What’s Good: Modern performance in a post-modern power suit
What’s Bad: Less elegant dashboard than before and lack of Apple CarPlay
If you think this new 2019 Aston Martin Vantage is a simple evolution of the old sports car, well, you’d be wrong. It’s very modern and, from a performance standpoint, not a single thing has been overlooked. As much the old Vantage always looked as amazing as it drove, in any form – V8, V12, Roadster, or coupe – this new one’s got some game.
The new Vantage is still a long nosed, front engine, rear drive sports car, but it’s thoroughly updated with an entirely new drivetrain, interior, electronics architecture, and that post-modern exterior design.
Aston Martin’s entry level two door is based on their latest bonded aluminum chassis and there are hints of it, particularly under the bonnet, but the chassis feels as rigid as any other modern sports car.
The heart of this Vantage is something entirely new and thoroughly modern. It’s a little V8 supplied by Aston Martin’s partner, AMG. Yes, that AMG.
Much has been said about this engine, but here’s the deal. It’s the familiar 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 that’s found in plenty of AMGs and, unlike AMG, Aston Martin pairs it with an eight speed automatic transaxle from ZF. Like the previous Vantage, there’s a torque tube connecting the engine to the gearbox and what’s cool is the driveshaft is carbon fibre. Aston Martin’s CEO Andy Palmer has promised the Vantage will eventually be available with a manual transmission, but time will tell.
In the Vantage, this V8 makes 503 horsepower at 6,000 RPM, which in itself retains the Vantage’s sports car character. The engine does like to rev. However, the V8 also has the torque of a modern turbocharged engine. It makes 505 pounds of torque – if you look at the torque curve, we should call it a massive plateau – from 2,000 to 5,000 RPM.
It’s like it has the best of both worlds. Plenty of horsepower up top and seemingly endless torque in the middle of the rev range, which is where you want it. On the road, that gives you effortless mid-range acceleration and then when you’re attacking the road, you can take advantage of the full rev range.
The company says the new Vantage is good for zero to sixty in three-and-a-half seconds and it tops out well over 300 kilometres per hour. That’s plenty quick and plenty fast.
The eight-speed transaxle shifts quickly, both up and down the gearbox, and, naturally, downshifts are rev matched. They sound great, too. Of course, you can cruise around in drive and let the Vantage shift for itself. It’s easy to fall into that habit, given all of the torque the V8 makes, but you can flick one of the paddles for instantaneous manual control of the gearbox.
The one big trick this Vantage has up its sleeve, so to speak, is its e-diff and the thing about electronically controlled limited slip differentials is that they work seamlessly behind the scenes. The benefits are immense, because instead of fixed lockup, this kind of differential can go from fully open to fully locked in the blink of an eye.
In the real world, you want the differential to be open for stability under braking, which this does, but a fixed-lock, mechanical differential is essentially a compromise. An e-diff, on the other hand, switches to fully open for braking confidence and then always gives you the right amount of lock under acceleration for any given driving condition. It’s brilliant technology and it works so well that it often goes unappreciated.
Inside the cabin, the design and materials are a mix of modern and hand-finished. The details are exceptional and everything you touch feels special. Aston Martin has always found ways to include unique touches like the hinges for the sun visors, for example. They’re made specifically for the Vantage, not taken from some supplier’s parts bin, and enhance the feeling that you’re driving something out of the ordinary.
Gone is the elegant waterfall shape of the old Vantage’s dashboard and there’s now a fixed infotainment screen atop the dash. The second level ergonomics are unique to Aston Martin and once you get accustomed to the location of the buttons and dials, it’s actually quite intuitive. The only thing – a glaring thing, in fact – that the new Vantage is missing is Apple CarPlay. In 2019, it’s essential and this should be remedied sooner rather than later.
The seating position is Vantage-perfect, with the seat fixed lower to the floor than before and Aston Martin nailed the ergonomics. Plus, the cabin is reasonably spacious. There is even storage space behind the seats and generous cargo room under the boot.
The previous Vantage had hydraulic power steering and it was one of the last holdouts. As you’d expect, it’s now electrically assisted, but it’s not a bad thing. Aston Martin has taken the time to tune the system properly and, thankfully, it’s the fixed, quick ratio type which driving enthusiasts will appreciate. It’s got variable assist as well, with higher assist at parking speeds, which enhances its day-to-day usability.
What’s truly impressive about the new Vantage is its balance. It feels remarkably light on its feet, much, much lighter than its 1,500-plus kilograms suggest. Certainly the excellent steering helps, as does the weight distribution. It’s entirely by design that the engine sits behind the front axle and the transmission sits in the back of the car. It all adds up to this Vantage feeling much more exciting and confidence inspiring than the old one.
In the real world, the thing about the e-diff and the Vantage’s dynamic torque vectoring is that it’s constantly adjusting the amount of lock based on constantly changing driving conditions. Behind the wheel, you always feel like you’ve got a tremendous amount of traction available. For enthusiasts and track rats, there might even be a little too much traction because not once during this test did the Vantage put a foot wrong. Some drivers may prefer this Aston to coax some oversteer with a little less effort.
Braking character is as excellent as the rest of the chassis. Up front, there are six piston calipers that clamp two-piece rotors, with four piston calipers and one-piece rotors in the back. Power, feel, and modulation at speed are simply a ten out of ten, though low speed actuation requires a little practice before you find the precision necessary to be graceful.
You can choose from three different drive modes – Sport, Sport Plus and Track – and these modes integrate all of the necessary systems. They’re distinct from one another and, for most situations, Sport Plus is the mode of choice. Sure, the drive modes change throttle and shift maps, but they’re much more holistic in their approach to enhancing the Vantage’s dynamics.
Each drive mode tailors the engine, gearbox, e-diff, torque vectoring, stability control, traction control, power steering, and damping systems to suit. Not many sports car makers do this, but Aston Martin does it right: you can decouple the adaptive dampers from those modes. On our less than stellar roads, the best configuration seems to be with Sport Plus drive mode and Sport damping. Track mode is definitely suited to racing circuit use only.
Driving the Vantage is one thing, but watching it drive along at dusk is an occasion onto itself. It’s in that dynamic environment where the design leaves a huge impression because it looks like nothing else on the road. Yet, it remains identifiable as an Aston Martin.
One of the most interesting elements of the Vantage is the overall design of the back of the car. Sure, this white paint helps accentuate the diffuser, but it’s the shape of the strip of LED taillamps and the surrounding bodywork that make it distinctive. The thin strip of LEDs are entirely functional, but those curves give the rear of the Vantage a dynamic look that you don’t see anywhere else. It’s entirely the opposite of the common circular or trapezoidal shapes found on other sports cars.
The short front and rear overhangs make traversing into and out of driveways child’s play, a rarity for cars like this, but it’s the overall design that gives the Vantage charismatic street presence.
Thankfully, the Vantage retains the classic Aston Martin upward door swing. For a sports car, it’s great because when you’ve parked, they’ll clear the adjacent curb, plus they’re just plain cool. Not quite “Billionaire Doors” – if you’re in on the pop culture joke – but they’re definitely a conversation starter.
There’s no question that this new Vantage is light years ahead of the old one and it looks like it’s been transported here straight out of the future. Perhaps from well into the next decade. It’s as aggressive as it is elegant, lives up to its looks, makes brilliant sounds, and it could very well be the most desirable sports car on sale today.