The big reads — Aston Martin’s new Valhalla – and the electric range being developed with AMG New boss Tobias Moers guides us around the radically rethought Valhalla, and we reveal the secret dossier of Porsche-rivalling EVs

If you’re struggling to recall the exact details of the Aston Martin Valhalla, the middle child of former CEO Andy Palmer’s mid-engined triptych (£1m, a shade under 1000bhp, ‘son of Valkyrie’), don’t be too hard on yourself. A lot’s happened since 2018.

What’s more, that 2019 Geneva show car was less a car, more an idea – a very-early-days bridge of a concept to span the yawning gulf between the flagship Valkyrie (V12 engine, Adrian Newey aero, cockpit the size of a Kinder egg) and the Vanquish, Palmer’s proposed £220k-ish Ferrari/McLaren/Lambo fighter.

Since Palmer’s departure and the arrival of Aston’s new management team, a ruthless and welcome pragmatism has taken hold under the new Project Horizon game plan. And nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the Valhalla, unveiled again because, well, it’s a different car.


VALHALLA VIRTUALLY REALITY

The V6 is dead – long live the Black Series’ V8 

Valhalla 1 was set to use Aston’s first new engine in decades, a twin-turbo V6 intended to be the beating heart of a performance hybrid system. One of new CEO Tobias Moers’ biggest calls was to cancel that project.

‘The engine was a bit more established than the rest of the car, but we would still have had to create it when we could just use something out of the toolbox of AMG,’ Moers told CAR at the Valhalla’s premiere. ‘Plus, in our times should you really create a new combustion engine from scratch? It’s a weird thing to do. We only have limited capital expenditure, and I like to focus on electrification.

‘That’s one side of the story. Also, EU7 is still uncertain, and if you go to a smaller displacement and a higher boost pressure, you end up not totally capable to run at Lambda 1 always. [Performance engines commonly use a rich mixture – a Lambda value of less than 1 – to protect against thermal stress, an option new emissions regs clamp down on.] It’s better to keep a bigger displacement and have a bit more freedom here.’

So, in comes a bespoke installation based on the AMG twin-turbo V8 in the Black Series GT R, complete with its flatplane crankshaft for increased responsiveness and a screaming, very un-AMG soundtrack. Here it’ll develop 740bhp. A 400-volt AMG battery and two (non-AMG) e-motors, one on the gearbox and one on the front axle, bring a further 201bhp for a claimed 937bhp system total and hybrid all-wheel drive.

‘Electrification is mandatory and that will apply for our cars and supercars plus to the wider world too,’ says Moers. ‘So we decided to create a bespoke V8 for this car and to establish an electrified culture. It gives you more efficiency, the freedom to drive purely electric, and it’s dynamic. For example, the electric drive on the front axle was very important to me, so it pulls the car out of corners on demand – very cool.

‘The battery is AMG, because that’s a good technology and available, but the drivetrain, the front axle drive, the DCT gearbox with the side-by-side electric motor approach – that is Aston Martin. And we haven’t done this just to pass CAFE [US fuel efficiency standards] – I’m a firm believer in the electrification of powertrains.’


U-turn? There was nothing to U-turn from…

If news of the swap from a V6 to a bigger V8 summons images of Tobias Moers in overalls, wielding an angle grinder as he hurriedly hacks away at the Valhalla’s carbonfibre tub, then rest easy. Valhalla barely existed before he arrived, and as such was an almost blank sheet of paper. Even the new exterior design, while recognisable, doesn’t share a single square inch of common surface with the 2019 show car.

‘We had freedom – we started creating the car in October and now we’re here; we have hard points, we have a wheelbase, we have seating and a passenger compartment,’ says Moers. ‘Everything is there. But there’s still a lot to do.’

Valhalla was always meant to have a carbonfibre tub, and Moers and his team haven’t opted for a more affordable aluminium alternative. Carbon brings huge stiffness, strengthens the F1 connection, offers good battery protection and, most importantly, saves time. It wears aluminium crash structures front and rear.

