Test drive: Mark Gallivan reviews the 2018 Aston Martin Vantage
Leading motoring writer Mark Gallivan takes the 2018 Aston Martin Vantage out for a test drive. Here is what he thought.
Anarchy from the UK
The genesis of Aston Martin’s new Vantage lies not in its Gaydon headquarters but 150 miles west in Hethel. After decamping from Group Lotus to Aston Martin in January, 2015 Matt Becker brought with him decades of engineering knowledge and a dogged approach to vehicle dynamics that left an exiguous opportunity for any Lotus to handle with nothing other than scalpel-sharp precision. And boy, does this show in the new Vantage. Becker’s fingerprints as Chief Engineer are indelibly smeared all over this Aston Martin’s talented chassis.
If you were an owner of the old Vantage odds are you held lingering doubts about the car’s on-limit handling. You may have found the car too brittle with a dated interior and probably too demanding as a daily companion. All has changed as the new Vantage now muscles into Club Porsche 911 with no excuses. There is a case that the new Vantage struggles to match the Porsche’s overall painless ownership proposition but it is, finally, a proper opponent for the car from Zuffenhausen. Factor in the sheer desirability, Spectre movie derived looks and the Vantage it pulls off an Aintree Grand National upset by racing past Porsche and onwards into the Ferrari runners by delivering a shiveringly vicious sound at full acceleration.
Starting from a grumbling thrum the noise in the cabin rises and rises to a shrilling shriek from the front-engined 4.0-litre V8 which is caught at maximum upshifts. There are other sounds to discover. Over two hours I found the optimum point for a near-deafening blare to fill the cabin. It’s tricky, but this is how you do it: get yourself on a motorway or a long country road. Next, accelerate up to 70mph and downshift using the auto paddles on the steering wheel from eight gear, to fourth. Now, you need to ride the accelerator like a surfboard champion and then, right there, when you find the loudest wail from the V8 engine, you hold it very steady. The noise is not a Ferrari been-there-done-that creamy wail but actually more akin to a Sex Pistols, high-pitched mechanical thrum that makes you move your head to the side a bit to tolerate the intrusive sound so as not to cause a banging headache.
A glorious Vivienne Westwood bovver boot kick right into a delicately hand-crafted Valentino ensemble – it’s brilliantly brutish fun. For comparison, the closest Porsche 911 rival is the £128,692 Porsche 911 Turbo against the Vantage’s £120,900. Granted, the Porsche provides two occasional rear seats for luggage and the Vantage offers none but the Brit’s 2,704mm wheelbase serves up a second revelation. By positioning the two seats right slap up against the rear bulkhead the impression of a striding the base of a swinging pendulum makes the driver feel as they are conjoined to the chassis rather than sitting in a sports seat. As you steer the car you are in effect at the base of the car’s directional movement.
Speaking of which, the Vantage’s sports seat at among the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a GT. It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve a limited time to drive the Vantage as I sit down with the team at Charles Hurst Belfast. I’m edging to jump in and go but the people are excellent company and we spend about an hour chatting about this and that. Eventually, the keys are exchanged and I’m off in a car that so easily could be a second generation DB10.
The design is overseen by Marek Reichman but there’s more: with Aston Martin backed with enough investment and a healthy balance sheet the Vantage displays a further design confidence that already seeped out in the DB11. In the right colour, definitely not the bright orange I was given, the Vantage looks even better and – I’m sticking my neck out here – than a Ferrari 488 which has far too many fussy scoops and air intakes to look glamorous. Order your own Vantage in Skyfall Silver and you’ll be in automotive heaven. I think Reichman has nailed the exact interpretation of what a baby Aston Martin should look like in 2018.
The Vantage’s V8 front-mounted engine produces 510hp and gets from 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds or just 0.6 seconds behind the Ferrari 488 at the jeepers-creepers price of £197,488. That’s £76,588 more than the Vantage making it not just the best baby Aston Martin I’ve ever driven but possibly the bargain of the year. Gaydon quotes a seemingly hilarious 26.9mpg (combined), but while driving at a sensible speed I managed 25mpg over a number of miles which is close enough. It’s simple to set up the Vantage dynamics by clicking the two opposing buttons on the steering wheel for Normal, Sport + and Track for the drivetrain and chassis.
The difference between Normal and Sport + is noticeable and unlike some other system that offer a veneer of added firmness it provides a proper differentiation between both settings. The cabin is a huge improvement over the old car but I’m not wholly convinced that the centre console with the dipped-in-the-middle design works as well in real life as it did in the design studio. For a start there are too many buttons concertinaed together and angled-in toward the middle of the console like a cake that went flat at the local parish bake-off. Neither would I be a fan of the dashboard’s air vents that look cheap and completely at odds with the rest of the cabin.
But it is good to see Aston Martin making worthy use of the Daimler derived infotainment technology that is a galaxy beyond that fitted in the old car. It’s Andy Palmer’s mission not to doff the hat at Porsche while feeling inadequate but to frighten the life out of Ferrari and deliver cars that have a truly British bulldog character. Cars that recapture the reason why we loved supercars in the 1970s – they were beautiful and thrilling to drive.
Taking that as a goal the new Aston Martin Vantage just about nails every part of the brief. It’s far more desirable than a Porsche 911, more beautiful than Ferrari’s smallest and crucially far more admired for what it is – a cool Aston Martin – by everyone you encounter. People just love a proper British Aston Martin and the new Vantage, at last, lives up to its red carpet role. Gaydon, take a bow.