From £165,0009

The last hurrah for the current Aston Martin Vantage adds the track-ready GT8 to the range

History may judge Aston Martin the Aston Martin Vantage GT12 special edition as a car of even greater significance than it had aggressive, bespoilered purpose: a turning point for Aston Martin, possibly, and a real confidence builder.

Before it, the car maker couldn’t be sure it’d be worth its while pouring closely guarded development budget into an extra-focused track-day special version of any of its cars, to rival the madder motorsport-inspired Porsches and Ferraris of the past decade or so, in case buyers scoffed at them.

Most Aston Martin badges are lovingly machined by jewellers, but the GT8’s front badge is carbonfibre

And yet 100 feverishly snapped-up GT12s later, Gaydon can absolutely rely on that fact – depend on it, should it need to.

A little over a year later, Aston has launched another car just like the GT12 – and the market has gobbled it up more keenly than a gaggle of four-year-olds fighting over a bag of marshmallows.

Welcome, then, the Vantage GT8.

What the Vantage GT12 road car was to the Vantage GT3 racer, the Vantage GT8 is to the Vantage GTE competition car that runs in the popular World Endurance Championship.

The obvious difference is that whereas the GT12 was powered by a 592bhp 6.0-litre V12 motor, the GT8 uses a very mildly tweaked version of the standard V8 Vantage S’s 4.7-litre V8.

And yet there’s more between these cars than that would suggest. In ways we’ll lay out and then seek to verify, the GT8 promises to be an even more extraordinary sports car than the GT12.

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Lighter still than its forebear, with an even clearer sense of purpose and what you might consider a more optimal sporting specification, the GT8 ought to take Aston’s smallest model to greater heights of handling brilliance than it has yet known.

For the record, just 150 examples of the GT8 were offered for sale back in April 2016 – most of them going almost overnight to customers Aston Martin who’d missed out on the GT12 and had made desperate expressions of interest in advance.

The car is a third cheaper than the GT12, at £165,000, and, yup, it sold out months ago.

But with the Vantage due for replacement next year, we couldn’t let another extra-special model roar off into the annals having escaped the Autocar road test treatment.

DESIGN & STYLING

Aston Martin Vantage GT8 front splitter

So how, exactly, has Aston developed and launched what we’d all assume might be a Aston Martin distantly subservient model to the Vantage GT12 and then managed to convince those 150 customers that they’re getting a better sports car with the GT8?

Not with lies or hoodoo, it seems, but details – and plenty of ’em.

There is a way to drive the GT8 without drawing massive attention to yourself, but it involves staying below 3000rpm. Frankly, it’s not worth the trade-off. Just enjoy the attention

Engineered with weight saving even more squarely in mind than it was with its predecessor, the GT8 starts with a much lighter engine than the GT12: the Vantage’s long-serving all-aluminium 4.7-litre atmospheric V8, massaged to produce 440bhp at 7300rpm (up from 430bhp in the current V8 Vantage S and the Vantage N430), breathing through a new induction tract and outputting through a titanium exhaust with its secondary catalysts removed.

It’s loud, by the way. We’ll come to that.

That engine doesn’t just trim the GT8’s kerb weight relative to the GT12 but also improves its weight distribution, which we confirmed on MIRA’s weighbridge as 51% front and 49% rear – impressive.

As ever in a Vantage, that inter-axle spread of mass is also as it is thanks to a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox. In the GT12, that gearbox was an automated manual only. Here, you can have a six-speed manual if you prefer, as fitted to our test car. Even better.

Carbonfibre bumpers, front wings, front splitter and sills come as standard, just as they did on the GT12 – and yet they’re clearly not the same body components that we saw before.

The shape of the GT8’s front wings makes that particularly plain, the panels integrating a cut-out designed to suck high-pressure air out of the front arches and reduce lift.

Overall, the GT8’s blend of visual seduction and naked aggression is very beguiling indeed.

The GT8 also shares the widened axle tracks of the GT12, up on the standard Vantage by 34mm at the front and 54mm at the rear, with front suspension springs 25 per cent stiffer than standard and a bigger front anti-roll bar.

But whereas the GT12 had three-stage adaptive dampers and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, the GT8 gets more predictable track-tuned passive dampers, even grippier Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber and even more aggressive front axle geometry.

If you pick every weight-saving option (carbonfibre roof, polycarbonate rear and side glazing, lightweight plastic cabin switchgear and more), Aston says it’s possible to tease the GT8’s unladen kerb weight down as low as 1510kg – and we can believe it.

Full of fuel and other fluids, our test car tipped the scales at 1570kg, a laudable figure for any modern front-engined V8 sports car.

INTERIOR

Aston Martin Vantage GT8 interior

The GT8’s carbonfibre door handle unlatches a driver’s door that feels much lighter, as you swing it open, than Aston Martin Vantage regulars will be used to.

