New Aston Martin Vantage driven.
I must mention that one of my most memorable automotive experiences, involved an Aston Martin. The particular model was the Vantage N430, a car that I had the chance to drive – as a friend had close ties with the local importer in South Africa. Some context is required for me to justify why this vehicle is arguably one of my personal top 5 favourite cars. Firstly, it’s not an easy vehicle to drive. Especially if it’s fitted with the automatic gearbox, which it was. Knowing how to extract a linear experience out of those old school sequential/manual systems is something no millennial would’ve had to do with modern cars. Dual clutch systems have been around since most of us have been driving, so the “lift-off – shift up – get back on” routine is unfamiliar to many of us.
This more tedious style of driving a sporty automatic vehicle was the only way of ensuring that the vehicle doesn’t choke on upshift. The N430, equipped with that gearbox felt imperfect, but in a good way. Would I live with the gearbox? No. Parking is a pain and creeping in traffic even more so. Driving in a spirited manner however and getting the shifts right, created a somewhat new sensation, especially with the astonishingly good V8 screaming to the redline. Which brings me to my second point, the engine. What a pleasure. No boost, no whoosh, no lag – just full on unadulterated and normally aspirated lunacy. Cars like the N430 prove that fast doesn’t always mean fun as the N430 can be called quick in today’s standards. A BMW M140i would probably beat it to 100km/h and even further. The guy in the Aston however, will forever be in a state of ecstasy as each revolution brings about a different type of aural pleasure. Lastly, what brings it all together is the chassis. Being a small car, the original Vantage offered nimbleness and rigidity as one of its main attributes. As a result, you have a positive front end and an antsy rear end, creating a giddy feeling, like an excited Jack Russell, eager to play. Taking all those three elements and putting them together, made for a visceral yet human experience for me – forever etching an impression on my mind.
Where to from here?
It turns out that after speaking to older colleagues, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way about the previous Aston Martin Vantage. Many shared fond memories of the car, compliments and complaints but overall many positive sentiments – putting me at ease as a petrol-head’s mind can easily get infatuated. This experience helped me when the time came for me to drive the new Aston Martin Vantage, a car which has been revealed for some time now in luminous green paint. The sheer aesthetic appeal of this vehicle is enough to get you excited. The car we drove donned the same paintwork as the photos, but in person looked even better. As important as the outside bits are, the most important thing is what makes it tick on the inside? Interestingly, I drove myself to the meeting venue in a Mercedes AMG GTC, a car which the Aston Martin shares the same engine with. That being the case, it was a personal interest of mine to see how similar the engines felt. Before we get into that, let’s talk briefly about the actual inside of the car. Being a car from the early 2000’s, the original Vantage had a quality cabin, but age had caught up with it. Sitting in some of the final iterations of the car emphasized the need for change, as the competition was much further in terms of technologies offered. The new vehicle fixes that. The DB11’s DNA can be seen, with a central infotainment system giving you data, media and other information that can be useful to the driver and passenger. One of the most impressive aspects of the interior cabin was the overall quality of everything. The stitching and materials used, felt in line with the perceived driver of an Aston Martin – someone who doesn’t compromise on style and quality.
Firing up the new Vantage is a cause for a smile. Engaging the sport exhausts, is a cause for a grin. Pressing the drive button and setting off was easier than expected, thanks to an eight-speed automatic gearbox – one that is more traffic friendly. In its most normal mode, the Vantage is comfortable. Being a petite vehicle, it doesn’t feel cumbersome in an “everyday” setting. Visibility is adequate, gear shifts are soft and damping is almost GT like. Spending time in the normal setting is not what you do when time is a factor in a car such as this. So off I went into Sport mode and proceeded to wake up the dead as the V8 noise increased dramatically. Sport, Sport + and Track mode of course liven things up by increasing throttle response, firming dampers and adding excitement. Toggling between these three modes allowed me to get to know the car slightly better. The engine is a peach. It screams, it barks on down shifts and the fact that it’s turbocharged means that it’s fast. 0 – 100 km/h in 3.6 seconds fast.
Coming back to the Mercedes AMG power-plant, I’m happy to tell you that this car doesn’t feel like an Aston Martin with a Merc engine. The engineers at Aston Martin have tweaked a few things, including the way the engine sounds, so it’s very much “Aston-Martinized”. Having a great engine is one thing, but the chassis is the key and this is where the Vantage shines – as it’s 30% more rigid compared to the old car. What that means is that you’ve got a nimble ride and an eager front end. Even with systems on, one can feel that in the right setting – a skilled driver could easily manage some rear end slides. On the normal road however, the Vantage is a thrill to drive. Is it a worthy successor to the old car? Definitely. The segment it competes in however is very competitive, as Porsche is the staple when it comes to being an everyday sports car. What the Vantage offers however is slightly more exclusivity, but at a price – especially in South Africa. Pricing for this vehicle will be tricky, as the exchange rate varies frequently. At the time of this test drive, the new Vantage would cost a South African similar pricing to that of a GT variant of the 911. By the time the vehicles enter our market, it will be interesting to see where it’s positioned. Being that as it may, the heart wants what it wants. The Aston Martin Vantage does indeed offer a whole lot of “want factor.”