Aston Martin V8 Vantage (2005 to date) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

It's not hard to see why the V8 Vantage has been such a massive success for Aston Martin. Just look at it. It remains one of the most perfectly proportioned cars available and it's also a good bet as a used proposition, with better quality control at the high tech Gaydon plant. Sometimes the solution to a problem is so apparent with the benefit of hindsight that one wonders why it proved such a thorny issue in the first instance. Take the Aston Martin V8 Vantage for instance. After launch, it was as clear as the nose on your face that Aston needed to be competing in this sector of the market with a car such as this, but for so long talk of a 'baby' Aston only brought howls that such a move would erode the brand's reputation. The DB7 was a good first step but still felt slightly homespun. The V8 Vantage is the real deal and used examples are currently hot property.

Models

Models Covered: (2 dr coupe, 2 dr roadster 4.3 petrol)

History

One of the motoring world's worst kept secrets was finally released to a slack jawed press at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show. That Aston Martin were working on a smaller, more affordable car to slot into their range below the DB9 was well known, but initial pictures did not do this car justice. Even finished in a rather unflattering shade of bright yellow, the car looked knee-weakeningly stunning. The yellow was a deliberate choice, emphasising the V8 Vantage's younger and more extrovert appeal compared to the more restrained and elegant DB9 and Vanquish models. In size, it's not too far off a Porsche 911 and shares the German car's pugnacious stance. Porsche and Aston Martin have a bit of history and the development of the V8 Vantage overlapped considerably with that of the 997 series 911. One of the reasons that Aston Martin first showed a prototype version of the V8 so early, at the 2002 Detroit Show in fact, was because sales of the DB9 were dwindling and they needed to grab advance orders that could otherwise have gone to Weissach. The move to a purpose-built factory at Gaydon enabled the company to abandon many of the less productive practices of the old Bloxham plant without sacrificing quality. Factor in strong sales of DB9 and Vanquish models and the company was suddenly looking at a yearly production capacity of close to 5,000 cars which is astounding when compared to the 42 cars that rolled through the factory gates in 1991. The new level made Aston Martin a bigger producer than Ferrari. Impressive stuff. Pre-production testing included many thousands of miles on Germany's challenging N??rburgring and the global test program for the V8 Vantage racked up over 1,500,000 miles, not only at the 'Ring but also in extreme hot temperatures in Dubai, cold weather in Sweden and continuous high-speed running at the Nardo bowl in Italy. The coupe model appeared first but the platform was designed from the outset to cater for a drop top body style and the Vantage Roadster debuted in 2007 to similarly rave reviews. A track certified special, the lightweight Vantage N24 (homologated for use in the N??rburgring 24 hour race) was also offered in 2007 as an alternative to track cars like the Porsche 911 Cup. For 2007, Aston Martin made some small detail changes such as fitting electric adjustment for the seats, Bluetooth functionality to synch mobile phones and LED illumination in the door handles. In mid-2008, Aston Marin announced a revised version of this car featuring an uprated 4.7-liutre V8 good for 420bhp, with much improved torque but better emissions and economy. The suspension was stiffer too and both manual and Sportshift gearboxes slicker.

What You Get

The V8 Vantage is offered with the choice of a six-speed manual transmission or the Sportshift set-up - a paddle-shifting sequential system. The manual 'box has been the choice of enthusiast drivers, with a close ratio setup and a light, positive action. Interiors have never been an Aston Martin problem and the V8 Vantage's cabin is one of their best efforts to date. Much of the architecture and components are common with the DB9. Taking the decision to ditch vestigial rear seats and optimise space for driver and passenger meant that there's enough head and leg room for six-footers, while the width of the cabin and the broad transmission tunnel will make banging elbows a distant memory. With high quality leather seats, a stubby gear lever and drilled pedals, the V8 Vantage's cockpit is certainly purposeful, a word that crops up again and again in any description of the car. Although the basic body silhouette is instantly recognisable as an Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage is over a foot shorter than a DB9 and 60mm lower slung. Put the two cars side by side and the DB9 is revealed as the GT car it is, while the Vantage sits foursquare, the big rear wheel arch bulges lending it a pugnacious muscularity. Rather than attempt to fit a folding metal hard top and risk ruining the car's lines, Aston Martin wisely chose to fit a plush three-layer fabric hood to the Vantage Roadster model. With the hood up, the Vantage still looks elegantly proportioned, the hood forming a neat turret without the overly long rear deck that some convertible suffer from. With the hood stowed, there are a pair of what Aston refers to as 'leather speed humps' that sit behind the seat head restraints and pyrotechnic roll over bars. Aston Martin claim a minimal weight increase over the Vantage coupe, the suggestion being that the inherent stiffness of the aluminium chassis means there's no need for the sort of extensive cross-bracing that many convertible cars require to maintain rigidity. Such added ironmongery adds weight, blunts performance and reduces fuel economy. The exterior panels are a combination of aluminium, steel and advanced composites designed to keep weight down, and even the 1,710kg kerb weight is a mere 60kg more than a Porsche Carrera 4S Targa but a lot lighter than the 2005kg BMW M6 Convertible.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

As much as anything, getting the right specification for your V8 Vantage is key. This includes the xenon headlights, the premium sound system and the desirable 19-inch alloy wheels. The satellite navigation will also sound good to prospective buyers despite hardly being the most functional system of its ilk. 2006 model year cars were reputed to have some minor electrical issues (earth grounding, door module and tail lights remaining illuminated) but these have since been ironed out. Some rattles from behind the dash are frequently reported and the plastic engine covers can come loose and melt onto the exhaust manifold but other than these niggles, no serious faults have been reported. Muted colours such as black, grey and British Racing Green suit the V8 Vantage better than gaudy primaries.

Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2005 V8 Vantage coupe) Most services will cost around £700 with the big expense of any enthusiastically driven V8 Vantage being rear tyres. The rears are usually sourced at around £400 a pair although prices can vary. Brakes also take a hammering with pads being around £250 a pair.

On the Road

The key to the V8 Vantage is the modular VH platform it rides on. It's a mixture of extruded, stamped and die-cast aluminium, bonded together into an extremely light yet rigid superstructure. The exterior panels are a combination of aluminium, steel and advanced composites designed to keep weight down to 1,570kg which is about the same as a BMW M3. With a 380bhp engine under the bonnet, performance is certainly class competitive, hitting 60mph in 4.8 seconds and accelerating to a top speed of 175mph. Those figures put it in the same sort of ballpark as a Porsche Carrera S, if not a Turbo. With a relatively large 4.3-litre eight cylinder engine up front, weight distribution was a priority for Aston Martin's engineers. A transmission at the rear of the car helps generate a 49:51 weight distribution front and rear, the engine being what is fashionably termed 'front-mid mounted' or, in layman's terms, with its centre of gravity set behind the line of the front axle. All of this helps the Vantage V8 corner nimbly, and predictably. A dry sump also allows the engine to sit very low in the chassis, lowering the car's centre of gravity to help stability. During periods of extreme cornering, acceleration and braking, this system also helps to maintain an uninterrupted flow of oil to crucial engine components. The quad cam 32-valve engine itself is hand assembled in Cologne.

Overall

The Aston Martin V8 Vantage is the least risky Aston purchase ever. If that means that the marque has become a little more mainstream, sales figures indicate it's a strategy that many owners accept and welcome. As a used buy, go for as late a model as you can reasonably afford and, counter to many exotic car purchases, don't be overly worried about a few miles on the clock.