Another day, another Aston Martin special. At least that’s what it feels like at the moment, it’s only a few short weeks since we rolled out of Aston’s cool Gaydon HQ in a V12 Vantage S manual and quickly fell in love with the reluctantly gearboxed 12-cylinder rocket, with its overt yellow over grey paintwork, aerodynamic protuberances and heat-evacuating vents. Seduced hardly covers it, we’ve talked about little since, so it’s with more than a little trepidation, as well as a frisson of excitement that we’re back again, only to sample another ‘new’ Vantage, here packing four less cylinders and some heavy motorsport nods in its styling.
If the V12 Vantage S looked assertive, then the GT8 takes the Vantage to another place altogether. The aero is over the top, as in racetrack refugee, looking like it’s just rolled out the back of a pit garage at Le Mans, the big rear wing dominating the back, under which there’s a venturi to help suck that widened backside to the road surface. The front’s equally as wild, with the ankle-troubling front splitter jutting out like a flatpack shelf, only a damned expensive carbon fibre one, with some end plates that give the GT8 a look that while not pretty, is certainly arresting. The flanks feature huge sill extensions, there’s wider front and rear arches, the bottom section of the front wheelarches opens to help the airflow down the side.
Not all that aero kit’s mandatory, but what’s the saying, “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly”, well that applies here. If you’re one of the 150 buyers of this motorsport-nodding GT8, then you might as well shout about it, especially as otherwise the specification doesn’t differ too remarkably from the standard V8. That’s perhaps not fair, the changes might be individually relatively small, but as a whole they add up to a substantially different car. Just as Porsche’s GT department takes a 911 Carrera and makes it into a GT3, RS or R, Aston Martin has taken the V8 Vantage and created the GT8 — the lightest V8 Vantage ever produced. So there’s a lighter lithium ion battery, plenty of carbon fibre, the option of magnesium, single lug wheels, a carbon fibre roof panel and plenty more besides. Tick all the right options boxes and you’ll remove a further 20kg off the already standard 80kg drop in mass the GT8 brings with it.
The other numbers associated with it aren’t quite so large. The 440bhp that 4.7-litre V8 engine produces at a heady 7,300rpm is only up by 10bhp, while torque is up by 6Nm to a 490Nm maximum at 5,000rpm. These numbers are relatively underwhelming in a marketplace where 500+bhp is increasingly the norm and 600bhp is not unusual. Particularly at this price level. But then they will all feature some sort of forced induction, with the exception of those GT Porsches. And anyway, the 4.4 seconds and 306kph (both predicted) figures that Aston Martin pins to the GT8 aren’t exactly tardy.
If you want raw speed there are other choices, the GT8’s goal is about how it produces its pace, and engages its driver. Sat in the lightweight, fixed-back bucket seat, with the rubbish analogue instruments in front, there’s nothing to push, prod or configure. Actually, that’s not entirely true, there’s a sport button for some more noise — more of which later — and a sharper throttle, and the possibility to switch the stability and traction control (DSC) from all on, to moderately on (DSC Track Mode), to ‘you’re on your own’ (off). Other than that there’s a wheel, a gearstick — rejoice — and three pedals. Push the key into its slot atop the centre console and the V8 fires up with a note that’s as rich and purposeful in its pit-lane intensity as its aero-enhanced changes make to the visuals. Aston’s PR man points out that the lighter, full titanium exhaust isn’t quite as quiet as the production one will be. If you have a GT8 on order, get on the phone and tell them you want it like this one, though, the noise it makes fills the cabin with an exotic metallic blare and muscular V8 grumble that’s very British in its note. More like a gathering, dark thunderstorm than joyful Italian operatic V8, it’s so glorious that you could just sit in the GT8 all day long blipping the accelerator and enjoying the rich intensity it delivers.
