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The Aston Martin Vantage has an abundance of soul, and decent ability with it

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Aston Martin has changed radically in the past 15 years and no vehicle epitomises that development better than the V8 Vantage, the baby of the range. It's the car that has undoubtedly played the biggest part in the brand’s revival over the past decade.

2018 Aston Martin Vantage revealed

Vantage looks just as good as a drop-top Volante as it does as a coupe

The legendary ‘V8’ tag once adorned the grand statesman of the Aston Martin range, rumbling behemoths built with tender, loving care in that evocative ramble of sheds at Newport Pagnell. The Vantage range was extended to include the V12 version, Roadster models and two race-derived cars - the GT12 and GT8.

The model uses a shortened version of the aluminium vertical-horizontal platform – seen in its longer form on the bigger and more expensive Vanquish and DB9 – adapted to a model that is ‘mass market’ by Aston’s standards.

In a way, then, this is the toughest test yet for the construction, because the Vantage name has come to stand for aggression, compactness and driver focus.

And the latest generation has to deliver all of those in spades if it’s to keep pace with a number of outstanding rivals in this class; merely ‘being an Aston Martin’ won’t be enough against such accomplished cars as the Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan, Ferrari California T and Porsche 911.

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In 2018, Aston Martin unveiled its next generation Vantage, which borrows its design cues from the DB10 and Aston Martin DB11, while both the V8 and V12 namesakes will remain also. The V8 Vantage is powered by a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 derived from Mercedes-Benz and producing 400bhp, while the V12 uses the same 5.2-litre V12 found under the elongated bonnet of the DB11.

DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

Few cars are as well-proportioned and eye-wateringly pretty as the Aston Martin Vantage. It includes all of the styling elements that made the DB9 such a success, but in a smaller frame.

The details are luxuriously effective; notice the intricate xenon lights with inner LED indicators, the cut-out vents struck through with a bone line of chrome that flows into the metal of the door, and the elegant flip-out door handles. Even the rear-view mirrors are unusual, with long, slim supports locating them in front of the side glass quarter light.

Ground clearance is good by the standards of this class

Revisions in 2012 saw a number of styling tweaks lifted from previous special edition models. The changes brought a lower front bumper with a larger air intake and splitter, new side skirts and a rear diffuser.

The Vantage uses Aston’s VH platform – a chassis of lightweight aluminium extrusions, pressings and castings bonded and riveted together similar to the method used in the Lotus Elise.

The chassis contributes only 183kg to the Aston’s kerb weight – a figure we measured at 1585kg. It’s clothed in a mixture of aluminium, steel, composite and magnesium body panels, and they make a truly spectacular suit. A surprisingly low, squat car, its proportions promote an aggressive aura even before the shape is taken into context.

The Vantage is considerably more compact than big-brother DB9: 313mm shorter, 60mm lower and 140mm shorter in the wheelbase. The result is a definite wheel-at-each-corner stance with less overhangs – always a prime ploy for creating aggresion.

The familiar Aston grille is present on a nose that spreads out into a bluff, wide-arched front with pronounced wheel arches, before flowing tightly back into a typically Ian Callum coupe form. It then bulges back out with thick-set rear arches and a cut-off tail with fat twin tailpipes.

Aston offers the Vantage in two different flavours: a V8 S and a more potent V12 S model, with a touch more power and looks that are a touch more aggressive. The former pumps out 430bhp from its 4.7-litre V8 petrol engine, while the latter musters a mere inconsequential 565bhp from its naturally aspirated 6.0-litre V12 unit. The limited run GT8 and GT12 use the same engine as there road-going namesakes, but the GT8 punches out 440bhp, while the GT12 manages 591bhp.

INTERIOR

Aston Martin V8 Vantage interior

The cabin of the Vantage works well, as we've come to expect from contemporary Aston Martins; the seats are comfortable for long journeys and thankfully drop low enough in the car, although their lateral support can’t match those in a Porsche 911 Carrera. Behind the seats there’s a useful carpeted storage area – big enough for a briefcase – complete with evocative aluminium roll-over bars.

The Vantage is a hatchback, and the 300-litre boot under the parcel shelf is well shaped as well as copious for the class. It was a shame our road test car was in a rather dull interior colour and trim combination as some of the optional finishes look very appealing.

Glass key feels weighty and looks good, but is impractical in reality

As time has progressed since the Vantage’s launch, Aston has become more generous with the standard equipment levels. On the outside the Vantage V8 S comes with 19in alloy wheels, a limited slip differential, sports suspension, a carbonfibre front splitter and rear diffuser and rear parking sensors, while inside there is swathes of leather, Garmin satellite navigation, climate control and Bluetooth.

The Vantage V12 S gets much the same standard equipment and gains adaptive suspension, carbon ceramic brake discs, touches of Alcantara, LED ambient interior lighting, and 19in alloys shod in Pirelli P-Zero rubber instead of the Bridgestone Potenza on the V8 S.

Aston prides itself on offering ‘bespoke tailoring’ of vehicles and it remains easy for prospective owners to rapidly inflate the list prices of their orders.

The driver’s environment is a bit of a mixed bag. The leather wheel is slabby in design and not as contoured to hold as we’d like, but the gear lever is well designed, wile the alloy pedals look good and are well spaced for heel-and-toe changes. The stereo looks good, with its green lighting, but the sound is tinny and there’s poor bass reproduction; again, we suspect Aston wants you to tick the box for the (pricey) audio upgrade.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

4.7-litre engine Aston Martin V8 Vantage

The Vantage’s V8 is a legacy of Aston Martin's ownership by Ford’s Premier Automotive Group - because it’s loosely based on the Jaguar unit first seen in the mid-1990s and used in the S-Type, Jaguar XJ and XK.

