If that adage about all publicity being good publicity has any ring of truth to it, then Aston Martin was on to a winner from the moment it revealed its all-new Vantage. Because it has been a while since any new car split opinion quite so violently – largely, you suspect, thanks to the lurid “lime essence” paint job bestowed on the car when it was unveiled towards the end of last year.
It is the second example of the grand old British car maker’s “second-century plan”, which has already revitalised the company’s image in the past few years via the downright brilliant DB11. The Vantage is an unrepentant sports car to the DB11’s grand tourer, with an increased focus on the driver and 50:50 weight distribution. So it follows that you are really ensconced as the central component of the car, with high door window sills and a sunken seating position. On the move, the whole experience is accordingly stiff and sporty, with nice weighting to the steering.
It also feels like it is putting down something of a marker in terms of visual intent for a brand behind the majority of James Bond’s most elegant drives in the past half-century or so. Because, whereas Aston’s patented brand of subtle power has served it well, 007 might have difficulty blending in behind the wheel of this 4.0-litre, V8-powered hotshot (there is no longer a V12 variant). Happily, that aforementioned green isn’t the only livery available on the Vantage, but it is partly present in two of the other three colour schemes that I witness on the launch drive in southern Portugal – with garish contrast accents on the front splitter and rear diffuser with the car adorned in onyx black or morning frost white.
Speaking of Bond, there are definite stylistic echoes of the super-limited DB10 sports car created for 2015 movie Spectre, which pre-empted Aston’s recent evolution, particularly when the Vantage is fitted out in the classiest outer coat of the lot: tungsten silver.
It is a deliberately mean-looking machine, with what Aston claim is the lowest grille ever affixed to one of its models. The tough-edged impact is accentuated by predatory skinny front headlamps and a spoiler-tracing continuous rear-light strip. That flared boot-lid, meanwhile, lends more rear downforce than is available on a DB11.
Its reaffirmed sports-car credentials are confirmed by the dimensions versus the outgoing Vantage – it is 200 millimetres shorter, yet gets a 100mm longer wheelbase, which pushes the wheels nearer to the car’s four corners. There is no “normal” in the Vantage, literally: Sport is the default driving mode, followed by Sport+ and Track. And the farther up that scale you venture, the more that the V8, developed alongside Mercedes-AMG, aids satisfying pops from the twin (or optional quad) exhausts. Aston being Aston, though, it has worked to make the sonic impact slightly less brash than similar units found in the likes of Merc’s E 63.
For sports-car purists, a manual Vantage is scheduled to hit the roads in a year’s time, but for now it is an eight-speed automatic only. The paddle shifters are long, but one minor irk is that they stay with the steering column rather than travel with the wheel when turning, which can make them tricky to grab at if executing gear changes mid-corner.
The only other initial annoyance is somewhat over-zealous parking sensors that bleep incessantly when I make a U-turn on a slightly uneven road – not that you would want to risk banging up those pricey looking carbon-fibre extremities.
This was never meant to be a hugely practical car – save your continent-crossing expeditions for the DB11 – but it attempts some real-world usability to go with the world-beating performance (0 to 100kph in 3.6 seconds and a top whack of 314kph, in case you were wondering).
Aston claims you can fit two golf bags in the boot. In the language of anybody who doesn’t play the world’s premier sweater-wearing sport, you won’t be packing two people’s entire summer holiday luggage, but it is comfortably sizeable enough for a long weekend away.
I have the pleasure of taking a lime essence Vantage around the undulating Portimao circuit, which eagled-eyed Top Gear viewers will recognise from the most recent series, when it played host to a McLaren P1 versus 720S face-off. But naturally that is at the kind of speeds that only those with a pathological desire to feel the cold iron of leg shackles around their ankles should attempt on public roads.
On rather more sedate tarmac around the inland hills of the Algarve, I am pleased to report that the Vantage never gets anywhere near to a point where you might worry for your – or its – safety. It grips, corners and generally stays stuck to the floor about as well as just about any tonne-and-a-half sports car is physically able.
Does the new Vantage put the “Aston” into “astonishing”, then? Pretty much. Although the acid test will be how those who have taken the brand to their hearts for its unmistakably British charms will react to the angriest-looking regular-edition road car in Aston Martin’s 105-year history so far.
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