Doing so would be to miss out, though, as while the lighter exhaust makes the V8 in the GT8 more intoxicating in tone, it’s been complemented with a host of chassis revisions to give you more reason to go out and enjoy the ride. The track is wider front and rear, those 19in, seven-spoke optional magnesium wheels riding on a bespoke suspension set-up that sees the front springs and anti-roll bar firmed up, with the rates left alone at the rear. Covering those wheels are Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, with their aggressively dry construction, which is always something of a gamble when driving a car in rain-lashed Great Britain. Rolling out of the Gaydon gates, even the masses of people who see Aston Martins every day cannot help but stop and stare, the GT8 is heard approaching for miles around and its looks are as subtle as a punch in the face.
Astons always captivate, though the GT8 does more than ever. There’s an immediacy to its responses that’s incredible, and although the V8 Vantage is an old car, its age actually works to its benefit in a world where everything’s gone digital. You could describe how it drives as slightly nostalgic, but that would do it a huge disservice, it’s just brilliant. You turn the steering wheel and the still hydraulic system responds with the sort of immediate accuracy and feel that’s largely absent from Aston Martin’s contemporaries.
The road out of Gaydon is familiar, the memory of that V12 Vantage S manual still fresh, the road as damp and topographically challenged, but despite the suspension, which Aston’s engineers describe as race-track derived, the GT8 shrugs off imperfections, odd cambers and bumps with impressive composure, the grip and traction high enough to take some liberties and switch the DSC to the more free track mode. The balance is spot on, the way the GT8’s nose keys into a bend is never less than brilliant, understeer seemingly not in its make up — even on a damp surface with those dry-liking Michelins. The physicality of it all is where the reward is, this might be a car that’s been built to celebrate Aston Martin’s track activities, but we’d always have it specified with the manual transmission that’s here. You’ll lose time around a circuit, but you’ll lose so much more if you take the paddle-shift option. In comparison to the reluctant shift of the seven-speed unit in the V12 S, the six-speeder in the GT8 is an absolute delight. Not perfect, but far from obstructive, the gearstick moving between its ratios with a natural movement that’s light, quick and accurate, the bite on the clutch high, but easily read. That engagement, that need to drive it is key to its appeal. The reward when blipping the throttle by rolling off the brake to easy downshifts is always intense, Aston Martin not bothering to fit the auto-blip tech it added to the V12 in the GT8. That’s a very good thing indeed.
Not wringing it out to its maximum before every gearshift is an exercise in restraint that’s impossible to undertake.
The V8, always an engine that’s eager to please with its fast-revving nature is even more giving here. Perhaps it’s the more intoxicating tone emanating from the pipes that vent its spent gases, or just the control over it that the six-speeder and third pedal brings, but it feels greater than the numbers suggest. It’ll rev quickly up to its 7,300rpm peak output, the red light flickering suggestively as the needle crosses the 7,000rpm threshold.
Not wringing it out to its maximum before every gearshift is an exercise in restraint that’s impossible to undertake, the GT8 is a car that demands to be driven hard — revel in it. You’ll approach corners with ever-increasing pace, sure in the massive brake’s stopping power, enjoying the need for a big prod of the accelerator to rev match before pushing the pedal to the floor and grabbing another gear as the GT8 accelerates hard to the next bend. The chassis remains utterly faithful, neutral in normal situations, though playful and easily read enough that you can confidently drive it with however much corrective lock exiting a corner you’re willing to push it to. There’s masses of reward here, the GT8 is an old-school car in so much as you don’t need to constantly fiddle with variable choices to get it to work right; the suspension working everywhere, the gearbox speed entirely down to you, the Sport button on because, hell, if you’re going to drive it you might as well have it as immediate as it possibly can be.
It’s a brilliant car the GT8, Aston rolling out some of its best work with the V8 Vantage in its dotage. Its replacement next year is going to have to be extremely good if it’s going to surpass this car, those 150 buyers who’ve secured every GT8 that’ll be built are very lucky indeed.