KBB Editors’ Notes: In a consumer economy driven—at least to a certain extent—by tax cuts extended to the super wealthy, the uptick in luxury and exotic car sales won’t constitute much of a surprise. Managers of the venerable British franchise, Aston Martin, have taken note and moved aggressively in broadening Aston’s offerings—previously limited to the outgoing Vanquish S and DB9—to include a two-place coupe (and upcoming roadster) designed to capture the eye of the 911 prospect. The end result, the V8 Vantage, constitutes a beautiful blend of traditional Aston design cues with an unexpected dose of athleticism.
What’s Significant About This: Today’s V8 Vantage is a clean-sheet approach to a Sports/GT. Benefiting from an all-new platform and V8 drivetrain, the tightly-drawn two-seater supplies the Aston prospect with an “entry level” choice while providing Aston Martin and its dealers with a better business model. The Vantage is expected to constitute approximately two-thirds of Aston’s sales volume.
You’ll Like This Car If: If you enjoy a classic combination of sensuous sheetmetal and a well-connected chassis, the V8 Vantage won’t disappoint. Its 4.3-liter V8 is a visceral yet viable piece of machinery, offering performance more accessible than its $115K price point might suggest. In contrast to the Vantage’s day-in, day-out capability, the performance parameters demonstrated by many of its more exotic brethren (Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari F430) are not as accessible, often requiring a private track to properly demonstrate and/or enjoy.
You May Not Like This Car If: If your dream coach is one capable of carrying you, a companion and two weeks’ worth of luggage, the V8 Vantage will disappoint. Its interior is generous within the context of the genre, and it does offer space for two (reasonably) well outfitted travelers, but don’t press the V8 into service for runs to the airport or Home Depot. The V8’s proportions constitute an extension of the driver, assuming that driver is neither 300 pounds nor a serial shopper.
Exterior: With the popularity of Aston’s direct competitors (Porsche 911, Mercedes SL) making their shapes—at least in major metro areas—almost commonplace, the aggressive, albeit mature, lines of the V8 Vantage demand your attention. While some might draw comparisons with Jaguar’s XK Coupe, the smaller Aston offers a visual balance speaking to both the carmaker’s storied past (Aston Martin won LeMans in ’59 with Carroll Shelby as co-driver) and now-promising future. The V8’s front is dominated by Aston’s traditional grille and (optional) xenon headlamps, while its profile is marked by a compelling side vent and strake and the roof tapers provocatively to a functional hatch and integrated spoiler.
Interior: In what Aston describes as “a synthesis of high technology and hand-crafted elegance” the prospect is struck by the Vantage interior’s authenticity and comfortable accommodation. The leather seating epitomizes its “bucket” descriptive, but will realistically accommodate a “wide” variety of dimensions. Speedo and tach are front and center, and feature an organic electroluminescent display, more easily read—we’re told—than more conventional LCDs. Finally, the tach—reading to 8,000 rpm—registers counterclockwise, a process which should amuse throughout the ownership period. Everything—as reviewers are wont to say—falls readily to hand, with few of the ergonomic nightmares that often befall the limited production sports car.
Notable Standard Equipment: The list of standard equipment is fully appropriate to a $115K purchase. Functionally, the base model includes Dynamic Stability Control, Traction Control and Electronic Brake-force Distribution. Inside, you’re supported by a full-grain leather interior, remain comfortable with automatic temperature control and kept secure by an alarm and immobilizer.
Notable Options: Typically, we’d note the attractiveness of the Sportshift manumatic, navigation system and premium 700-watt sound system; however, ordering a Vantage V8—or anything from Aston Martin—is anything but typical. A choice of twenty exterior colors and twenty interior hues is augmented by “Out of Range” paint (you want Miata yellow—you can get Miata yellow) for $1,595 or “Match to Sample” paint for $3,785. You can spec the interior in a similar manner. The Sports Pack provides more aggressive Pirelli tires in combination with alloy wheels finished in an anthracite finish. Notably, not every addition requires a four-figure check. Fine stitching is only $220, a color-keyed steering wheel is under $300 and piano black fascia trim is $750. Personalization of this order is rarely this inexpensive.
Pricing Notes: A Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $114,550 confirms the Vantage V8 as expensive. However, among a growing number of big-buck GTs from Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, this Aston seems almost attainable. With the gas guzzler penalty and transportation, along with typical options, expect to invest around $125K for a V8 built to your order.
Driving Impressions: Everything in the Vantage’s new spec is designed for the driver. Beginning with a bonded structure composed of aluminum alloy, steel, magnesium and composite materials, Aston installs a 4.3-liter V8 and rear-mounted, six-speed manual transmission. The balanced 49/51 weight distribution is immediately evident, as is the powertrain’s relatively flat torque delivery. As Aston suggests, the driving characteristics are perfect for both track days and shopping treks, helped in no small part by precise shifting, reasonable visibility and accurate rack-and-pinion steering. The multi-link suspension is well controlled, and supplies prodigious grip and adequate comfort even on the pock-marked pavement of our urban test.
Our Favorite Features: Six-Speed Manual Transmission
Aston’s rear-mounted transmission makes a compelling argument for shifting gears yourself. Engagement is precise and intuitive, with ratios well-matched to the engine’s power delivery. Its location allows the engine to sit further back in the Vantage chassis, and assists in achieving the advantageous weight distribution. A Sportshift (at $4,000) will be available in the second quarter of 2007, but the manual—in our opinion—renders it irrelevant for everyone but your valet.
Unlike many in the Sports/GT category, the Vantage V8 provides accommodations for both people and their things. Over ten cubic feet of luggage space, in combination with available Aston luggage, supplies a touring capability very close to grand. Golfers will appreciate room for a deluxe bag of clubs, and skiers—with removal of the security cover—can carry skis inside the car, something Bond couldn’t do with his Lotus Esprit.
Under the Hood: Aston describes its 4.3-liter V8 as both powerful and musical. And while behind the wheel you won’t be reminded of the London Symphony, the DOHC V8’s 380 horsepower (at 7,300 rpm) and driving characteristics do provide a Royal Command Performance. Beyond the impressive horsepower (almost 90 naturally-aspirated horsepower per liter) are details such as an alloy block, four-into-two-into-one exhaust manifolds, dry sump lubrication and hand assembly—elements more typical of racing powerplants than sports car engines produced in volume. The manufacturer claims a zero-to-60 time of under five seconds and a track-only maximum speed of 175—we have no reason to doubt either figure.