It’s weird standing there looking at a ‘new’ Aston Martin. You don’t expect to go to London and see the Big Ben, spruced up with a digital clock. In this flurried automotive industry where Porsche launches a car every Tuesday, some things remained a nostalgic constant, things like Caterhams and Suzuki Jimnys, and Aston Martins.
They always looked the same, Marek Reichman’s Astons, beautiful, instantly recognisable, and they went with two Ford Mondeo V6s from the Nineties thrown together to make a V12. I mean, they were naturally aspirated, which tells you everything you need to know in the turbo age.
Aston was a small company making do with what they had, which evidently going by the Mondeo connection, wasn’t a lot. Gaydon however had a knack for making this count their way — tradition, they would call it. Heritage. Legacy. Everyone else, including this hack, called it outdated.
Now that the company has rolled out its flagship DB11 line premiering a new vehicle architecture, we’ve had the first glimpse into the new Aston Martin. It’s a more German Aston Martin, thanks to a Mercedes-Benz tie-up — Gaydon gets tech, Stuttgart gets stock.
As an independent, outside of the nurturing Groups and all the cost-sharing that entails, Aston Martin was on its own left to survive in a huge pond. They sell just over 5,000 cars a year — Porsche sells that many 911s every two months. In order to grow their figures Gaydon was left with no choice but to gain access to some new technology, somewhere, anywhere. Good thing it ended up being Germany.
In exchange for a small share in the company, Mercedes lets Aston Martin use its AMG powertrains hand-built in the town of Affalterbach, as well as kit like infotainment systems which were sorely needed to replace the ancient outgoing units.
With the all-new Vantage now ready following on from the DB11 introduction, the Brits have launched their first car done entirely with the Stuttgarters on board. In simple terms, you can think of this car as a more useable Mercedes-AMG GT.
And you might think that strange, because what Mercedes-Benz has allowed here with the new Aston Martin Vantage, is a direct and most competent rival to its own GT.
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Built on the DB11 architecture, the Vantage gets 70 per cent bespoke components to come in lighter and stiffer than before. It shares the GT’s stonking 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine mounted behind the front axle and down low with a Gaydon-spec dry sump enabling the Aston engineers to drop the motor as far as it will go. This is good for centre of gravity, handing, roadholding, everything.
Contrary to the AMG GT however the Aston is also comfortable on normal roads around Portugal’s countryside, and normal in Portugal means lots of bumps and tree roots breaking through the tarmac. Former Lotus man Matt Becker now heads that department in Gaydon, and with his suspension the Vantage rides very well on 20in wheels and Pirelli low profile tyres.
At the back the weight distribution is helped with a transaxle transmission, a regular eight-speed automatic from ZF instead of any sort of dual-clutch behemoth. Those things take up too much room, weigh more, and offer little performance advantage because electronics in automatics have crept up. With everything turned up, there is a pleasing tug between shifts when you’re on it.
Putting 510 horsepower and 685Nm of torque to the rear wheels, the combination is good enough for zero to 100kph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed north of 310kph. This, you will note, makes the new Vantage two-tenths quicker to 100kph than the AMG GT, and puts it neck and neck with the hardcore AMG GT R.
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The Brits worked predominantly to keep weight down, so a kerb figure of 1,530kg is commendable in the end considering the AMG GT weighs over 1.6 tonnes. Of course the Vantage doesn’t have all that much kit weighing it down — despite the improved new infotainment system on board, it’s still considered old over in Stuttgart having been replaced by new-generation units in S-Classes and things. Like a good boy, Aston gets the scraps, but even this old Mercedes sat-nav in the Vantage is better than Gaydon’s previous hand-me-downs.
Big figure sportscars these days roll out with all sorts of gizmos, from driver assistance systems to night vision and lasers. Aston stopped short of all that, and so inside the new Vantage there are pleasingly few distractions. You could look at it that way, instead of being a downer and calling out the car’s lack of equipment… You can adjust your seat 16 ways, and then all that’s left to play with are some buttons to stiffen up the suspension and dial the whole car into Track mode.
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With a new stiffer body the car strikes a finer balance between a Grand Tourer and sportscar, finer than the AMG GT, and with a much better connection between front and rear ends than the old Vantage. The 50:50 weight distribution and the car’s favourable dimensions make it easy to drive fast, without any drama necessary behind the wheel.
It’s actually 34mm shorter than a 911 and 80mm shorter than an AMG GT — with that wide stance (the bonnet is left purposefully clean and free of vents to lend it extra visual width) and short wheelbase you could almost call it stumpy, but it does seem perfectly proportioned in the metal.
The torque from the Aston’s German powerplant commands things, and you soon start to take every corner in a higher gear to settle things down a bit, to keep in tune with the light steering effort and supple ride quality. You can reach silly angles for a bit of fun but the new Vantage seems to settle right into a smooth drive, and the brakes really stand out. Three 20-minute sessions around Portimao without any issues, at the first 270kph braking point or anywhere else. Just meat, and a little squiggle from the rear.
Fitted with the brand’s first application of an electronic rear differential, the new Vantage benefits in turn from dynamic torque vectoring, and a mild push out of the corners should you get too liberal with the accelerator.
It’s a substantial car, and more than a match for the AMG GT. As a Grand Tourer it’s better than the German, more comfortable, no question about it, and there’s the cachet of the badge too. If you’re going exotic, you may as well go all the way. I know which key I’d rather drop on the table.
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Even in terms of the interior design and the quality of the whole cabin, it’s fair game lining the Aston up against the AMG GT, and that could never be said about the old Vantage and its flimsy switchgear.
Purely as a sportscar the new Vantage doesn’t leave me breathless like some of Porsche’s GT stuff, or indeed that snarling, snapping AMG GT S. There’s no shortage of performance, because its turbocharged V8 is a gift that keeps on giving (if all you want is torque, since it doesn’t sound nearly as good as Aston’s old naturally aspirated V8).
Aston has made a useable car out of the new Vantage, without any of the old so-called hand-built charms apparent. That means those of us who wanted a more focussed driver’s machine out of this will be left a little disappointed.
Then again maybe not, because all you have to do in that case is wait a while before Aston Martin starts doing precisely that, rolling out harder, faster, wilder Vantages to the tune of the old GT8 and Vantage S.
Looking at it like that, should this new Vantage stick around for another 13 years we’re bound to be all right.