All is explained when you see the beautiful carbonfibre panel covering the door’s inner side, which accommodates a small speaker grille, simplified leather handle, anodised aluminium latch release, electric window switch, attractively trimmed leather elbow rest and nothing else.

Don’t worry about the price of those options. Cars with every lightweight carbonfibre part will be the ones commanding the most at resale time. Go as wild as you like with the colour scheme

The fixed-backrest carbonfibre bucket seats are ostensibly the same as those of the GT12, but this time they’re upholstered in Alcantara rather than leather.

They’re comfortable despite the absence of backrest adjustment and place you in front of a fascia trimmed in acres of matching suede, from steering rim to instrument binnacle and beyond.

The Vantage’s manually adjusted steering column feels slightly unwilling as you move it and it doesn’t quite have enough upwards rake travel to suit taller drivers, but otherwise the driving position is sound.

Space isn’t exactly generous; if you’re taller than 6ft 3in, expect to struggle to sit comfortably with a helmet on.

After the Aston Martin DB11’s daring but contrived instrument cluster, the GT8’s wraps you up like a comforting duvet. An analogue speedo and separate tacho dial are fine departure points for any driver’s car.

In the GT8, the analogue speedo has small labelling that’s a bit difficult to read, but the digital speedo compensates for the shortcoming nicely. The anti-clockwise rev counter somehow remains novel more than a decade after we first saw one on a Vantage.

The GT8 is not offered by Aston with a half-cage or safety harnesses – primarily because Aston Martin the Vantage’s body structure makes it almost impossible to accommodate a half-cage. Disappointing, perhaps, but hardly likely to present a problem given that this is a track-day car and not intended for competition. 

The GT8 gets a rotating dash-top display and a small number of key buttons around a rotary dial — just like any good infotainment system.

But AMi III system’s similarities with the best systems end there, which is why Aston Martin has adopted a Mercedes-Benz system for the DB11.

The Vantage’s remains among the more hopeless on sale. It’s clunky and quite difficult to navigate. It does get DAB radio, though, as well as a USB phone interface and Bluetooth audio streaming.

With 160W, the sound system is able to outdo the road/engine noise but, truth be told, it’s no hardship to concentrate on the mechanical sound and leave the top screen nestled into the dash top.

The most useful feature that the system has, in fact, is a screen displaying live tyre pressures at a scale you can read at a glance.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

4.7-litre V8 Aston Martin Vantage GT8 engine

The Vantage GT8 certainly sounds like it means business.

Specifically, if more typically modern force-fed V8s such as the Jaguar F-Type R and Mercedes-AMG GT are loud but somewhat lacking in definition and culture, the GT8 lacks for nothing.

Once warm, gearbox insists you heel-and-toe down, while the aggressive front suspension geometry makes handling positive

This is probably one of the wildest and most soulful road cars ever to combine a V8 engine with a crossplane crankshaft. It’s as if the regular V8 Vantage S had matured, come into musk and was intent on attracting a mate from the next county.

You might say the car’s extravagant and wonderful soundtrack was covering for something, of course. Although it’s a much better engine now at 4.7 litres than it used to be at 4.3, Aston’s Cologne-built V8 makes only 361lb ft.

That’s more torque than a Porsche 911 GT3 RS makes but, even in a car stripped out to the GT8’s extent, it’s still not a huge amount.

Sure enough, this isn’t the quickest-accelerating track-day sports car your £165,000 might have bought. The 4.6sec it took to hit 60mph from a standstill is a bit misleading as to its true pace, because the flywheel effect of that engine combines with a slightly weak clutch and an occasionally truculent manual gearbox to make the car difficult to launch.

But the 3.6sec taken to accelerate from 30-70mph through the gears is still 0.8sec slower than a 911 GT3 RS or a Mercedes-AMG GT S.

Not that it seems to matter much. Buyers gravitating towards a naturally aspirated V8 at this part of the market can be expected to prize responsiveness, smoothness, breadth of range and character over outright grunt, and they get all of that here.

Aston’s perfectly square-cylindered V8 feels progressive under your foot, gaining in its forcefulness as the revs rise and only really wanting for potency below 3000rpm. Between 5000rpm and the 7500rpm red line, it sounds almost orchestral and would be strong enough to keep pace with all but the very quickest cars you’re likely to run across on road or track.

As a result, you’d be extremely reluctant to swap this engine for one with more power and torque but less sophistication and effusive charm.

What we might have changed, given the choice, is the GT8’s gearing, which is identical to that of the standard V8 Aston Martin Vantage S and would have benefited from a shorter final drive.

Bentley advertised the advantages of such with the Continental GT3-R, and had Aston followed suit here, it would have ended up gaining useful at-the-wheels torque and pace and sacrificing little.

