Vivid, visceral, poised and hilariously vocal, Aston’s second limited-run track-special Vantage might even be better than the first

What is it?

The Aston Martin Vantage GT8 is another bite of the cherry for some, and another hefty jab thrown in the direction of Porsche by a car maker with designs on the track day niche monopolised by the 911 GT3.

It’s a car specifically intended for anyone who admired the British sports car maker’s ambition in creating its first road-legal track special last year – the incredible Aston Martin Vantage GT12 – but who baulked at that car’s quarter of a million-pound price. Or those who, for one reason or another, dithered and dallied for just long enough to miss out on Gaydon’s 100-unit limited production run.

Low-volume special editions are going to be an increasingly important part of Aston’s business model, and if it’s to be a successful part the company needs to be smart enough to satisfy appetites like the one the GT12 left in its wake. And so here it goes: this is track-ready Vantage, take two.

While the GT12 took Aston’s 12-cylinder Vantage GT3 customer racing car as its inspiration, the GT8 flows forth from the slipstream of the Vantage GTE. That means the GT8’s styling is quite different from the GT12’s, although no less determinedly aerodynamic. Large carbonfibre body addenda add downforce at the front (splitter) and rear (wing spoiler and diffuser) without adding mass. The GT8’s extended sills, bumpers, extra-wide wings and roof are also carbonfibre.

Taking account of the pared-back cabin, jettisoned noise insulation materials, lightweight magnesium wheels, lightweight brakes, polycarbonate rear glazing and lithium ion 12V battery, the car can be made to weigh as much as 100kg less than a normal Vantage V8 - depending on options.

The GT8’s axle tracks are considerably wider than those of a normal Vantage V8, while its suspension springs, dampers and anti-roll bars have been respecified and retuned for circuit suitability and its wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

Powering the car is Aston’s familiar 4.7-litre V8, sharpened here for an additional 10bhp over the specification of the Vantage V8 S and N430, so 440bhp in all. That power is delivered to the rear wheels via a rear-mounted transaxle gearbox, available in either six-speed manual or seven-speed paddleshift automated manual forms.

What's it like?

The GT8’s super-aggressive sills, splitter, spoiler and diffuser give this Vantage truly jaw-dropping presence when you first lay eyes on it. The cut-outs at the lowest part of the trailing edge of the front wheel arches also look especially pointy and angry. Bits of the car are still pretty, just as the Vantage always has been, but other parts are savagely, gorgeously functional.

There’s another treat in store when you open the door to find it dressed on the interior side in a one-piece carbonfibre panel. But the cabin isn't so sparsely done out as to be missing niceties such as air conditioning or a colour infotainment system, and the seats aren’t so deeply dished as to threaten anyone’s long-distance touring comfort.

Start the engine, then, and prepare for a bigger shock to your eardrums than the late, great Lemmy might once have supplied. We’re used to Vantage V8s being loud – particularly since early owners discovered the function of ‘fuse 22’. But the GT8 sounds as if it’s had the fuse for its active exhaust removed, spat on, stamped on, driven over and then set on fire, before having a megaphone held up to its 4.7-litre V8. Lordy, it’s noisy - and fantastically, deliciously so.

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The car’s controls are uniformly heavy, so it takes plenty of muscle to punt around at low speeds. But as ever with the Vantage, they give the car a wonderfully evocative throwback character instantly redolent of a 1960s front-engined GT.

You imagine you’ll need strong wrists and plenty of brave pills if you’re going to drive really quickly. And yet in the event, nothing could be further from the truth. The more speed you carry in the GT8, the lighter and more manageable the steering becomes, while continually feeling supremely feelsome, and positive towards the direction in which the front wheels are actually travelling. Start to time your gear changes carefully as you come down the ratios and the weight and spongy resistance in the linkage melts away. You’re speeding up; the car is responding in turn.

The 4.7-litre V8 still feels somewhat light on mid-range torque, needing to spin to 5000rpm before it peaks, and even then not producing so much of it as to make the GT8 feel effortlessly quick. But there’s a new-found urgency to the car’s acceleration between 5000rpm and the 7500rpm redline, which does ratchet your perception of its outright performance level up a notch. It also comes accompanied by a V8 soundtrack so full-blooded that you’d probably consider wearing earplugs under your helmet if you were going to spend a long track stint at the wheel.

The lightness of the GT8’s V8, compared with the 6.0-litre V12 in the GT12, lends the car a keener and more precise front axle than its bigger sibling – according to Aston’s chassis engineers. And you’d better believe ‘em. Handling balance is first-rate and turn-in is as crisp as any front-engined machine we can think of. The suspension spreads the car’s weight quickly and evenly during hard cornering and lateral grip levels are high – albeit not quite at the level of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or a McLaren 675LT.

Where the Aston outstrips those cars is exactly where a well-sorted front-engined GT ought to: on handling controllability at the limit. The GT8 is sublimely adjustable and forgiving when it slides. The rear wheels are easy to unload with a lift of the accelerator, and their path relative to the front ones can be pushed ever wider almost by the centimetre. With the electronics in ‘DSC Track’ mode you get some handling adjustability; with them off, you get as much opposite lock as you can handle, as often as you want it. That’s what the glorious linearity of the GT8’s power delivery and the vivid communication of grip levels that comes flowing through rim and seat will do.

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Should I buy one?

Usable, talkative and hugely endearing, the Vantage GT8 offers a different sort of track day entertainment than its immediate rivals. That it still feels like a relatively heavy, old-fashioned, visceral, unreconstructed sort of a sports car may limit its appeal to those who prefer machines that make it easier to drive fast and which soften the effect of that speed on your senses.

But despite being sufficiently gentle-riding that you could drive it every day, the GT8 is here to make you feel every camber and hollow you cross. It doesn't exist to make your life easier, but louder. And it may not be the fastest track machine of its kind, either in a straight line or past an apex, but it might be the most exciting.

Aston Martin Vantage GT8

Location Surrey, UK; On sale now; Price £165,000; Engine V8, 4735cc, petrol; Power 440bhp at 7300rpm; Torque 361lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1510kg (with lightweight options); 0-62mph 4.4sec; Top speed 190mph; Economy na; CO2/tax band na

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.

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bowsersheepdog 17 June 2016

Request to Autocar

Also, please get rid of the spammers.
beardybuck 15 June 2016

Disqus is sorely needed.

The comments section on Autocar is antiquated and a right pain to be honest. Love the site, but needs a third party comments system like disqus.
And what a car... would love to hear that engine.
bowsersheepdog 17 June 2016

beardybuck wrote: The

beardybuck wrote:

The comments section on Autocar is antiquated and a right pain to be honest. Love the site, but needs a third party comments system like disqus.
And what a car... would love to hear that engine.

Agreed. There used to be a tracking function, to see where there had been further posts on a page where one had commented oneself, but that disappeared ages ago and would make a big difference were it reinstated towards keeping a discussion going. Something like Disqus would be even better as it offers email alerts and thereby potentially quicker responses. With regard to the Aston, it looks much more purposeful than normal Astons, and the aerodynamic bits conceal the tracing paper design of the company's range.