The so-called Baby Aston has sometimes been unfavourably compared to the amazing new Jaguar XK8. But maybe everyone is missing the point.
Fortunately for car enthusiasts across the world, Aston Martin is enjoying a something of a renaissance.
As it shakes off the legacy of previous owners and spreads it famous wings under the watchful eye of Henry Ford, the current line up of models is better than ever, by a long way. The V8 Vantage is the latest addition by the company and is aiming to introduce a whole new generation to the brand with a lower price and a smaller number of cylinders, but with the same incredible design and amazing performance the name is famous for.
And although Ford is now trying to sell the iconic brand, the good news for Aston is that the designers and engineers seem to have hit the nail very squarely on the head.
The exterior of the Vantage is quite breathtaking. In a way that very few car manufacturers can manage, the Aston really stops you in its tracks. From any angle it really is quite beautiful.
The company has always been the master at producing cars with both muscle and finesse at the same time. Lamborghinis are muscular, but not delicate. Ferraris tend to be the exact opposite, elegant, but not muscular. The Vantage continues the company’s trend for getting both spot on.
The front is low and imposing, whilst the rear is high and wide, a standard Aston pose. The signature front grill hangs open below the famous badge and the bulging bonnet reminds the driver of the car’s racing heritage.
The huge 18 inch ten-spoke alloy wheels completely fill the wheel arches both front and rear. The only draw back is the car is wider at the rear than at the front, making for slightly nervous parking on occasions.
The doors swing elegantly out and slightly upwards, giving it an odd look with both doors open.
Following on from the amazing exterior, the interior lives up to expectation. Sliding into the low bucket seats, you really feel that this is a very desirable car. Despite being the entry level Aston, the V8 has a fantastic feel about it. The smooth dash curves up and away from you, right up to the raked windscreen a long way forward from the driver.
The amazing thing about Aston interiors is that you can choose almost everything to your own custom-made design, from the colour of the hide and the dash, right up to the thickness of the stitching on the seats.
However, the interior does have some drawbacks. There are no stereo controls on the steering wheel, requiring the driver to have to reach across to alter the volume, using the very normal feeling plastic knob.
There are also very few places to put anything. It doesn’t matter how much you can afford to spend on a car, you probably still have a mobile phone and a bunch of keys.
But these are small problems and on the whole, the V8 interior is extremely good and more than lives up to the car’s large price tag.
Under the bonnet, the dry sump V8 is set very low in the chassis and right back under the windscreen. Looking into the engine bay, almost the entire engine is hidden deep in the bulk head. It’s a good job most Aston owners don’t do their own servicing!
The manual gearbox is notchy, with a very short shift, but it’s also fairly precise. Aston is still sticking with the annoying floppy handbrake, which you do get used to after a while.
But one of the best bits of the car is the exhaust. Aston have built the system to be fairly muffled up to 4000 rpm, before a valve opens, releasing one of the most incredible exhaust notes you will ever experience.
It almost forces you to drive in the wrong gear to make the most of the amazing sound. Apparently, you can pull out one of the fuses, leaving the valve open all the time!
According to its creators, the Vantage’s 4.3 litre, 380 bhp engine is designed for flexibility as well as outright performance — so does it match up in reality?
To drive, the Aston needs space. Around town it’s a bit of a handful, with its low front, wide track and notchy gear change. But out on the open road it really comes alive.
Swooping back roads are the ideal world for this car, which is a shame, as most will probably be used for slow posing around the city.
The low slung engine and almost 50/50 front to rear weight distribution gives its amazing poise on a good road surface. The suspension is rather firm, but supple enough to keep you comfortable. Over bumps it tends to suffer, just like most other sports cars.
However, in tight corners the Vantage grips the road well and takes a heavy hand to really upset it. Turn off the traction control and it’s a different story.
Then the Aston requires a careful touch from the driver, especially in wet conditions. As you would expect, the engine pulls strongly in almost any gear, especially from a standing start and at highway speeds.
The front ends often has to fight to keep the car in a straight line when you accelerate hard in second, but the tight chassis copes well with abuse.
At very slow speeds, such as car parks, the car is not easy to judge. Rear vision is not great, mainly due to the high rear end and sloped rear screen. The mirrors do their best, but judging the wide rear end and front overhang can be difficult.
The manual gearbox needs to be warm to get the best out of it, and third and fifth are quite close together and a precise shift it needed to get the right gear. However, the GCC will only get the auto version of the V8 due to customer demand in the region.
The V8 Vantage is difficult to sum up, as it’s a very purposeful car for a very select market. The car only has two seats and very little luggage space, so it’s a vehicle for those who are looking for a driving experience.
So if you judge it by how close it comes to hitting its intended target, it’s a pretty much perfect. It doesn’t have many of the extras you might expect on a car of this price, but then again it’s not a Mercedes. If you want automatic lights and a Bluetooth key fob, go for something German.
However, if you are looking for something that makes a simple statement of taste and an appreciation of the art of car design, then this is the top of the tree. Aston Martin shares an almost unique history and racing heritage with the likes of Ferrari and Maserati. But no-one else even comes close. If you can see past the James Bond quips and the 80’s reputation the company has now happily shaken off, then buying the Vantage, or any Aston, will leave you very happy indeed.
The argument about the Vantage versus the Jag is hardly relevant. One is a Jag, but the other is an Aston, so will always win hands down. If you can look past James Bond, then the Vantage really is an amazing driving experience.