The Aston Martin Vantage is a hunter. It isn’t a domesticated beast like the DB11. On the contrary, it’s the traditional Aston Martin elegance that’s inhibited. And when I set out in it to prowl the streets and racetracks of Portugal, I knew I was driving a predator.
The prey? Any other sports cars that the Vantage is in competition with. As an entry-level car for the luxury brand, the Vantage is the playful sports car that’s been stripped of the jewelry that adorns Aston’s grand tourers and set loose to show the Porsche 911s of the world that it means business. It looks the part, too. Sleek and stylish, it’s allowed the extra flourish of functioning aerodynamic components. Aston has dropped its traditional grille for weight saving. In its place is a gaping matte black maw that delivers air to the engine and cools the brakes while the front splitter delivers downforce. Air continues to flow down the flattened underbelly, channeled by vents and out the monstrously aggressive diffuser down the back. All this works to hunker the car down onto the surface and increase stability during high-speed maneuvers.
The interior of the Aston Martin Vantage is simplistic, but not bare bones. The two-seater cabin has little in the way of flourish and everything there is purposeful. Everything is thoughtfully implemented and performance focused: Alcantara dominates the interior surfaces because it keeps occupants from sliding better than leather does. Tiny pads are mounted on either side of the center column to keep driver and passenger knees from getting banged up as they brace through turns. Buttons to change driving modes and suspension stiffness are steering wheel located, utilized with barely a glance and not buried in settings menus.
The centrally focused console of controls is tightly packed. There is no drive select shifter but rather drive select buttons that flank the ignition. This is nestled between the HVAC controls and the click-wheel interface for the 8-inch LCD screen centered on the dash. Navigation and audio entertainment systems are here, as one would expect them, and it’s also where drivers can pair their phones for audio streaming or hands-free calls.
Beneath the Vantage’s hood is a Mercedes-AMG 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that churns out 503 horsepower and, more critically, 505 pound-feet of torque. Delivered between 2,000 to 5,000 rpms, it’s clear that the Vantage is always at the ready to pounce. This power is fed through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission before sending it to the rear wheels. Systems like torque vectoring, and an e-diff are in place to help keep you (literally) on track, but they won’t make a superstar out of you. Dynamic stability controls can increase yaw thresholds depending on the settings, and while it’ll eventually step in and help you out, your skill set is very much the determining factor.
In the driver’s seat, it’s easy to tell that ergonomics received as much attention as the cabin’s layout. Large column-mounted paddle shifters, an Aston Martin characteristic, sit behind the chunky steering wheel, fixed and easily accessible when in the thick of it. The seats can be pushed back incredibly deep, giving the Vantage something most sports cars rarely afford the taller than average driver – room. It may not have a couple just-in-case rear seats as the 911, but they aren’t missed. Stowage areas behind either seat are there to accommodate the odd shoulder bag, which is what most would be using them for anyway, really. For anything else, there’s a surprisingly capacious 350-liter (12.3 cu. ft) trunk that’ll fit anything you’d need for a day trip.
The Vantage was eager to fan its tail out as it rapidly delivered reports through my seat and hands. Still, it felt like it was holding back, and a quick flick of the drive mode select unleashed everything the Vantage had to offer. Instantly, the dynamics had a palpable change. The “plus” and “track” settings allowed for superior throttle delivery, allowing me to roll into acceleration with far less effort and without a delay for the sake of street-traversing smoothness. Now, the Vantage was in full attack mode, feeling out the course like it had whiskers, communicating every nuance to my brain almost as if we were one being.
I started things off rolling out of the pit lane of Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portugal in the Vantage with some trepidation. This track is infamously challenging, and its undulating elevation, blind crests, and harrowing corners are not to be trifled with. Throw in the fact that it was constantly drenched by rolling storms, and it was a recipe for trouble. I started out in “sport,” the first of three driving settings that include “sport plus” and “track”. These, along with three levels of damper stiffness, can be switched on the fly thanks to wheel-mounted toggles. Even in this setting, the Vantage felt tight and manageable. None of the feedback was dulled. In fact, the car is so well balanced, it communicates very nuance to the driver. It’s almost like sensory overload in terms of road feel and sensation of speed. Entering a corner too hot, I felt precisely how much grip I had, with none of the false confidence a more muted car would have given me due to blissful ignorance.
Indeed, the car’s feedback and performance gave me the confidence to push my limits further on Algarve’s heart-thumping course with each lap. I climbed through the revs on the front straight, the burble of the optional quad exhaust bursting to life when the pedal is mashed. Aston Martin claims all that torque can send the Vantage from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds and I’m inclined to believe them. Stepping hard on the optional carbon ceramic brakes before coming close to the Vantage’s 195 mph top speed is frightening each time, but they remain reliable lap after lap. After a while, a track that was once intimidating was dominated by the Vantage, and each session was faster than the last.
On the road, the Vantage is equally enjoyable, if you want it to be. If not, the Vantage doesn’t punish you for not taking it to the track. Its cabin is a comfortable place to sit and the Aston will remain docile until the outstretched road ahead is too tempting to ignore. While the Vantage doesn’t wear a metaphorical suit like its sibling, the DB11, it’s still elegant enough to turn heads. The extra aerodynamic bits certainly make the Vantage stand out as premium athletic apparel rather than traditional business attire.
In the land of the “daily driver” premium sports where Porsche 911s and Audi R8s rule, the Aston Martin Vantage might be the invasive species that tips the ecological balance. It’s striking to behold and even more exhilarating to drive. Will you join the pack? Aston Martin Vantage.
Story by, Alex Kalogiannis. Photos, Max Earey, Dean Smith and Dominic Fraser. Aston Martin on UnamedProject.com:
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