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Steve Says The Aston Martin Vantage Feels Like A Caged Animal About To Escape

Excluding their “Special Models” – the ones you’ll never see that cost millions of dollars – Aston Martin essentially sells 3 cars: the range-topping, $300k+ DBS Superleggera I tested a couple of months ago, the DB11 grand tourer and this; the brand’s most popular and affordable sports car, the Vantage.

If you could spend $150,000 on a 2-seater would you and if so where would you turn? The Germans all offer something that might tickle your fancy but if you’re seeking something a little more exotic and exclusive the Vantage is there for you.  The cache of the AM badge is greater than the others and with less than 100 Astons sold here per month you’re unlikely to encounter another Vantage on the road and that rarity appeals to me.     

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Vantage name with more than 36,000 produced during that time – the vast majority from the previous generation model sold here from 2006  to 2017…I drove a GT Roadster 5 years ago and loved it.  And now a new Vantage is born with both its appearance and performance intensified.     

A new, lightweight, aluminum intensive architecture fortified by a twin-turbo V8 driving the rear wheels through a rear mid-mounted 8-speed auto, the Vantage is a car that has been engineered for life beyond the streets.  50:50 weight distribution, special attention to aero to minimize lift, specifically designed Pirelli rubber, adaptive dampers, and an electronically controlled rear differential…minus dry sump lubrication the track-day resume is as solid as the body itself. It’s a driver’s car, for sure, and with Aston’s debut of torque vectoring and the E-Diff, the Vantage’s robust power can be more confidently explored.

Did you know that Aston Martin hasn’t designed an engine in-house since 1968?  Their new cars, like this Vantage, are Mercedes-AMG-powered – tuned by Aston.  And the Mercedes influence doesn’t end here…

The company’s V12 dates back to their Ford days but this 4.0-liter V8 has been sourced from AMG and can be found in the DB11 and upcoming DBX. Moving away from the naturally aspirated engine you might think that acoustics have been sacrificed.  But just listen for yourself.  And the sound becomes more boisterous with each flick of the drive mode switch.  The Vantage starts up in Sport mode – the most relaxed sound and transmission settings appropriate for normal driving.  And then there’s Sport + and Track.  Unfortunately, the modes only go one way meaning you have to cycle through Track each time to get back to Sport.  And then independently on the left are the shock settings which go from tight but everyday livable to completely unyielding.  Steering effort is also tied in.  And the fixed paddle shifters for the ZF 8-speed fire off the fastest non-DCT gear changes I’ve ever experienced making them so much fun to use.

The Vantage is marketed as raw and instinctive and indeed this beautiful body belies the car’s edgier persona.  The super wide tires make for a loud cabin, the V8 feels like a caged animal on the verge of escape, the steel brakes grab with the ferociousness of carbon ceramics and then you’ve got the racing-inspired steering wheel, deep, firm bucket seats and a squinty little windshield to see through.  And with a turbo-boosted 503 horsepower on tap, it demands your respect.     

With a 0-to-60mph time of 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 195mph this is one of the fastest cars I’ve tested.  And at first, I was a little uncertain about the level of grip but these 295s hook up beautifully so within a couple of days I felt like I was in control and the trust just built from there.  You can remove the traction and ESP settings in 2 stages for some smoky burnouts but leave everything on and you can tackle your favorite roads with supreme confidence.  Any oversteer can be quickly reigned in.  

Inside you’ll find lots of familiar Mercedes electronics and controls but not their latest ones so in that regard the Vantage’s cabin is the car’s weakest link.  It’s an exotic with mainstream brand hand me downs.  With an as-tested price of $171,000 you won’t find items such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, cooled seats, any kind of special ambient lighting, adaptive headlights, heads-up display, remote start, adaptive cruise control or a stereo with a subwoofer.  And though it’s really wide, it’s quite claustrophobic in here, very dark and loud…not the kind of traits you want in a daily driver.  Gas mileage is surprisingly good however rated at 21 mpg combined with a 405 mile driving range.  And because there’s lots of room back here with a clever folding divider out of town trips are definitely in play as long as your traveling companion is willing to make some comfort sacrifices.  The 360 degree camera is the most modern thing in here and welcome because the greenhouse is very small.  A couple of other complaints: the park assist sensors are crazy aggressive and beep if anything is within a  mile of the car and low speed maneuvering is met with the odd sensations of tire skip that Aston Martin says is normal for this car.  

The Mercedes-AMG GT R is one of my favorite cars in recent memory and these 2 are quite similar…and I think I’m in camp Mercedes on this one.  But there’s no doubting the Vantage’s excessive curb appeal and if you drive with a purpose this is a car that will endlessly entertain.