Aston Martin likes to refer to its new Vantage as a "hunter" or a "predator". What's its prey, then? Well, there's the Porsche 911, to name one. But can this relatively small British marque really take on its formidable rivals with the new Vantage? After briefly driving the important new sportscar on local soil we think Aston Martin has reason to be so bullish. The 911 should watch its back...
The previous-generation V8 Vantage, which was on sale for more than a decade, was a charming offering. But the progress of time changed its context significantly: towards the latter half of the Aston's product cycle, it didn't really have much to offer apart from sexy looks, an evocative exhaust note and, arguably, a more evocative name than its similarly-priced rivals.
The new Vantage is to Aston Martin what the upcoming G20-generation 3 Series will be to BMW – a product that would be judged as a disappointment if it fails to achieve runaway sales success. The Vantage is the marque's core model and it competes in a particularly busy segment flooded with talented rivals. Unlike its predecessor, it won't have a very long model life, with new company boss Andy Palmer keen to avoid falling into that trap again. In future, Aston Martin will have more traditional model cycles, with profits from outgoing models funding the development of their next iterations.
In short, then... the new Vantage has to sell strongly. And to do that, it has to be flippin' brilliant, because the pinnacle sportscar market is absolutely cut-throat.
Local distributors Daytona organised a short test drive in Cape Town to allow us to make up our own minds. Although a far more in-depth evaluation (full review) of the newcomer will need to take place in future, we think the new Vantage might be even better than the hype suggests. Here are 5 reasons why:
1. It's got the look
One of the most controversial aspects of the new Vantage is its grille. Aston Martin offers several different colour treatments.
It's become something of a cliche to say that a new car looks better in the metal than it does in photographs, and the Vantage is indeed another one of those cars. Some brand purists have complained that the gaping grille marks too much of a departure from the Aston Martin design language and that the headlights look like they've been pinched off a Mazda MX-5. Some have also suggested that the back-end reminds them of the Honda Civic Type R.
Well... there may be nuggets of truth in all of those criticisms, but I urge you to only make up your mind after seeing the new Aston in the metal. When finished in its launch colour, Vibrant Lime Essence (as shown here), the new Vantage represents nothing short of a bold piece of design. Having said that, I'm not a huge fan of this colour, as it tends to hide some of the more interesting sculptural aspects of the newcomer's shape, but it's but one of more than 40 colours in which the Vantage can be ordered. The proportions of the car are just spot-on: it's wider than before and with the wheels pushed out to the corners, the Vantage looks squat and muscular.
The aero-optimised rear-end is a big departure from Aston Martin's previous design language.
It's also worth noting that the new Vantage is essentially the production version of the DB10 that featured in Spectre, the last Bond film. Interestingly, Bond was going to drive the new DB11 in that movie, but when the director and producer visited Aston Martin's offices and spotted the DB10 concept, they convinced the marque to build 10 units for the film. For what it's worth, I didn't like the look of the DB10 – the Vantage is one of the very few examples where the finished product has turned out better than the concept!
There is a multitude of personalisation options available. For example, the controversial grille can be had in 3 different finishes. Depending on your chosen specification, the overall appearance of the Vantage (and, consequently, your opinion of its core design), could change quite dramatically. Go play around on the online configurator to build a Vantage of your dreams. You can find it here.
What is key, here, however, is that the Vantage looks different to everything else in its segment of the market. It also no longer looks like a smaller version of another Aston Martin. At its price point, exclusivity and individuality are major considerations – the Vantage certainly has those!
2. The cabin is a leap forward
Comfortable for 2 and far more modern than before, the Vantage's cabin represents a major step forward for this model.
The previous-generation Vantage certainly looked the part on the outside, but one couldn't help but feel somewhat shortchanged when entering the cabin. While Aston Martin did an admirable job of hiding some of the shared Volvo and Ford interior parts, the clunky navigation system, at times messy ergonomics and occasionally cheap-feeling controls were definite let-downs.
The new car's cabin is infinitely better. The quality of the touch points is of a consistently high standard, and there are some very neat touches. I particularly like the leather-strap doorpulls. Sure, you'll recognise some elements from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, but this time around the design is more coherent and nothing feels cheap except, possibly, the air vents. The extra width in the cabin also translates into more shoulder space, while the increased wheelbase means there is now considerably more space underneath the tailgate – enough, they say, to accommodate a pair of golfbags.
The centre console/transmission tunnel is quite busy with loads of minor controls. Note leather-covered brace pads.
As is the case with many new-generation sportscars, a number of important controls have migrated to the steering wheel. So, with a flick of a finger, you can scroll between the various drive settings or fiddle with the damper stiffness, all while keeping your hands on the wheel. I also particularly enjoyed the placement and size of the large shift paddles. They really fall easily to hand.
There are a vast number of options available for the cabin as well. To make things simpler, Aston Martin offers several "packs" – Sports Plus, Comfort, Exterior Black and Tech – to potentially make the selection process easier.
3. It's agile, communicative
Standard front brakes are large 2-piece, 400-mm ventilated steel items. The Vantage's steering is fast and linear.
