26th Apr 2019 8:00 am
The latest Aston Martin Vantage is more sportscar than fast GT. And as we also find out, it’s a complete sensory experience.
I’ve just taken a tour of the Aston Martin factory at Gaydon in the UK and I’ve lost count of the number of silver cars I’ve seen on the assembly line. Aston Martin really could get away with calling its color palette ‘fifty shades of grey’. But that’s until I see my drive for the day. It’s a flaming orange (Cosmos Orange, officially) Vantage whose color contrasts like molten lava against the rock on this overcast Wednesday. Point taken. They really can ‘build it to spec’.
They say you get three seasons a day in the UK, and I sense we are at the tail-end of summer, rushing into today’s quota of the monsoons. So it’s a historic Le Mans-like (incidentally a race Aston Martin won in 1959) run for the car to make the most of the dry roads; I can always ogle at the Vantage in my gumboots later.
You sit low in the Aston but there’s an immediate sense of comfort and one of familiarity too. Sure, the sports seats are a bit snug for my rotund self but the view out is actually quite good. The familiarity? It’s borne from a few switches and an infotainment system I’ve seen in more than a few Mercs before. Daimler AG owns a small chunk of Aston Martin Lagonda and the electronics architecture in modern Aston comes from Mercedes. And, yeah, so does the Vantage’s 510hp, 4.0-litre twin-turbo AMG V8.
Pressing down on the starter button doesn’t have the Vantage wake up as much as it has it erupt to life. If the DB11 is the cultured gentleman, the Vantage is the spoilt brat – that much I can tell without even moving an inch.
The angry rumble continues as I get going and it’s a sound I can happily get used to. The good folk at Aston Martin have, very thoughtfully, set a route that’s less motorway and more B-roads; the latter can’t compare to a race track but I’ve read enough about them to know there’s some fun to be had. On the straight and narrow, the Vantage cruises well and feels very livable with, really. The ride is firm, yes, but you won’t be tossed around. And heck, this is more sportscar than GT, so you should know what you’re signing up for.
It’s on the twisty country roads that the Vantage shows its true colors. It’s an irate bulldog waiting to break its leash. The first prod of the throttle has the rear tires do a little jig; and this with the Vantage in the mildest of engine, gearbox and throttle settings. You know you’re in a serious tool when the mild mode is called ‘Sport’. Depending on your bravery and/or skill, there’s also the option of Sport+ and all-out Track modes, and the same for the dampers as well. As the road opens up and confidence builds, I weigh down harder and harder on the throttle pedal. I won’t talk of the reading on the speedo but I can tell you the Vantage is bloody quick. I’m pinned back to my seat each time I go for it, and if the people in the countryside didn’t see the Aston as an orange streak, they sure as hell heard it. The Vantage’s guttural roar is raw, full-bodied, and characterful. It’s so good that I find myself reaching out for the deliciously crafted paddles to drop down a gear or two (there are eight ratios to play with) every now and then, just to hear the engine sing. Whoever at AMG, Mercedes, or Aston Martin tuned the acoustics deserves a Grammy.
And what of the handling? The ingredients are all there – 50-50 front-rear weight distribution, rear-wheel drive, and even an e-diff, a first for Aston Martin. Only a track session would reveal the finer nuances of the Vantage’s handling but what I can tell you is that this is a pointy car. The steering is quick, turn-in is sharp, and thanks to the small wheelbase and the rear axle just behind your backside, you feel the car pivot around you. It’s easy to work up a rapport with the Vantage so long as you don’t take undue liberties with the throttle when you know you shouldn’t.
The last stretch is back on the motorway and right on cue, it starts pouring. Extra speed for the wiper would have helped visibility in the downpour but is there anything else I’d change about the Vantage? Maybe. Merc’s last-gen infotainment system is a good starting point. And though I’d promised myself I’d refrain from using any James Bond reference, the absence of a glovebox has me wonder where he’d keep his gun! But the rest? I think I’d be happy with it remaining as is, thank you very much. The button-heavy center console and part-digital instruments give the cabin a cockpit-like vibe, and it feels special enough. My test car’s cabin is trimmed entirely in Alcantara but, again, the choice of material and color is all up to the owner. A Porsche 911 is inherently more practical thanks to its tiny (but present) rear seats but you can fit in some luggage in the Aston’s boot too.
I’m a bit split about the way the Vantage looks, though. I love the shape – it’s properly sporty, aggressive, and purposeful. And that rear end, to my eyes, is the most beautiful in the business. The diffuser looks straight off the Vantage endurance racer and the way the LED tail-lights flow from hip-to-spoiler-to-hip to replicate the shape of the traditional Aston grille is superbly done. It’s the oversized grille at the front that is a bit weak in my opinion. Without the usual slats you find on other Astons, the grille looks like a gaping mouth.
How well the Vantage fits into the India scheme of things is something we’ll only know when we drive the car in India. But the first impression is that of it being an entertaining sports car that’s big on drama. Hear one and you’ll know what I’ve been on about.
Aston Martin has had a busy few years. It’s brought out the new DB11, Vantage and DBS as the first products under its Second Century Plan, and over the next few years, we’ll also see the arrival of the Vanquish mid-engined sports car and the return of Lagonda, albeit as an EV brand with its own SUV and sedan. However, no model has the potential to accelerate Aston’s growth more than the DBX, its first-ever SUV.
Official images of a camouflaged version undergoing testing in Wales and Sweden point to a crossover with a strong Aston Martin visual identity. The DBX will compete with a whole host of high-performance SUVs from Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche, and (eventually) Ferrari, and will have the performance for the job. A 4.0-liter, Mercedes-sourced twin-turbo V8 will be the mainstay of the range, while hybrids and a V12 version will also go on sale later. Air suspension and all-wheel drive (again, a first for Aston) will be standard but engineers say the handling will be that of a high-riding GT rather than an extreme SUV. India will get the DBX SUV by mid-2020 or so, and it could just double Aston Martin’s India sales the same way the Urus has for Lamborghini in India.