Fast and fun Vantage is very different to its predecessor, but fun, and faster than ever

The latest Aston Martin Vantage is a car that shoulders a heavy burden, tasked as it is with replacing the old Vantage, which has the distinction of being the best-selling model ever in the British brand’s line-up. If that wasn’t an onerous enough task, the Aston also faces formidable rivals in the shape of the Porsche 911 GTS, the Audi R8, the Mercedes-AMG GT and McLaren 540C. No pressure, then.

Still, the initial signs are promising as today’s Aston Martin Vantage features dramatic looking styling inside and out, plus it’s the latest model to benefit from the input of minority stakeholder Mercedes, meaning it gets the muscular 375kW twin-turbo V8 normally found under the bonnet of any number of AMG machines.

Aston’s German benefactor also provides the Vantage’s electrical architecture, so there’s now cutting edge infotainment, not to mention the promise of trouble-free running. Under the skin is an all-aluminium structure that takes its cues from the DB11 and promises high strength with low weight. There’s also an all-new suspension set-up that’s been fine-tuned by handling guru and former Lotus stalwart Matt Becker.

Early cars failed to light our fire, but we’re pleased to report that Aston Martin seems to have fixed early quality niggles and production-spec cars are now up to the dynamic and quality standards you’d expect for a £120k luxury sports car. While it doesn’t yet match the all-round ability of something like a Porsche 911, the new Vantage has bags of character and serves up an entertaining cocktail of performance and presence that fits perfectly in the Aston Martin range.

Engine, gearbox and technical specs

Under the Vantage’s clamshell bonnet is the same Mercedes-AMG twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that debuted recently in the DB11. It’s essentially the ‘hot-vee’ unit that’s also used in the Mercedes-AMG C63, E 63 and GT. The agreement with Mercedes-AMG means that Aston isn’t allowed to make any internal changes to the unit, but bespoke induction and exhaust systems, plus a remapped ECU, promise to give the engine a unique Aston sound and character.

Besides, even in off-the-shelf form the V8’s vital statistics of 375kW and 684Nm are hardly to be sniffed at. The latter figure is developed at just 2000rpm, hinting at some real muscle for the rear wheels to cope with, but more on that later. Mated to the Mercedes engine is the now familiar ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, which Aston favours over Mercedes’ more complicated seven-speed unit.

In a first for Aston Martin, the new Vantage also has an e-diff in place of a traditional mechanical LSD. This unit allows for greater tailoring of the handling characteristics, plus superior traction, which is welcome news on rear-wheel drive machine with so much torque.

Under the skin, the Vantage uses a heavily revised version of the bonded aluminium architecture first seen on the DB11. Over 70 percent of the components used are new, with a focus on greater rigidity for shaper handling. Also new are the subframes, which carry the multi-link rear axle and double wishbone front suspension.

As with the DB11, the Vantage features extensive use of hidden aerodynamics. Despite its clean profile the Aston actually delivers genuine downforce, a feat that’s been achieved courtesy of a front splitter, vents in the front wings, a number of underbody channels and a huge rear diffuser.

Performance and 0-100kmh time

As you’d expect, the Vantage is a lively performer, with the 0-100kmh dash delivered in a claimed 3.7 seconds (over a second faster than the old car), while top speed is a heady 313kmh. That said, in reality the Aston can’t quite match the former figure, a lack of traction meaning we could only record a time of 4.5 seconds. However, once rolling the Aston gathers speed with real intent, the tidal wave of torque catapulting the car up the road. It may not be as rabidly quick as Porsche 911 Turbo, but it’s not far behind. The tweaks to the ECU have also delivered a more linear delivery, so despite the breaks in traction it doesn’t feel as if the unit is dumping all its torque on the road in the same way as in an AMG does.

> Click here for our review of the Mercedes-AMG GT R

The transmission is best in its standard setting, where it responds crisply to the column mounted paddles and shifts ratios smoothly and quickly. The sportier settings deliver fractionally faster changes, but the rather abrupt shifts aren’t worth the tradeoff. That said, when left to its own devices, it’s surprisingly responsive in Sport+, slipping down ratios for corners and holding onto revs for maximum acceleration.

Arguably the best part of the engine is the noise. It sounds a little subdued in Sport, but switch to Sport+ or race and the V8’s sonic potential is uncorked. The changes to induction and exhaust deliver a richer, more cultured soundtrack than the bombastic NASCAR bellow you get with this engine in a Mercedes. There’s a pleasant burble at idle that builds to crackling roar at the redline that’s pure Aston Martin. The noise is all the more remarkable when you consider the oddly small pea-shooter tailpipes of the standard exhaust – a louder sports system will be an option.

Ride and handling

If you’ve followed our Vantage reviews from the start you’ll know we had some big reservations over the early cars. The good news is that each Vantage we’ve driven since has been a vastly better effort, and a genuine alternative to 911s and R8s. While it couldn’t be considered perfect, its ability to pair entertaining dynamics with long-legged cruising ability feels, quite appropriately, very Aston Martin.

Those imperfections? Well, for starters it feels big. At 2153mm it’s around 200mm wider than a Porsche 911 Turbo, a fact that is exacerbated by the Vantage’s low-slung driving position, high-set dashboard and slimline windscreen, all of which combine to create a feeling of claustrophobia. The first few miles brings the intermittent ‘thud-thud’ of cats eyes as you acclimatize to the Aston’s size.

The ride quality isn’t perfect either, with a a slightly stiff-legged low speed gait, and an occasional feeling at higher speeds that the suspension has quite a lot to deal with when asked not just to keep the car’s weight in check, but also handle particularly taxing bumps and compressions.

The rest is all good news. Firstly, that ride settles down in all other scenarios, and is particularly calming on the motorway, where it’s among the more relaxed of its peers. The suspension does, to its credit, also endow the Vantage with good body control through corners, and stiffer modes can ramp this up where required. Ultimately it’s still not as composed as say, the aforementioned 911 or R8, but the car’s movements are always predictable. Traction is a marked improvement on earlier cars, the rear axle now taking the turbocharged V8’s power in its stride (though you can’t take too many liberties with 505lb ft to play with).

The steering is also a highlight, being both meatily weighted and naturally geared. It’s not exactly dripping with feedback, but there’s strong front-end bite from the wide front axle, which means you can attack corners with real gusto. With near 50/50 weight distribution and quick steering, the Aston’s line through a bend can be altered at will with a prod of the accelerator pedal – there’s real entertainment to be had here. It feels like a proper sports car, and an engaging one at that.

Design

Given the popularity of the original Vantage, and the fact it still looked fresh after 11 years in production, design chief Marek Reichmann has gone for bold with the exterior styling.

It’s best viewed in profile or from the rear three-quarters, where the mix of sharp creases, eye-catching angles and flowing curves really catches the eye. Highlights include the thin LED tail lamps that run the full width of the car and the scalloped door inserts that run from the vents set in the front wings.

Less impressive is the front, which looks a little bland despite a gapingly large version of the trademark Aston grille. We’re yet to be convinced by the front end styling then, but it’s fair to say that it’s better in some colours than in others, so spend some time on the Vantage configurator before heading to the dealer and you’ll come away with something quite attractive. JAMES DISDALE