Aston Martin is intensely busy. The DB11 has arrived in coupe and convertible form, the Red Bull Formula One team is co-developing the Adrian Newey-designed Valkyrie hypercar, and an old military base in South Wales is gearing up to produce the inevitable but necessary all-new SUV. The word is that Aston’s management and investors are preparing the ground for an IPO, and it helps that this eternally ‘economically challenged’ British automotive company is finally profitable and looking secure.
But the Vantage is Aston’s key car, its most focused driving tool, and the model it needs to sell in comparatively big numbers if it’s to survive. The very concept of automotive beauty is deliberately challenged once again; if the outgoing car was aesthetically pretty-much perfect, the new Vantage is a complicated looking car seeking simplicity. Its headlights and front end have invited comparison with Mazda’s vastly cheaper MX-5, and the clever (and expensively engineered) single-piece clamshell blends a little awkwardly into very pronounced side air intakes. The Vantage’s rear end doesn’t photograph well, but looks much better resolved in the flesh. It’s also aerodynamically efficient. All in all, it’s… different.
It’s cleverly packaged. The new Vantage’s ‘dash-to-axle’ ratio – what designers call the ‘prestige’ line – has been improved, to enhance its stance but also imbue it with a perceptible quality. It’s longer than the old car but still shorter than a Porsche 911, a key rival that’s no longer as compact as we tend to think it is. The front wheels are 65mm further forward, and the rears 20mm further back. Pirelli P Zeroes – 255/40 upfront, 295/35 at the rear – wrap themselves around 20-inch alloy wheels. Its dry weight is 1530kg, and Aston claims vastly greater torsional rigidity than the old car (remember what a successful endurance race car that was; the new one will be racing at Le Mans in June and elsewhere.)
The in-car infotainment and electronic architecture is from Mercedes, and vastly better than the old Aston set-up. The centre console features a rather random profusion of buttons, but it looks interesting and is easy to use despite the abstract layout. Only ugly air vents ruin the effect.
The deal with Mercedes parent Daimler also extends to the Vantage’s 4.0-litre, 503bhp twin turbo V8, the unit that powers the AMG GT and other Mercedes models. Aston’s guys have reworked the exhaust to such an extent that the Vantage is almost comically vocal at times, and it emits a sound closer to some bad-assed American hot rod than a British sports car. It’s mostly welcome, if occasionally intrusive.
The Vantage is traction-limited in very wet conditions, although turning all the systems off reveals a chassis that allows the driver to indulge in ridiculously controllable power slides. Its fully electric steering is fast but linear, and an electronic differential – Aston’s first – its torque vectoring, and a superbly well-calibrated stability control system all enhance a chassis whose fundamentals are expertly engineered. None of the algorithms here are papering over a deficit.
Dry roads are where the Vantage naturally really shines. It’s the right size, just about the right weight, and its circa 500bhp power output is optimal. How much more do you really need? There’s a definite sweet spot around these parameters. This is a car with exquisite balance, endless reserves of grip, fabulous steering, and superb brakes. On fast, flowing roads with clear sight lines, where you can truly match speed with vision, the combination of V8 thunder, quick-shifting ZF eight-speed ’box and that sublime chassis makes for exactly what Aston Martin should be doing, and the thing that’s a hallmark of all great cars: delivering an experience unlike any other.