Few cars have been as hotly anticipated as the Aston Martin Valkyrie. Or have involved such a long wait. The first announcement that Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing were going to collaborate on what was originally called the AM-RB 001 came all the way back in March 2016. Since then, there have been the first renderings, confirmation of the Valkyrie name, announcements of the track-only AMR Pro and Spider variants, the sadly unrealized plans to take it racing, an in-depth look at the Cosworth 6.5-liter V-12 that powers it, a tour through the configuration process, a simulator drive, and a right-seat experience at the 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed riding shotgun to Aston's then-CEO Tobias Moers. Nor has it all been smooth sailing, with mounting delays and an as-yet unresolved legal dispute over deposits with a Swiss dealer group.
Now, finally, we have driven it.
Let's start with the good news for adrenaline-hooked billionaires still waiting to take delivery: The finished car absolutely fulfills designer Adrian Newey's promise that it would be the most extreme factory-built vehicle ever to wear license plates and faster than most genuine race cars. And although our first experience was limited to the 3.36-mile Bahrain International Circuit, it was in a fully street-legal car on road tires.
Okay, so for American buyers, street-legal is a misnomer, as the Valkyrie can only be imported under "Show and Display" requirements—so no commuting or using it to haul lumber from Home Depot. But in Europe, Aston has gone to the considerable cost and complication of securing full homologation. That required the use of what design director Miles Nurnberger proudly introduces as the world's smallest and lightest rear license plate lamp, which sits on the end of the rear-hung sequential gearbox casing.
The Valkyrie's need to accommodate human cargo was always a low priority in the packaging of the car, with Newey attaching far greater importance to aerodynamic requirements. Yet while the passenger compartment is tiny, it could have been even smaller—Nurnberger recounts a meeting at which he managed to persuade the famous designer to free up an extra 8 millimeters of space (that's 0.3 inch), a concession that won him a round of applause from the engineering team. "Nobody could remember Adrian having given up more than 1 millimeter before," Nurnberger says.
That concession, however, has not created a spacious cabin; the Valkyrie is a car that's worn rather than sat in. Climbing in requires an inelegant shuffle over the sidepod and then collapsing into the carbon-fiber racing seat. Once you're in place, a movable pedal box allows taller drivers to find some legroom, but even with the seat's modest amount of padding removed, an average-height driver's helmet-clad head still touches the roof once the door is closed.
The 6.5-liter V-12 is the standout highlight, to no surprise. Indeed, it dominates the driving experience to the point of stealing every scene. There is a pause after you press the start button on the steering wheel—then the engine cranks for several seconds to build oil pressure before bursting into raucous life. It is loud idling at 1000 rpm, even through the padding of a helmet, and there is roughly another 10,000 rpm to go before it meets its limiter. But getting rolling from the pit lane is a surprisingly gentle process; there is a launch-control system, but, left to its own devices, the Valkyrie sets off powered exclusively by the 141-hp electric motor that's fed by a 1.7-kWh battery made by Rimac and sits between the V-12 and the seven-speed transmission. (With no reverse gear, backing up is always done electrically.) The clutch engages to connect the engine with the wheels soon afterward.
Our first laps on track are mostly spent trying to acclimate to the savagery of the performance. The Valkyrie is a car beyond mere numbers, however impressive the claimed 2.5-second zero-to-60-mph time and electronically limited 220-mph top speed sound. Those figures are well within the frame of reference for hypercars, yet the experience of the Valkyrie truly is not. This is a car that makes a Koenigsegg One:1 seem refined and subdued.
Much of the sense of anarchy is down to the Valkyrie's combination of noise and vibration when revved. The meshed cogs that drive its camshafts are just inches on the other side of the firewall, and reaching the altitudinous redline brings an almost painful cacophony. But it is also down to the engine's character and the immediacy of its responses, the complete lack of delay between pressing the accelerator and feeling the reaction. With a combined peak of 1139 horsepower working against a mass of under 3000 pounds, the Valkyrie is hugely fast. At the end of the circuit's longest straight of 0.6 mile, the digital speedometer shows 300 km/h—186 mph—and that's using a conservative braking point. Yet subjectively it feels even quicker than that.
We spent little time in the chassis's Urban and Sport modes, both of which are intended for road use. Selecting the most aggressive Track function both causes the active suspension to reduce the ride height and brings the option of a variable traction-control setting. So sharpened, the Valkyrie soon proves that corners can be more than a break between the chance to unleash hell on the straights.
Grip is one area where the Aston doesn't feel otherworldly. Riding on street-legal Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires means there is less raw adhesion than there would be riding on slicks. The hydraulically assisted steering delivers crisp, unambiguous feedback, and turn-in is keen, but the traction control intervenes hard when you're trying to overlap steering and accelerator inputs. Yet it's not snappy or scary, even when pushed and with the traction control turned down. Higher speeds bring the extra assistance of downforce from the active wings and diffuser—Aston claims a peak of 2400 pounds of downforce at any speed from 135 mph on up. Faster corners can be taken at what feels like impossible speeds. (Fun fact: The powered flaps within the huge venturi tunnels are colloquially referred to by Aston's mechanics as "cat flaps.")
Even in the flattering environment of a race circuit and surrounded by mechanics, there were a couple of issues. The car’s brake pedal had a dead patch at the top of its travel, and its resistance softened a couple of times during bigger stops, although the actual level of retardation felt undiminished. The Valkyrie’s engine also cut its redline when the coolant got too hot. Aston blamed Bahrain’s high ambient temperatures, and driving in high gear for half a lap cooled things down and restored the correct rev limiter.
While racetracks are huge fun, they're a poor analog for discovering how any car will deal with the real world. The Valkyrie will always feel massively compromised on ordinary roads. It is cramped, hot, and loud enough to damage its occupants' hearing without ear protection. Cosworth also says that the engine should be rebuilt every 50,000 miles, a figure we hope some owners will regard as a challenge rather than a threat. Yet none of that diminishes the appeal of what is definitely a pinnacle car, its many compromises drawn directly from its famous designer's refusal to compromise on his vision. Which is what makes it a masterpiece.
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