First Drive: 2018 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

First Drive: 2018 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
 

I grew up in the era of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. It showed that the British auto industry could still make a muscular performance car but unlike some rivals, the Vantage was classy, refined and regularly used as a gentleman’s tourer to travel across Europe.

Over the decades the Vantage stayed true to its multiple personalities of performance car and tourer, but it never really competed in the same sports car league as the Porsche 911 or the Italians.

Recently we travelled to Portugal to put the latest generation Vantage to the test on the road and on the challenging Portimao circuit. It’s a different machine to any of the previous generations.

“It’s the hunter, the car you want to hunt down a Porsche 911 or a [Lamborghini Huracan],” says Sam Holgate, strategic design manager for the exterior of the new Vantage.

He said it is very different to previous generations which all had different driving characteristics but similar designs.

The new Vantage throws almost everything out the window in terms of design, as we discussed in our interview with Holgate last week. But it has also changed its character completely. The looks are no longer of a performance cruiser, but from the shark nose to the dramatic rear diffuser, they are about a sports car.

It’s 20kg lighter and has 30% more chassis stiffness. It has three-stage adaptive damping, Sport, Sport+ and maximum attack Track modes and Aston’s first electronic differential. Gone is the jerky Sportshift gearbox, in its place is the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with a shorter last gear that trades top speed for acceleration.

Then there is the stuff that comes from Aston’s partnership with Mercedes-AMG, starting with the same twin-turbo AMG V8 that sits under the bonnet of the latest DB11. In the Vantage it generates 375kW at 6 000rpm and 685Nm of torque between 2 000 and 5 000rpm. Aston claims a 0-100km/h time of 3.6-seconds and a top end of 314km/h. They also claim a fuel average of 10.5l/100km.

The rest of the AMG stuff is really in the interior where you get a centre console that has a level of similarity to that in the AMG GT as well as switchgear, the infotainment system and a few other items. It mostly works rather well.

The first thing we noticed was the noise. It’s different to previous Vantages. Hear the car at speed on the track and it has a unique and fantastic sound. Equally impressive is the gearbox which not surprisingly is a vast improvement over the old one, especially on the road. The level of comfort was good but strangely the suspension coped with some of Portugal’s bumpy roads best when in Sport+ mode.

Oddly to get back to normal Sport, you have to go first to Track mode and then back. The new electric power steering system is unusually brilliant too, providing excellent turn-in and good feedback.

That confidence is best tested on the track even one that tests your confidence with blind rises into dramatic right hand drops downwards and the instruction just to point the car at the marshal post and pray you have it all lined up properly as you turn.

In Sport mode there is a fraction of a delay in the power delivery, but it’s the track so put it into Sport+ or full Track mode and the gear changes are quicker, the engine responding in a more forceful manner. It is fast, very fast, particularly down the long pit straight, but it is the corners that reveal the Vantage’s new character. It makes you work and work damn hard.

It’s a well-behaved Sunday school toddler when it wants to be but it can throw a proper tantrum. The twitchy rear makes you fight it in the tight corners, and twice the back started to slide out as we powered through the long right hander at speed on to the pit straight. Incorrect tyre pressures were blamed for this after days of bad weather, but it showed this is no longer the gentleman cruiser — it’s a proper sports car.

Is it a 911 hunter? Most definitely, but will it pin a 911 to the ground? That seems unlikely, the 911 is more precise where the new Vantage is more raw, more involved. If Aston has been hunting for a true successor to that 1980s V8 Vantage, then the hunt is finally over. – Mark Smyth