However, Aston gave the unit a radical overhaul and has tweaked it further since, taking its capacity from the original spec, 4.3 litres, up to the 4.7 litres that features in models today. It features dry sump lubrication to better withstand cornering forces and allow it to be fitted lower in the chassis.

Sound is epic above 4500rpm. If only it sounded sounded so rude at lower revs

There’s variable timing on the inlet camshaft, and a resonance induction system, and the spent gases are expelled through a 4-2-1 manifold on each bank of cylinders and out of an exhaust system that features a bypass valve to boost the sound above 4500rpm.

The results look compelling on paper: 430bhp at 7300rpm and 361lb ft at 5000rpm, with a fair chunk of that available from as little as 1500rpm. Slowing this British bruiser down are 355mm brake discs at the front and 330mm on the rear axle. The V12 S punches out 565bhp at 6750rpm and 457lb ft of peak twist at 5750rpm.

Aston claims a 4.3sec sprint to 60mph for the six-speed manual model, and this can be matched by the Sportshift III automatic – in reality a clutchless manual transmission that’s operated by steering wheel paddles or via an auto mode. While the V12 S is only available with the automated manual 'box and its able to blast to 60mph in 3.7sec.

Regardless of edition, though, the bottom line is this: the Vantage requires extending through its rev range if it’s to feel top-drawer quick, and the throttle response and pick-up low down aren't as crisp and urgent as they are in a Porsche 911, acentuated further when you consider the added flexibility that turbocharging has brought the latest generation Porsche 911s.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

The Aston Martin Vantage is a car that you do have to ‘drive’. The gear lever moves around the gate with a sturdy, mechanical feel that often requires effort from the shoulder. In this respect, it does evoke to some extent the old V8s produced by Aston Martin during the 1970s and 80s.

The brakes require confident application of your toes – as does the clutch – and the steering has a weighted oiliness as the wheel turns in your palms. We suspect plenty of owners will value the constant reminder that they’re driving something as special as an Aston Martin, but to us it can feel excessive at times.

Provoke the Aston Vantage into a drift, and it's snappy initially then quite progressive

Up the pace and the ride quality that impresses so much at slower speeds tails away. It never crashes over ridges like a hardcore Porsche 911, but neither does it tend to flow over seemingly reasonable motorway surfaces with the same relaxed lope. Instead, there’s a constant fidget beneath you that takes the edge off the Vantage’s cruising ability.

Hauling the V8 down from such velocities is no great drama as the grooved discs prove more than up to the task. The initial hard pedal resistance reminds us of the DB9’s centre pedal, but unlike that car’s wooden modulation, the Vantage’s stoppers can really be lent on with reassurance once you’re used to the initial feel.

Less impressive is their relationship with the ABS unit on slippery roads. The pedal suddenly becomes hard underfoot – as if you’ve trodden on packed snow – although the directional stability is without question.

Initially, as the speeds rise, the Vantage feels like a sizeable chunk of English craftsmanship to be threading down a challenging road. But a rapid acclimatisation process is aided by some core Vantage strengths: firstly, steering with well-judged weight and accuracy and a fair amount of feel, and secondly, a very surprising level of body control at speed.

The firmer suspension manages to introduce a new level of compliance as well as control, for example. The noise that emanates from the V8 at full throttle is even more stupendous than previously, but offers lower noise levels when just pootling about. The S is sharper and more refined prospect than the now defunct standard V8, and is arguably what the car should have been since its launch.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin V8 Vantage

Before going any further into detail on hard financial numbers, perhaps the question any potential purchaser should ask themselves is this: how would you feel about waking in the morning, looking out your window and spying an Aston Martin Vantage on your drive?

The answer, we’re pretty certain, is “Very nice, thank you”; even the latest generation of Porsche 911 won’t give you the same sort of warm glow as an Aston, particularly if you’re generous to yourself when it comes to the bewildering choice of colours and trims.

Worried about economy? Don't buy an Aston Martin

That’s just as well, really, because the Vantage is not a cheap car; it’ll take only a whisker of imagination and a brief flirtation with the options list to take your bill to more than £100,000 and beyond that, you’re looking at expensive insurance premiums, and high tax bills due to its CO2 emissions being 296g/km at best.

You won’t really see Aston’s claimed combined fuel economy of around 20mpg, either; mid to high teens is more likely, so you’ll be filling the 80-litre fuel tank regularly.

And residual values aren’t as strong as they once were; there is no longer a waiting list for the Vantage, so it’s unlikely to hold its value quite as well as fresher rivals.

VERDICT

4 star Aston Martin V8 Vantage

For many potential Vantage owners, the mere sight and sound of this car will be enough to fire a desire that overwhelms any objective considerations. And this is before the 'Aston Martin' badge is considered.

And as time has progressed, the British manufacturer has chipped away some of the car’s rougher edges; build quality, fit and finish are better now than they were at launch, for example.

Objectively it's outgunned, but the Aston offers emotional appeal like no rival

What counts, though, is the capability of the end product. The V8 is very capable indeed, but it’s still short of that final, magical polish that separates a good car from a great one – a polish that comes with experience. While the V12 is simply a brute from the same stable as the enigmatic AMG V12 units which are ludicrous yet utterly compelling.

It offers performance just about strong enough to be acceptable, and its dynamic repertoire, while no threat to the Porsche 911’s, is broad in its abilities. Where it really scores is with its look and its classy aura.

If that’s enough to tempt out your chequebook, we wouldn’t argue.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Aston Martin Vantage 2005-2017 First drives