There were various real life surprises on display at this year’s Britain's Best Driver's Car shindig, but for me the biggest of them all was the way in which the Aston V8 Vantage S so clearly took care of the Jaguar XKR-S.
Having driven the Jag before, albeit in prototype form and exclusively on the road last year, I was expecting great things from it at Rockingham. And in the main it just about delivered (although to be honest it felt just a bit too big, a bit too heavy and a bit too cumbersome to hit the bullseye on this particular circuit). But the Aston, well, it was the complete opposite.
Jag chases Aston – in vain, as it happened
In previous encounters Astons have tended to lack the last degree of dynamic precision compared with their equivalents from Jaguar, but the new Vantage S – with its V12 Vantage derived suspension and crisper-than-ever steering and throttle response – was little short of fantastic around Rockingham.
From the way it could change direction so much faster than the Jag, to its more settled balance mid corner, the Aston ran rings around the XKR on this circuit. And I’m fairly sure it’d do exactly the same thing at any other circuit you’d care to mention, too.
What’s most lovely about the Vantage is the feel from the rear axle it delivers once you’ve got the thing loaded mid-corner; there’s so much information on offer about how much grip there is left to play with, you can drive the car right up to its limit without ever feeling like you’re teetering on the edge. Its steering, too, is quite wonderful in its ability to both inform and entertain at the same time.
In the Jag, you never quite reach that same degree of intimacy with what’s going on beneath your backside. The steering is accurate but also very light and oddly aloof in its response. And the same goes for the feel, or lack of it, from the rear axle.
The XKR S also, whisper this, seems as if it has a touch too much poke for its own good on a circuit like this; it feels, to be honest, as if the threshold that separates what the chassis can and can’t take has been breached. And in the wet, especially, this manifests itself in a degree of waywardness that’s surprising, to say the least, from a contemporary Jaguar.
In the Aston, though, the balance between grunt and grip is about as sweet as it gets in a modern sporting GT car – so much so that it very nearly won our contest outright. Which is some turnaround considering how relatively underwhelming the original 4.3-litre version when it was launched, way back when.