First drive: Aston Martin Vantage
Could this really be the much-loved British brand's Porsche 911 beater? Rebecca Chaplin heads to Portugal to see if it lives up to the hype.
WHAT IS IT?
According to Aston Martin, the new Vantage is its most extreme sports car yet - and it's not wrong. Held up against the Vantage of yesteryear, it's a completely different beast. Sharing little more than the characteristic boot flick, now emphasised for this predatory car, with the previous generation, this could be one of the most important cars ever for the brand. It's crucial they get it right too - the previous Vantage was its bestselling car, and for the new age of the British carmaker, it needs to continue that way.
Although the old Vantage had a slightly sportier air than other cars in the Aston range - largely because of its association with the World Endurance Championship - the new version has accentuated every aspect of the car's exterior, like elongated muscles on a big cat. It gets the 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine from the DB11 V8, but despite the size reduction from the previous 4.7 V8 its new power output is up to 503bhp - matching the thuggish old V12 Vantage S.
WHAT'S UNDER THE BONNET?
The V8 is mated to an eight-speed automatic ZF transmission, although that's not under the bonnet but in the rear for a perfect 50:50 weight ratio. The Mercedes-manufactured powertrain has come from the DB11, and has been modified for the lighter Vantage - with its dry weight coming in 120kg less than the GT car. It still produces the same power but torque is higher at 685Nm, and some minor exhaust pops and bangs have been engineered in for an even more inspiring drive. The Vantage has two personalities, staying true to its racing car pedigree, and can be set up for both road and track. Track models get minor additions, such as the quad-exhaust for an even more aggressive roar and forged, machined lightweight wheels.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The nature of the car's look translates to the road, fortunately that's what happens when your aerodynamics are as functional as they are stylish. The low riding Vantage draws you closer to the tarmac, making the car great fun to negotiate around curling Portuguese hills at high speed. Though it looks like it should be safe only in the hands of a professional racer, Aston Martin has retained the usability seen in its other cars. It remains composed in most situations, when you want it to at least, and when unleashing its power in the right places it becomes a bit of an animal. The show-off nature of this car calls for that raucousness too, and the V8 growl only complements that.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?
While the very-British-brand has built its name on poised and proper motoring, the Vantage has always stood out as the aggressor of the family - but none so much as this. From the front grille with its snout very much to the ground, to the lights that resemble an animal on the hunt, this car will appeal to the boy racer with a little more cash to spend. The near-neon colours available won't be to everyone's taste, but fortunately there's tamer paintwork to choose from too, and those looking for even more racer in their car can choose from several carbon-fibre options.
WHAT'S IT LIKE INSIDE?
Aston has embraced its racing pedigree with the interior of this car too. Compare it to the first of its new generation of cars, the DB11, with its softer set-up and an interior fit for the gentry GT driver. The Vantage is lower to the ground with an interior that brings the brand into the modern day with cleaner lines and plush, but sporty, seats. The totally modernised design is far more appealing than previous generations, with more usable ergonomics too. Space behind the seats offers practical storage, while the boot is spacious enough for golf clubs at 350 litres.
WHAT'S THE SPEC LIKE?
While there's plenty to choose from if you want to personalise your Vantage, the cost, as you'd expect, is a bit rich. For all of that carbon fibre, the exterior body pack will set you back Â£6,995, while the quad-exhausts are Â£995 and the forged black wheels you'll want are Â£3,495. However, on a car costing more than Â£120,000, we're sure you'll be able to persuade yourself into buying at least a few of those - to help the residual value, of course. It's also available with a tech pack, for Â£2,995, featuring blind spot monitoring, keyless entry and touchpad control, while a comfort pack can be specified for Â£1,795, with heated and 16-way adjustable seats.
The looks alone will have you falling in love with the new Vantage, and driving it will only solidify that. It's technically leaps and bounds ahead of previous Aston Martins and has a great balance between comfort and sports that some rivals overdo. Passion, comfort, and aggression all rolled into one mega machine.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Aston Martin Vantage
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Max speed: 195mph
0-60mph: 3.5 seconds