Suspension is by F1-style pushrods up front, with a multi-link system at the rear. Fancy Multimatic dampers, with variable spring and damping rates, together with a variable ride height, aim to deliver the duality Aston’s promising: usability that means you won’t need an osteopath after every drive, together with the performance required to deliver the car’s 6min 30sec Nürburgring target lap time. That’s a serious number…

It is, but key, Aston believes, to establishing its mid-engined credibility. More numbers include: a 217mph top speed, 0-62mph in 2.5sec, and an 80mph top speed and 15km (9.3 mile) range in front-wheel-drive EV mode. Dry weight is an impressive 1550kg, with the aero package capable of 600kg of downforce at 150mph. Production won’t be limited, but it will run for just two years, from late 2023 until the end of 2025. Pricing is between 600,000 and 700,000 euros. ‘We’re above SF90 on price, and we will be on performance also. My brief to the engineering team was “hypercar performance, supercar price” – this is the new sweet spot.’

Moers attributes this significant change (Valhalla was set to cost a million quid) to his learnings from the difficult AMG One project. ‘When you chase a hypercar you face some issues, and [with extreme hypercars] the business cases are not so great. The idea sounds good at the beginning, but you learn lessons out of experience. AMG One is all about a Formula 1 drivetrain. Valkyrie is about a Formula 1-style design. Here we have taken all of these learnings and brought them to a level of being reasonable and do-able.’


What does this car mean for Aston’s future?

Quite a bit. As well as linking Aston’s road cars with its F1 team, and proving that the mid-engined Valkyrie is no one-off, some key Aston technology will also debut on the Valhalla. One is the new twin-clutch DCT gearbox Moers mentioned earlier, in development now and set to feature both an e-reverse (to save weight) and the ability to channel e-power and engine power via two different gears simultaneously. This lifts the limit on the amount of torque the paddleshift unit can handle, meaning the Valhalla will be able to drive with a fulsome 738lb ft when required (Ferrari’s SF90, by comparison, develops 660lb ft). And there’s a bespoke in-house infotainment system.


VANTAGE EV READY WHEN YOU ARE, PORSCHE

When Porsche is your declared target, aiming low with your EV strategy would be an unwise move. After all, the Taycan is a runaway success, the future 911 codenamed 998 will go fully electric in 2028, and now that Rimac has joined the Bugatti/Porsche fray there is allegedly a new zero-emission hypercar brewing, bound to eclipse even the radical 918. What can AMG and Aston do together to challenge these efforts and eventually eclipse Porsche, if not in combined volume then at least in desirability and overall excellence? The starting point will be a Panamera-sized electric replacement for the Rapide, an electric SUV alternative to the Macan/Cayenne and this – a 911-rivalling electric Vantage.

Twinned with an EV spin on the AMG GT theme, the electric Vantage would be offered as both coupe and convertible. Expect it to have a lot in common visually with the current Vantage, but Mercedes boss Ola Källenius and Moers agree that their teams need to get a clean sheet of paper and create a state-of-the-art components set capable of taking on Porsche, rather than trying to adapt existing underpinnings.

When this plan was hatched four years ago at AMG, Mate Rimac was still one of the leading brains behind the EV attack. Now that the software and battery wizard has teamed up with Bugatti, Porsche and the VW Group, he has stepped aside from any involvement in what is now the AMG-Aston project. But there’s plenty of expertise still involved, including Magna, which builds the i-Pace for Jaguar, and the highly respected problem solvers at Multimatic.

While certain basic components will come out of the Mercedes parts bin, the software, the energy cells and the entire architecture are being developed from scratch. Priorities include light weight, extreme rigidity, across-the-board modularity, a clever multi-circuit cooling concept, high-revving e-motors and an advanced mix of materials.

Many options are being explored, and future developments in battery size, capacity and charging speed are being closely monitored. Working with a mix of tech start-ups and long-time suppliers, Aston is pushing for reduced battery degradation, improved repeatability and much enhanced recuperation – soaring to a record 350kW, sources say.

In addition, Aston is reportedly contemplating an integrated aero brake/ spoiler, an adaptive drag-cutting drop-down rear diffuser and selectively blocked cooling apertures – all of which will take pressure off the battery.

