Driven: Aston Martin V8 Vantage S
Mar 11, 2011
Before you write the Vantage S off and accuse it of being yet another version of yet another similar-looking Aston Martin, just take a look at its credentials. Because this car - with its new seven-speed paddle shift gearbox, its 430bhp V8 engine and its candy-sweet (and rather deftly tweaked) rear-drive chassis - could actually be one of the very best sports cars money can buy right now. It's not as if the Vantage has been found wanting in the looks department since its inception in 2003, after all.
But that's the problem (or at least the perceived problem) with Aston Martin, right there, in a nutshell. Ever since it introduced the VH platform some eight years ago, the cars it has produced have all had a familiar kind of feel to them. And in the beginning that seemed really rather clever.
You could see the genes being gracefully handed down as each new VH model appeared - be that DB9, DBS and even the One-77, which took the idea, ran with it, and then turned it into some kind of cartoon. For a good while, though, the very familiarity of the brand felt slick, logical and considered.
But then some time during the last couple of years the worm turned; overnight almost we began to get fed up of seeing the same car being reproduced, again and again, featuring a bit more power, a bit less style, singing the same old tune.
Is that fair? Almost certainly not, if only because it's what Porsche has been doing for over 40 years with the 911, making a tidy amount of money (in more recent years) as a result. And in the case of the Vantage S, it seems wholly inappropriate to make the 'done that, got the T-shirt' accusation when the car itself is so very good.
The key areas in which it has been improved are the steering, which has a quicker rack and feels sharper in every dimension; the suspension, which has been further tuned to improve the handling/body control without denting the ride; the gearchange, which has one more cog and is frankly in a different league for shift speed/quality compared with the six-speed; and the engine, which not only develops more power and torque (430bhp/361lbft) but makes a significantly more delicious noise in the process.
The net result is almost certainly Aston Martin's best car. On the road the Vantage S feels searingly rapid and rides/steers/handles/stops with breathtaking clarity. Yet it also has a grown up resolve to its overall personality that would make it very easy to live with everyday. If you drove this car in isolation, unaware of its immediate family history, you would be knocked sideways by how superb it is. That's the point, even if it's also Aston's dilemma.
Thus, if any car can be a bargain at £102,500, this is it - and the first person who points out that a Nissan GTR is faster but costs £32,000 less must now go and stand in the corner with their hands behind their backs for at least the next five minutes. Because they will have missed the intention of the Vantage S entirely.