The Aston Martin Vantage V12 might be hogging the headlines but the S version demonstrates that the Vantage V8 might still be the sweeter option. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
There's a lot to be said for balance. In its Vantage V8, Aston hits a sweet spot in terms of power and weight distribution that is hard to better. The latest S version adds a handful of horsepower, a revised transmission and a whole host of dynamic tweaks. It doesn't come cheap though.
Woe betide the supercar that doesn't update its act in the current clamour for glamour and media recognition. If you're not constantly evolving, you're old news rather rapidly. Aston Martin's beautiful Vantage V8 has been with us for some time now, being first introduced to a beguiled British public in 2005. In their 2006 readership survey, readers of Car Design News voted the Aston Martin V8 Vantage as the best current production car design. The survey results were based on over 1000 responses, most from working automotive designers and students of industrial and automotive design. So much for beauty. The beast was given a shot in the arm when its engine was enlarged from 4.3 to 4.7-litres back in 2008, upping power from 380 to 420bhp in the process. With barely a year to enjoy its moment in the spotlight, the improved V8 Vantage was thoroughly eclipsed in 2009 with the launch of the V12 Vantage, 510bhp worth of spitting, snarling aggression, shoehorned into the lithe body. Since then the Vantage V8 has felt a little overlooked, painted with the faded wash of penultimate status. The good news is that Aston Martin has seen fit to pep things up a bit with the introduction of the Vantage S, a V8 with added attitude.
Drive an Aston Martin V8 back to back with the V12 and you may well come to the same conclusion as driving an Audi R8 V8 against the V10 or a Porsche 911 Carrera 2 versus a Turbo. In every instance, the smaller-engined car offers the purer, more enjoyable driving experience. No, you don't get the same concussive hit of power that you get in the V12, but then you could argue that £30,000 is rather a lot to pay for a cheap high that you'll grow accustomed to rather easily. Packing a 430bhp wallop, the Vantage S is anything but tardy off the mark, and Aston Martin has sharpened its feel with a quickened steering rack, installed larger diameter front brake disc with six-piston front brake calipers, developed a revised suite of springs and dampers, and fitted wider rear wheels. The three-stage dynamic stability control (DSC) system has been tweaked and the braking software now includes features such as Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA) which provides assistance in emergency braking situations, and Hill Start Assist (HSA). What Aston calls 'Sportshift II', its seven-speed automated manual transmission, is standard and delivers exceedingly rapid gear changes, some twenty per cent quicker than the original 'Sportshift'. The extra gear permits shorter well-spaced ratios taking advantage of the optimum torque which, combined with a shorter final drive ratio, delivers harder-hitting acceleration and an more aggressive feel. This is still a single clutch system, and now gets a 'Sport' button which quickens the shift times and gives the driver a more aggressive throttle response while also opening an exhaust bypass valve, delivering a truly spine-tingling soundtrack.
Design and Build
It's hard to improve on what many feel to be the most perfectly styled sports car available and with the Vantage S, Aston Martin has been judicious in its exterior modifications. From the front, a new lower front bumper finished in open weave carbon fibre houses a larger air intake feeding the engine and front brakes. The splitter combined with the extended deck lid 'flip' work in harmony to provide increased down force at speed. Revised 19 inch 'V' spoke wheel styles are available as standard, while a 10-spoke lightweight forged wheel option reduces unsprung mass further. A new rear bumper and side sills optically broaden the car to give it a more hunkered-down appearance. For the truly keen, the optional carbon fibre and Kevlar composite seats sound more extreme than they are, providing top support during spirited driving but remaining comfortable on long journeys. Saving 17 kg per car, the seats are quite exquisitely finished in the finest old-school Aston tradition. Build quality is one of the key differentiators for the Gaydon-based company and the V8 Vantage has only become better in this regard with every passing year. Each Vantage S takes in excess of 185 man-hours to build including 50 man-hours to paint and 70 man-hours to hand trim the interior.
Market and Model
Both coupe and Roadster models are offered in Vantage S guise with prices starting at £102,500. Despite its extra pace and noise, the Vantage S is anything but a stripped out racer and the complement of standard kit is plush enough to satisfy the discerning well heeled. It includes a full grain leather interior, an Organic Electroluminescent (OEL) display, trip computer, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a tracking device, tyre pressure monitors, a 160W stereo with a six disc CD autochanger and a USB connector with Waveform Audio Format (WAF), Windows Media Player (WMA) and MPEG (MP3) audio file compatibility. The optional satellite navigation remains a Volvo-sourced system that is absurdly fiddly. Don't bother with it. The Roadster's three-layer fabric hood gives the car a taut, aggressive appearance when in place and doesn't interrupt the lines of the elegant profile when folded. It's stowed beneath the rear tonneau cover and goes from stowed to secured in just 18 seconds at the press of a button located on the centre console, and at speeds of up to 30mph (50km/h) with no fiddling with catches or clips.
Cost of Ownership
Aston Martin Vantages are no longer the virtually depreciation-proof asset they once were and even this desirable S model will only be worth in the region of 44 per cent of its new value after three years. If you've done the sums and feel this is a reasonable outlay for this sort of ownership experience then its doubtful that the combined fuel economy figure of 21.9mpg or the emissions of 299g/km are going to signally deflect your decision. By contrast an Audi R8 V8 will retain around 55 per cent of its value and a 911 GT3 around 48 per cent. Head, heart, head, heart...
It's not over-egging the pudding to say that the Vantage has proved to be modern Aston Martin's saviour. Now that the company has been spun off from Ford's Premier Automotive Group, it needs a vehicle that will continue to rack up the sales and with over 10,000 finding owners to date, the Vantage is the car that keeps the tills ringing. The S version of the V8 is a brilliantly-judged update, striking a sensible balance in keeping the shape of the car identical, but thoroughly updating not only the detailing but the crispness of the chassis dynamics. When a car looks this good, the last thing it needs is a thoroughgoing cosmetic makeover. What the Vantage V8 actually needs are the column inches that remind wavering buyers that it's still a quite exquisite and relevant thing. The Vantage S might be a decidedly emotional choice, but facts and figures are for Top Gear and Top Trumps. Here's what might be called a rational an appeal to the senses.