Torque distribution may be of the fully adjustable kind, with Rimac Nevera-inspired toggles controlling the flow between the axles. Those who take their cars to the track may be able to buy tailor-made set-ups programmed by pros, real-time hot-lap tutoring and temporarily more potent e-motors.

With the finished car not expected before 2025 or 2026, it would be foolish to speculate about power output, maximum torque, acceleration time and top speed. So much depends on improvements in battery technology and power management, not to mention the spread of the charger network.

In any case, as the transformation process from fuel to electricity snowballs, other factors are going to matter more, no doubt about it. Like how to make the driving experience more emotional, intense and intuitive. To unleash even more excitement by teaching torque vectoring, active suspension and all-wheel steering a few new tricks. Or think about an all-new generation of ‘learning by doing’ assistance systems.

And then there are the less performance-minded aspects of any new car: different ways of buying and owning, different expectations about connectivity, and questions around data privacy. Aston couldn’t possibly manage and fund these tasks all by itself. But with the solid backing of big brother Benz, the British brand that never quite made it to the very top of the game should soon be well enough qualified to shine in the new era of performance EVs.

Porsche is not the only key rival for future Aston Martins. In fact, it’s not even the only key rival from within the VW family. Bentley has made it clear that after the briefest of transitional phases with PHEVs, it will be going all electric. And Gaydon does not want to make life easy for Crewe. Bentley boss Adrian Hallmark has told CAR that the first Bentley EV is likely to be an SUV, and Aston will be aiming for some of those same buyers with an EV companion for the DBX (see box top right). But it’s also working on non-SUVs that tap into the GT/cruiser/sports coupe territory that in the petrolhead past has often been contested by Aston and Bentley. An electric replacement for the Rapide – likely in 2027 or 2028 – could be outstanding in a way that the V12 powered 2010-2020 rarely was; it would also scratch the itch of the cancelled Rapide E project. That was on the verge of going into limited production when the, um, plug was pulled. The problem was understood to be financial rather than technical, and testing work continued so that learnings from the project were not wasted.

A four- or five-door sporting four-seater, positioned in the same segment as the AMG GT 4-Door and Porsche Panamera, could make a smart Aston alternative to the Porsche Taycan and a future Bentley equivalent. And since there would be zero technical carryover from the high-octane past, there is no need for the design to be evolutionary. Quite the contrary: EVs are an open invitation to create fresh proportions, much more extreme aerodynamics and roomier, dramatically repackaged cabins.

A car of this nature will also need rapid charging and a relatively long range, essential to which will be sleek aerodynamics. Losing the engine could mean a similar footprint and silhouette but more room inside, helped by details such as Taycan-style ‘foot garages’ that give rear passengers good head room without raising the roof height.

The cabin could unleash Aston’s considerable in-house design talent in a new direction, with scope for digital personalisation. The 2022 Valhalla will debut a bespoke Aston infotainment system, an investment Moers believes will turn a traditional weakness into a strength; it then it will help Aston make the Rapide replacement’s interior as special as it needs to be. With the thrill of Aston’s great engines soon to become a thing of the past, the brand needs to tap into its other areas of expertise in order for its products to stand out.

‘When you talk about electric, I think the brand becomes even more important than it is today,’ says Moers. ‘When you lose the engine, you lose a bit of identity also. You have to find another direction, and I think it’s about the user experience. We have to be in a better place with this in the future, so we’re creating a bespoke HMI, an environment, a connected experience, with an Aston Martin ID and an app. This makes sense, and this was the judgement – we’re not going to take [Merc infotainment] any more. If you’re ultra-luxury, it’s about feeling part of the family.’

READY WHEN YOU ARE, BENTLEY

OF COURSE THERE’LL BEAN EV SUV

Merc’s pre-Aston plan for electric AMGs included an electric GLE-sized SUV, and it’s now being thought of as another Aston-AMG joint project, due within five years. A second SUV while the DBX is, presumably, still going strong? It makes sense to have a period of overlap, because nobody knows exactly when the combustion engine will fall out of favour on a grand scale, nor how long a high-performance PHEV – with a token e-range of 20-ish miles – could hold appeal. So instead of turning the DBX into an EV, expect a new electric SUV running alongside it. Bear in mind a significant part of Aston’s sales success is in the US and Middle East – markets that aren’t bound by the same transition timetable as the UK and EU.

