Everyone agrees: Aston Martins are gorgeous. They are also expensive and fast. And usually lacking in cabin space and complete reliability. With the V-8 Vantage, which goes on sale here in January, Ford's boutique brand moves a little closer to the shopping mall. Not that far, mind, as production is limited to 3000 cars a year and the price will be about $110,000. As with all gorgeous and expensive things, whether that represents value depends on your priorities—and your bank balance.
The British answer to the Porsche 911 is $10,000 cheaper than anticipated in an earlier story ( C/D, April 2005) but still costs $30,000 more than the Carrera S that can beat its performance.
In a former life, Aston Martin chief executive Ulrich Bez was responsible for developing the 1994 Porsche 911 (the 993). Bez plays down the comparison with the Carrera, pointing out that it's "impossible for these cars to be the same price. We will make 3000 a year. Porsche makes 30,000."
Therefore, you can rejoice in the more exclusive machine seen here that shares almost everything—other than the V-12 engine—with the $164,500 Aston Martin DB9. Bez and his team have devised a clever aluminum architecture that can be produced in several sizes. The V-8 Vantage is arranged with the heavy components as low as possible within the wheelbase, which is 5.5 inches shorter, achieving a balanced 49/51-percent front-to-rear weight distribution.
The 4.3-liter V-8 engine—Jaguar-based but built by Aston to its own specification, including dry-sump lubrication—sits behind the front-axle line. The six-speed manual gearbox, from Graziano in Italy, is located at the rear, just ahead of the differential.
Bez calls the V-8 Vantage a "front-mid engine" car and is sure this configuration is the most appropriate for the smallest Aston Martin. It has plenty of space for two people (there's no pretense of back seats for this one) and reasonable luggage space on a ledge behind the seats and in the trunk, which is accessed through a hatchback.
The accommodations and the platform components shared with the DB9 are advantages of this layout, but the real plus is in the driving characteristics. The V-8 Vantage does everything you would expect a proper sports car to do. It is responsive, agile, and stiffly sprung. Well-judged damping keeps body movement in check. Sharp bumps shake up your insides, but on a typically undulating British country lane this Aston keeps its poise and doesn't run out of suspension travel.
As you set off, the steering feels heavy and reluctant to move away from straight-ahead, but as the speed builds, the weighting becomes just right. Through corners fast and slow the handling is resolutely neutral. The V-8 Vantage is beautifully balanced.
The 380-hp engine is enough to give a thrilling ride, even if it is outhorsed these days by a number of sedans and upscale sports coupes. Zero to 60 mph should take about 4.8 seconds or a half-second or so longer than a Carrera S's time. Eighty-five percent of the V-8's 302 pound-feet of torque is available from 1500 rpm, which makes for easy and smooth acceleration in any gear. But there is a notable step up in power delivery around 3500 rpm and in sound quality at 5000. Then it makes a glorious crackling noise, like a serious race car, that at lower revs is subdued by a flap in the exhaust system to meet noise regulations.
The gearshift, with its stubby stick and crisp movements, is good, save for the occasional difficulty of engaging first from rest. The brakes, which have Brembo four-piston monoblock calipers, need a hefty push on the pedal to demonstrate their undoubted effectiveness. A more progressive pedal would aid smoother, gentle braking.
Anyone familiar with the DB9 will notice that major parts of the V-8's interior are carried over from the bigger car. The sharply raked windshield is the same, so are the seats, the center stack, the switchgear, and the hard-to-read, finely scaled instruments. The intention had been for the V-8 Vantage to have cloth seat centers and door trim, but the initial production cars will have leather standard, like the DB9. And whereas the DB9 has a choice of wood veneers for the deep-sloping center of the fascia, the V-8 Vantage is finished with aluminum and dark gray plastic.
The doors have the same inner structure as the DB9's, but the windows are narrower and have quarter-panels with the mirrors mounted on horizontal brackets from the frame. That is to improve visibility, but the truth is that only forward vision is good and the driver can't see the car's extremities. In this respect, the V-8 Vantage has sacrificed some practicality for style, but sports cars do that, don't they?
You can't escape the beauty of this car, and it drives as well as it looks. No problems showed up in our 300-mile drive of a preproduction car, which suggests—and we say this tentatively—that Aston's build quality might have improved. So if you find the V-8 Vantage irresistible (as we did) and have $110,000 of disposable cash (we don't, sadly), there is nothing for it but to get in line. Delivery dates for some countries already extend to 2007—and by then there will also be a V-8 Vantage roadster to confuse your choice.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 3-door coupe
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: $110,000
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 261 cu in, 4280cc
Power (SAE net): 380 bhp @ 7000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 302 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 102.4 in Length: 172.6 in Width: 73.5 in Height: 49.4 in
Curb weight: 3500 lb
PERFORMANCE RATINGS (MFR'S EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 4.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 10.5 sec
Top speed (drag limited): 175 mph
PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city driving: 13 mpg
EPA highway driving: 20 mpg
This is an article about the model Aston Martin Vantage
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