RIDE & HANDLING

Aston Martin Vantage GT8 drifting

For something based on a car that has been on sale for more than a decade, the Vantage GT8 sets a remarkably high dynamic standard here.

In one way, its age works in its favour. Were it brand new, it would probably have electromechanical steering. But its hydraulic steering is instead quite brilliantly feelsome, wonderfully weighty and honest to a fault.

You learn to be quite disciplined and smooth as you feed off the steering angle coming off a slide, because the GT8’s front end is very positive. But learn that much and the car drifts beautifully

Neither does it have much truck with the current vogue for darting directness. There are 2.7 turns between locks, which grants the mechanical advantage to allow Aston to filter through so much contact patch feel without worrying about excessive weight and has also allowed it to be aggressive with the GT8’s front wheel angles without too much fear of steering kickback.

On the road, the GT8 doesn’t ride like a Aston Martin DB11, and nor should it. Aston’s stiffened tune leaves some room for compliance, though, and feels stiffer of damper than of spring, making the suspension work better over bumps as your pace increases.

Overall, the GT8 feels more absorptive, and more suited to road driving, than plenty of comparable sports cars with less talent on a circuit, such as the GT S and Audi R8 V10 Plus.

When you want to use the car as a grand tourer, you have little reason to question its suitability – provided you remember your earplugs.

On the circuit, meanwhile, grip and high-speed stability are both of the first order, and cornering balance, chassis communicativity and limit handling are exceptional.

Here, the GT8 feels like a car whose powertrain is content to take a back seat and give top billing to a stellar front-engined chassis of the old school, one that’s bristling with feedback, perfectly predictable, crystal clear in its messages and tenderly throttle adjustable.

Those passive shocks make for damping authority in which you can have huge confidence, dealing with mid-corner bumps without any disruption to traction or cornering line.

The GT8 needed a little persuasion and plenty of commitment from its driver to give its best on MIRA’s Dunlop circuit.

Its Cup tyres take a few laps to warm up. Only when they do, and you’re pushing hard, will they give the car the perfect handling balance you crave. They’re also quite particular about tyre pressure. You have to invest plenty for your reward, in other words.

The car’s manual gearbox likes a heel-and-toe downshift, particularly when you need to row all the way down to second gear — which is another reason you need to be on your mettle to bring the best out of the car.

But ultimately, the car’s gradual swell of torque is matched brilliantly to a chassis that takes attitude very progressively when cornering hard under power, and a steering set-up that tells you clearly how much harder the front tyres can be made to work.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Aston Martin Vantage GT8

It’s already too late to attempt to cover the first half of this equation, yet also too early to assess what the first GT8s on the used market might fetch.

However, Aston Martin nearly new examples of the Vantage GT12 are changing hands for more than £400,000.

Storage space behind the front seats isn’t as good as in a Porsche 911, but its big enough to accommodate a couple of small holdalls

So if you did venture the £165,000 necessary to land a GT8 and worried that doing so might end up costing you dear, chances are you’ll enjoy residual values that are just another reason for every fellow petrolhead you know to be jealous of you.

The GT8 should be a very usable car by the standards of its breed when you’re not heading to a track day.

The hatchback rear end uncovers a good-sized boot that’ll easily swallow several soft bags and also grants access to what loading space there is behind the seats.

The rolling resistance of those Cup tyres doesn’t seem to hamstring the car on touring economy (29.1mpg as tested, with an average of 19.8mpg) or cruising range, which could exceed 500 miles. 

VERDICT

4.5 star Aston Martin Vantage GT8

It’s so tempting to award the Vantage GT8 a resounding five stars, as much for what it represents – everything we’ve loved about Aston’s sports cars for decades, come at a time of profound, Aston Martin DB11-led change – as what it is.

For its wonderfully purposeful, balanced and tactile track handling, its jaw-dropping supermodel-in-Nomex looks and its staggering abundance of charm, the GT8 deserves nothing less.

Intoxicating, old-school sports car edges closer to perfection

This is ostensibly a decade-old sports car, operating at a considerable disadvantage on power and torque, that went more than a second quicker around our dry handling track than Aston’s new DB11. That’s both a staggering achievement and a powerful statement of intent. And yet it’s impossible to ignore the fact that, elsewhere, Aston could have done a more complete job.

It could have given the GT8 a powertrain more worthy of its chassis – and because it didn’t, we can’t put the car on quite the same pedestal as the awesome triumvirate that exceed its ranking, which is why it is more compelling than the Lamborghini Aventador SV but falls behind the McLaren 675LT, Ferrari 458 Speciale and the formidable Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

But we’re hugely glad that Aston built it, and we hope desperately that the company’s future will have room for cars of the same mould. 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Aston Martin Vantage GT8 2016 First drives