As­ton Martin Van­tage

FIRST DRIVE Clean-sheet de­sign trans­forms sports car into a 911 beater

Auto Express - - Contents - Steve Fowler Steve_­fowler@den­nis.co.uk @steve­fowler

Ver­dict on Bri­tain’s bril­liant new Porsche 911 beater

THERE was a time when As­ton Martin could barely man­age to launch a new car ev­ery few years. It wasn’t that long ago, yet the Bri­tish brand has turned a big cor­ner un­der the stew­ard­ship of Brit boss Andy Palmer.

With the com­pany’s fi­nances in good or­der and hot on the heels of the DB11 comes the most im­por­tant car of them all: the new As­ton Martin Van­tage.

Priced from £120,900 be­fore you plun­der the tempt­ing and deep op­tions ros­ter, this new Van­tage has a tough ad­ver­sary in the Porsche 911 Turbo. But while there are plenty of price, power and per­for­mance sim­i­lar­i­ties, the As­ton goes about things in a dif­fer­ent way; a typ­i­cally Bri­tish way.

Let’s start with the de­sign. It looks stun­ning from be­hind, with a ma­jes­ti­cally ris­ing rear spoiler and de­light­fully de­tailed lights. It’s a lit­tle plainer at the shark-nosed (and slightly Light­ning Mcqueen-es­que) front, but pro­por­tion­ally it’s ab­so­lutely perfect. With its nose to the floor, As­ton de­scribes this car as a hunter. That’s op­posed to the more grace­ful DB11, which sits with its nose more sky­ward. It’s cer­tainly mean and mus­cu­lar, with clever aero­dy­nam­ics; some you can see and some you can’t.

Un­der the skin, the Van­tage shares much with the DB11. That in­cludes the fab­u­lous, Mercedes-sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8; tweaked and tuned in-house for what As­ton feels are the right power char­ac­ter­is­tics. The noise is a lit­tle less shouty than in an AMG, too.

Un­der your right foot you’ll find 503bhp and 685Nm of torque. For now, the Van­tage is only avail­able with a ZF eight-speed au­to­matic – a man­ual is due later, we’re told. The fi­nal drive ra­tio of the torque con­verter auto is slightly shorter in the Van­tage than the DB11.

Along with double-wish­bone sus­pen­sion at the front, the Van­tage uses a solid sub­frame and multi-link set-up at the rear, of­fer­ing more of a con­nec­tion to the road. There’s also an elec­tronic dif­fer­en­tial, which – ac­cord­ing to As­ton’s chief en­gi­neer Matt Becker – en­abled him to tune the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the car to make it feel longer or shorter. Or in this case more play­ful and re­ward­ing.

Swing open the driver’s door and you’re in­vited to slip into the low-set sports seat and be­come co­cooned in a cabin that an­swers many of the qual­ity crit­i­cisms we had of early DB11S. While a 911’s in­te­rior is like a su­per-cool hi-tech kitchen, the Van­tage is like step­ping into the library: more cos­set­ing, com­fort­able but no less ex­cit­ing or in­trigu­ing.

There are no to­ken back seats in the As­ton, but there is room for a cou­ple of sets of golf clubs un­der­neath the tail­gate. Other stor­age inside is lim­ited, too – there’s not even a glove­box.

The Mercedes-sourced switchgear is nicely in­te­grated this time around, although the tech is a step be­hind the Ger­man brand’s lat­est of­fer­ings. The driv­ing po­si­tion is spot on, though, with plenty of ad­just­ment to make you feel to­tally con­nected to the con­trols.

Prod­ding the winged starter but­ton in the mid­dle of the cen­tre stack fires up the V8 with its bur­bling bari­tone. It’s a

“AMG V8 has been tweaked and tuned for what As­ton feels are the right char­ac­ter­is­tics”

great sound, es­pe­cially with the op­tional quad-pipe sports ex­haust fit­ted. Pulling away in Sport mode (the most com­for­to­ri­en­tated of the three op­tions) and let­ting the gear­box shift cogs it­self re­veals a slick change that’s matched to a sur­pris­ingly com­pli­ant ride.

This is a sports car, how­ever – it’s not meant to cos­set – so the Van­tage will con­stantly in­form you of the qual­ity of the road sur­face, while tak­ing the edge off the worst bumps. Up at cruis­ing speeds, the ex­haust note is still present, re­mind­ing you of what will hap­pen if you flex your right an­kle. There’s also a bit of road noise. But if you want peace and quiet, buy a DB11 – the Van­tage is its brasher, more bois­ter­ous brother.

Cycle through Sport+ and Track modes, and the en­gine, gear­box, steer­ing and damp­ing will in­creas­ingly jump to at­ten­tion, chang­ing the car’s char­ac­ter to make it feel sharper, faster and louder. Which­ever you choose, this is a se­ri­ously ca­pa­ble car. And fun, too.

On the road, it pro­vides con­fi­den­cein­spir­ing han­dling with in­stant re­sponses. The steer­ing isn’t 911 sharp, but that’s no bad thing – it re­acts how you ex­pect, with a direct­ness and weight­ing that makes you feel at home be­hind the wheel. The be­spoke Pirelli P Zero rub­ber pro­vides a huge amount of grip, too, help­ing you to ex­plore the car’s ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity to change di­rec­tion swiftly and flow from bend to bend.

The stan­dard steel brakes do a great job of scrub­bing speed when you need to, while an op­tional car­bon ce­ramic set-up is avail­able – and ad­vis­able if you plan to take your Van­tage on track.

We tried the car on Por­tu­gal’s twisty Por­ti­mao cir­cuit, and the Van­tage ex­celled. In Track mode with the trac­tion con­trol re­laxed and the e-diff do­ing its finest, you can build up to a speed that you would pre­vi­ously have thought be­yond your lim­its. Switch things off and the Van­tage’s play­ful char­ac­ter comes to the fore, let­ting you drift the car gen­tly with enough lock in the steer­ing to bring you back from frankly stupid an­gles.

WHEEL While there’s a hint of ‘Quar­tic’ about the steer­ing wheel, it’s great to hold and alive with feed­back from the front wheels COM­FORT Cli­mate con­trols are also sourced from Mercedes, but theyey work­wor well – and this has al­lowe­dowed As­ton to...

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