It’s not all about the SUVs – sleek saloon will rival GT Bentley EVs

THE 911 – RIVALLING ELECTRIC VANTAGE WILL BE OFFERED AS BOTH COUPE AND CONVERTIBLE

Aston Martin cannot achieve outstanding performance and lasting financial prosperity without a very strong partner. Even Ford, which owned Aston between 1987 and 2007, couldn’t achieve lift-off. Six years later, Daimler acquired a five per cent stake, which must’ve encouraged Lawrence Stroll to invest heavily in 2020. Stroll hired former AMG boss Tobias Moers as his new CEO, announced a return to Formula 1 through the acquisition of Racing Point and agreed with his new German friends that the intermittently bankrupt English cottage car maker was the perfect sidekick for AMG in their strategic mission to challenge Porsche on all fronts, not just as a source of income.

After all, it’s a two-way street, and the new Midlands partner helps generate volume, contributes brainpower and cultivates compatible brand values while maintaining a distinct character all of its own.

VALHALLA TARGET SAVERY SERIOUS 6MIN 30SEC NÜRBURGRINGLAP TIME

German brawn, British beauty. Valhalla is a place on earth

WHY F1 IS SO KEY

‘Project Horizon [Aston’s new strategy] has a very broad focus,’ reveals Moers. ‘Within it we are focused on transformation of the business regarding operational excellence in manufacturing and cultural changes within the company as we move to a performance culture inspired by Formula 1. Regarding marketing and brand, Formula 1 is underpinning this now, and we’re focused on product creation and a growth strategy when it comes to our sports car business. New Valhalla is key in all this.’

Recognisably Aston, just not as we know it The words sexy and roof scoop in one caption

SHAPE SHIFTER

‘Every single millimetre has changed from the initial Geneva show car,’ says design chief Marek Reichman.

‘Originally, we had a design concept. This is a preproduction car now. Every single hardpoint has been set with the design and R&D teams working together to produce a car that, for me now, has far more presence, far more muscularity, than it had before. It now has the presence for the power that sits within. And of course, we’ve introduced an Aston Martin grille, so you now have the heritage of the brand in the six-vane grille.’

Six-vane grille harks back to 1950s. Not much else does

VALHALLA HAS BEEN UNVEILED AGAIN BECAUSE, WELL, IT’S A DIFFERENT CAR

THE AMG V8 HAS TWIN TURBOS AND TWIN E-MOTORS FOR 937BHP

PINCHIN’ INCHES Valhalla uses mixed wheel sizes (20-inch front, 21-inch rear) and carbon-ceramic brakes

WOKING NIGHTMARE Full carbon tub and dihedral doors, McLaren-style. Body all-new since 2019 concept broke cover

LOW LIKE VETTEL Low hip-to-heel seating position intended to feel like an F1 car’s. Target dry weight beefier at 1550kg

BET ON BLACK Bespoke V6 ditched for AMG Black Series-derived V8. Flatplane crank, twine- motors, 937bhp total

THE KEY PLAYERS TOBIAS MOERS CEO OF ASTON MARTIN

You don’t rise to the top of AMG in a 25- year career without being business-savvy and good at internal politics. Crucially new Aston boss Moers is an engineer at heart.

OLA KÄLLENIUS DAIMLER CHAIRMAN Ran AMG before Moers, now runs everything. Knows sub-brands need freedom to explore cash-making avenues to ease pricey EV switch.

LAWRENCE STROLL F1 TEAM OWNER, ASTON CHAIRMAN Led 2020’s rescue of Aston Martin, and turned Racing Point into Aston Martin F1. Has stated his desire to make Aston a British Ferrari.

PHILIPP SCHIEMER AMG CHAIRMAN

With Daimler for over 30 years before replacing Moers at AMG. Must now make the Aston/AMG partnership work to the satisfaction of Stuttgart bosses.

ANDY PALMER CEO OF ASTON MARTIN 2014-2020

History may choose to judge him for unsuccessful stock market flotation, but Valkyrie and Vanquish hatched on his watch; dared to dream.

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