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If you can't afford that top end exotic supercar, Aston Martin's improved V8 Vantage could be the next best thing. Andy Enright presses his nose to the glass.
The 'baby Aston' aims to distil the brand's desirability and heritage into a more affordable package and makes a very nice stab at it. The Vantage looks great inside and out with an improved and very charismatic 4.7-litre engine providing the soundtrack and a driving experience that's a well-judged compromise between comfort and enjoyment.
One of the motoring world's worst kept secrets was finally released to a slack jawed press at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show. That Aston Martin were working on a smaller, more affordable car to slot into their range below the DB9 was well known, but pictures did not do this car justice. Even finished in a rather unflattering shade of bright yellow, the car looked knee-weakeningly stunning. It did then and it does now. The yellow was a deliberate choice, emphasising the V8 Vantage's younger and more extrovert appeal compared to the more restrained and elegant DB9 and Vanquish models. In size, it's not too far off a Porsche 911 and shares the German car's pugnacious stance. Porsche and Aston Martin have a bit of history and the development of the V8 Vantage overlapped considerably with that of the 997 series 911. One of the reasons that Aston Martin showed a prototype version of the V8 so early, at the 2002 Detroit Show in fact, was because sales of the DB9 were dwindling and they needed to grab advance orders that could otherwise have gone to Weissach.
The original version's 4.3-litre V8 has been replaced by a 4.7 litre V8 engine with a power output of 420bhp (up from 380bhp) and delivers peak torque of 470Nm (an 15% increase), providing the V8 Vantage with new reserves of mid-range performance, an improved 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds and top speed of 180mph. Those figures put it in the same sort of ballpark as a Porsche Carrera S, if not a Turbo. The V8 Vantage transmissions have lately undergone changes to improve performance and to handle the increased levels of power and torque. Both the standard manual stick-shift gearbox and the optional Sportshift transmission are more response and easier to use. With the Sportshift set-up, 'Dual Throttle Map' software is also featured. When 'Comfort' mode is selected the engine reacts in a smoother more progressive manner to driver throttle inputs and in the default 'Sports' mode the throttle mapping is more aggressive, delivering a more dynamic and sporting feel. A series of improvements have also been recently introduced to the V8 Vantage chassis and suspension setup to deliver improved body control and low speed ride quality, enabling the driver to take full advantage of the increased performance potential.
Although the basic body silhouette is instantly recognisable as an Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage is over a foot shorter than a DB9 and 60mm lower slung. Put the two cars side by side and the DB9 is revealed as the GT car it is, while the Vantage sits foursquare, the big rear wheel arch bulges lending it a pugnacious muscularity. Interiors have never been an Aston Martin problem and the V8 Vantage's cabin is one of their best efforts to date. Much of the architecture and components are common with the DB9. Taking the decision to ditch vestigial rear seats and optimise space for driver and passenger means that there's enough head and leg room for six-footers, while the width of the cabin and the broad transmission tunnel will make banging elbows a distant memory. With a relatively large 4.7-litre eight cylinder engine up front, weight distribution was a priority for Aston Martin's engineers. A transmission at the rear of the car helps generate a 49:51 weight distribution front and rear, the engine being what is fashionably termed 'front-mid mounted' or in layman's terms, with its centre of gravity set behind the line of the front axle. All of this helps the Vantage V8 corner nimbly, and predictably. A dry sump also allows the engine to sit very low in the chassis, lowering the car's centre of gravity to help stability. During periods of extreme cornering, acceleration and braking, this system also helps to maintain an uninterrupted flow of oil to crucial engine components. The quad cam 32-valve engine itself is hand assembled in Cologne alongside the powerplants for the DBS and DB9.
The Vantage range is split between the coupe version and the Roadster drop top. The car is offered with the choice of a six-speed manual transmission or the Sportshift set-up - a paddle-shifting sequential system. The manual 'box will probably remain the choice of enthusiast drivers, the close ratio setup and light, positive action promising the sort of tactility that has long been the preserve of Porsche and BMW drivers.
The latest 4.7-litre engine may be larger but it still manages to be more economical Combined European fuel economy and CO2 emissions are improved by 13% over the original 4.3-litre model. Economy is now usefully improved at 20.4mpg on the combined cycle, 27.3mpg in Extra Urban open road conditions but just 14.2mpg in Urban conditions. Figures for the Sportshift model are slightly better again. CO2 emissions are usefully improved too, at 328g/km for the manual and just 312g/km for the Sportshift model. The Vantage is designed for everyday use, so repair and servicing costs aren't at the exorbitant level where the world's top level exotic supercars hold court.
The 'baby' Aston Martin has already attracted a whole slew of buyers and it's still one of the hottest tickets in town. The Aston Martin brand holds massive kudos and as the most accessible way to own one of the company's products, the Vantage was never likely to fail. It's much more than a bauble for the well-heeled, however, the elegance and style in the design, the engaging driving experience and the charismatic engine make the Vantage a real experience. The Vantage doesn't feel devastatingly quick but quick it certainly is. The poise and fluidity of the driving experience shine through and the interior is overflowing with the special feel you want in an £80,000 sports car.
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