What is it?
In the bad old days of Aston Martin, long before Dr Bez and his team took over and transformed the company into what it is today, the revised Aston Martin V8 Vantage you see here would have represented a shining light towards a bright new future.
Its 420bhp V8 engine would have seemed like a pillar of power and efficiency, while its gently tweaked rear-wheel-drive chassis and tastefully appointed styling upgrades would have seemed so modern as to be from another dimension. But that was then and this is now – and right now, despite a range of entirely worthy and welcome upgrades, the dear old Vantage faces some extremely stiff competition.
The new, sixth-generation Porsche 911 is already upon us, having been greeted by a deafening round of applause, while new versions of the Audi R8 and BMW M6 are only just around the next corner. Life for the 10-year-old Vantage is about to become very difficult indeed, or so it would seem.
For while the basic platform of the car remains unchanged (it’s the same VH structure that’s been used by Aston since the company’s rebirth in 2002), this most recent range of updates amounts to rather more than just a mild style makeover. As well as the more obvious visual tweaks to the front and rear ends, the chassis has been retuned to deliver something close to what’s on offer with the excellent Vantage S model, while the brakes have grown in size along with the wheels and tyres.
Better still, the steering rack has been modified to deliver much sharper responses, again the idea being to make the steering more similar in feel to that of the Vantage S.
And for those of a sufficiently modern persuasion, Aston’s new and reasonably swift seven-speed Sportshift II transmission becomes available, albeit as an option that costs an extra £5k. The standard car’s six-speed manual gearbox remains as it was before.
What’s it like?
What’s not in doubt is how sharp this latest car feels on the road. Dynamically it’s as crisp in its reactions as any rival, with lovely precise steering and a delightful lack of inertia to the chassis that allows it to be muscled along most roads with proper commitment. It also feels refreshingly small compared with most rivals, which is a good thing, while the basic level of performance on offer from the 4.7-litre V8 has never been in question since it was tuned to deliver 420bhp.
The gearchange, certainly in the manual test car that we tried, also felt unusually clean and precise in its action, albeit in an old-fashioned way beside the more modern click-click shifts of certain dual-clutch rivals. And, in a way, that’s a defining characteristic of the V8 Vantage. Although entirely modern in its engineering ethos, there’s something appealingly retro about the way this car behaves that makes it feel different from, though not necessarily superior to, its more obvious competition once on the move.
Having said that, there are some fairly glaring flaws that can’t be excused at any cost. While the Vantage’s interior retains the appropriate feel and smell of an exclusive gentlemen’s club, the dials now seem more heroically rubbish than ever in their ergonomic performance. The clutch also pongs badly if you do so much as a single three-point turn, suggesting that wear rates have failed to improve.