The Vantage's structure is an all-aluminium one, but only about 30% of it is shared with the larger DB11; the larger car's suspension components have been transplanted to the Vantage, albeit in significantly different states of tune. The Vantage is quite a short car – it's shorter than a 911 – and with its engine pushed far back the new Aston boasts the 50/50 front-to-rear weight balance that's ideal for a dynamic sports car. Also worth noting is that the rear subframe is mounted directly onto the main structure, which, according to Aston Martin, makes the Vantage feel more connected with the road.
Dig deeper into the technical specification documents and you find more clues to why the Vantage feels so lively, direct and responsive on the road. It's the first Aston Martin to feature the company's new fast-acting electronic rear differential. At lower speeds it has been tuned to aid agility, while at higher velocities it improves stability. The car also features a torque vectoring system and highly adjustable dampers and powertrain settings.
The Vantage offers a very impressive blend of supple ride comfort and sharp dynamics.
Unlike the DB11, which has a more comfort-oriented GT setting, the Vantage kicks off with a Sport setting as the default, with Sport+ and a more aggressive Track mode to round things off. Despite its description, I found that Sport offers more than enough inherent comfort to make the Vantage an easy daily driver, yet it is also very responsive in this mode. Flick to Sport+ and there's an immediate and noticeable difference in the stiffness and reaction from the transmission/engine. But... and this is something that I rate as a BIG plus... as you flick into the more aggressive settings, the stability control doesn't disappear. So it's possible to have the increased responsiveness, louder engine sound and firmer springs without sactificing traction/stability. There is a separate switch to deactive stability control completely.
On the road and during our brief drive, the Vantage displayed marvellously fast, linear steering, and a lovely balance of suppleness and sharpness.
4. Fast and with a great soundtrack
The 4.0L twin-turbo V8 is borrowed from AMG, but features some changes for use in the Vantage. It is positioned far back.
Aston Martin's current agreement with Daimler extends to the engine department, where the Vantage gets the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 used in Mercedes-AMG's GT. There are some differences, however. The Vantage engine has different turbos, a unique exhaust manifold and is mated not with the Mercedes-AMG's transmission, but an 8-speeder from ZF. The previous Vantage sounded great (it was one of the most admired aspects of the car), but this new one arguably sounds better, and is louder more of the time. Even in its "base" Sport setting the engine will make itself heard when you tickle the throttle. It suits the "predatory" nature of the car.
The engine delivers 375 kW at 6 000 rpm and 685 Nm of torque, all the way from 2 000 to 5 000 rpm. On the road that flat torque curve is very noticeable, and makes the transmission's job relatively easy. At first, it may seem odd that a car as overtly sporty as the new Vantage should feature a normal torque-converter automatic, but I'd rate the ZF 'box as one of the most surprising and impressive aspects of the overall package. Leave it to its own devices and it does its job smoothly and almost imperceptibly. Engage with it and the transmission will delight with the immediacy and crispness of its responses.
Aston Martin claims a 0-100 kph time of 3.6 seconds and a lofty top speed of 314 kph. These performance figures, by the way, are very similar to those quoted by Mercedes-AMG for the hardcore (and similarly priced) GT R.
5. Good value?
This is just the start of the new Vantage story – even more hardcore and faster versions are likely to follow.
With a base price of around R2.8 million, the Vantage is anything but cheap for an "entry-level" Aston Martin. However, perhaps it appears so because we are looking at it through our pre-2018 Aston Martin goggles. Right now, cars with similar performance (Mercedes-AMG GT R and Porsche 911 Turbo PDK/911 GT3 PDK) sell for similar money. The difference is that those rival vehicles appear at (or near) the top of their respective model ranges, while the Vantage is just the starting point of its own.
The Vantage doesn't exhibit the sheer brutality of the AMG GT R, and is neither as quick off the mark as the 911 Turbo, nor as intimately interactive as the GT3, but it now displays a spread of talents topped by a badge that adds considerable exclusivity and desirability to the mix. In summary, then, the list of reasons one can rightfully raise for not considering a new Vantage is very, very short and probably will have little to do with the abilities of the car.
Exclusivity, desirability... the Aston Martin Vantage offers those by the bucket load.
I have driven most of Aston Martin's offerings during the past 15 years or so. From my perspective, this Vantage seems the most-complete sportscar the Gaydon-based firm has ever produced. Yes, we need to drive it on a track to really test its performance limits, but based on this short test experience, there are clearly several more reasons to consider the Vantage (compared with its predecessor).
Everything that has made Aston Martin appealing is still there – the dramatic looks, the evocative soundtrack, desirability and exclusivity. But now you can add excellent build quality, a cabin that's pretty much bang up to date ergonomically, greater comfort levels, a truly excellent engine/transmission combination and pin-sharp dynamics to the mix. The new Vantage is as rewarding to pilot for the capable enthusiast, as it is unintimidating to drive for a relative novice. I'm willing to bet that it will indeed be a thorn in the side of the establishment. It's a car that marks a new chapter for Aston Martin, and one that forces you to re-evaluate your own beliefs about this brand.