AS­TON VAN­TAGE 2018 As­ton Martin Van­tage

THE PROPER BRITISH SPORTS CAR CHAL­LENGES CON­TI­NEN­TAL COUPES

Motor Trend (USA) - - Contents - Mark Rechtin

The proper British sports car chal­lenges con­ti­nen­tal coupes.

It’s been dry in Por­tu­gal for months. The farm­ers have been com­plain­ing about drought con­di­tions threat­en­ing the sea­son’s crops. But for the past week, it has been pour­ing rain like the Almighty Him­self is of­fended at the south­ern tip of this coun­try.

While the red dirt of Por­timão grate­fully soaks up the air­borne bounty, this on­slaught of pre­cip­i­ta­tion is pool­ing in the cor­ners of the nearby Autó­dromo In­ter­na­cional do Al­garve, where we have been in­vited to test the lim­its of As­ton Martin’s lat­est high-per­for­mance coupe.

Push the ig­ni­tion but­ton, and you are greeted by a snarling startup. The 503-hp 4.0-liter hot-vee turbo en­gine is sourced from AMG, but you’d never know it from its note. In As­ton’s bay, it has the sound of re­strained fury rather than the ag­gres­sive anger in AMG’S setup.

It’s frus­trat­ing to drive 505 lb-ft of reardrive torque on a slip­pery, tech­ni­cal track known for its bru­tal in­tol­er­ance of early cor­ner-exit throt­tle. But rain is a great equal­izer of both test tracks and driver skills. It slows ev­ery­thing down and (as it turns out) pro­vides a more ac­cu­rate barom­e­ter of the com­mu­nica­tive na­ture of As­ton Martin’s re­designed Van­tage.

Al­though se­nior ve­hi­cle en­gi­neer­ing man­ager Craig Jamieson is quick to praise the AMG pow­er­plant, he notes that As­ton Martin con­verted the en­gine to a wet­sump setup, in­stalled dif­fer­ent in­take and ex­haust sys­tems, and of course changed all the ones and ze­ros dur­ing cal­i­bra­tion.

Tak­ing the power to the pave­ment is a ZF eight-speed torque-con­verter au­to­matic. The Zed Eff is pris­tine in high­speed cor­ners when you need to grab a taller gear. In the fast off-cam­ber sweeper lead­ing onto Por­timão’s front straight, I asked the ZF to shift while bang­ing at red­line, and there was nary a twitch. The dy­namic sta­bil­ity con­trol, linked to a Graziano-sourced elec­tronic rear dif­fer­en­tial, helps tem­per a quick­ened pulse.

Here’s the thing about the Van­tage: It’s re­ally forth­com­ing, damn near tele­pathic. A lot of folks buy ex­otics and poo­tle around most of the time. Then, when urged to drive hard by their mates, they over­play their hand, and the net re­sult ends up on wreckedex­otics.com. The As­ton’s drive modes and trac­tion set­tings are al­ways present, in the fore­ground, but never ag­gres­sively in­tru­sive. You feel this re­as­sur­ance in your fin­ger­tips, your feet, your but­tocks. You know that feel­ing when your car starts to lose it and your legs get wa­tery in mi­cro panic? The Van­tage all but ban­ishes that sen­sa­tion.

I did say “all but.” I oc­ca­sion­ally for­got how much low-end torque the Van­tage has. The old Van­tage needed a bit of high-end can­ing to get it prop­erly mo­ti­vated. But this is a dif­fer­ent beast. And that torque, in the wet, means the new edi­tion can get a bit twitchy any­where in the rev band.

It’s frus­trat­ing. You know the car is urg­ing you to do more, is ca­pa­ble of more. Af­ter a cou­ple prac­tice laps I lay into the throt­tle a bit early on cor­ner exit. The back end slips. Not in a fun, lurid slide but in a snappy way. I have the sta­bil­ity con­trol set at the most con­ser­va­tive set­ting, which re­sults in the car grab­bing you by the scruff of the neck and say­ing, “Not so fast. We still have a cor­ner to fin­ish.” Notch­ing into Sport+ or Track mode qui­ets the nan­nies a bit, but given the saucy con­di­tions, I de­cide not to test the up­per lim­its. Car­ry­ing the next-higher gear through the cor­ners is ad­vis­able, and with the low-end pres­ence of the tur­bos, you get plenty of thrust rather than lag.

For your sound­track, you have a choice of twin or quad muf­fler pipes—which aren’t just two more pipes; they have dif­fer­ent muf­flers, ports, and per­fo­ra­tions. There’s no fake en­gine noise pumped into the cabin through stereo speak­ers, but ac­cord­ing to Jamieson, cer­tain sounds are “am­pli­fied” as en­gine revs reach crescendo.

The Brembo brakes are poised, es­pe­cially in the soupy swale at the end of Por­timão’s long front straight. I’m car­ry­ing a buck fifty and climb­ing as I hit the brake zone, and the car­bon ce­ram­ics bite con­fi­dently, with the slight­est hint of swim at the back. At lower speeds, the ce­ram­ics squeak a bit, and en­gi­neers note there’s still some fine-tun­ing to be done.

Then there’s the look. First thing: There’s no grille. Have no fear; there is a mas­sive air in­take mouth that car­ries the clas­sic David Brown de­sign. Then there are the LED head­lamps, which, let’s be hon­est here, are small and anony­mous. As­ton chief de­signer Marek Re­ich­man gets a shade de­fen­sive when not­ing that the lamps had to be pack­aged that way to let the en­gi­neers push the wheels fur­ther to­ward the cor­ners of the car (with a side ben­e­fit of eas­ier re­pair af­ter a low-speed shunt). It’s a form-fol­low­ing-func­tion con­ces­sion to the en­gi­neers.

For­tu­nately, the rest of the Van­tage is flat-out gorgeous. Note the sheet­metal shoul­der crease that starts at the tip of the hood and runs the length of the body, end­ing in a mus­cu­lar rear haunch. That’s made pos­si­ble by the mas­sive clamshell ex­panse of the hood, which wraps over the front wheel arch be­fore there’s a cut­line.

Then the side gills bleed air pres­sure from the front wheel arches. At the back, the duck­tail trun­k­lid com­bats front lift. Un­der­neath, there’s a se­quence of ven­turis, fences, split­ters, and dif­fusers to di­rect air­flow and re­duce tur­bu­lence.

Get­ting down to the ar­chi­tec­ture, As­ton de­liv­ers a top-notch body-in-white. The tub is all alu­minum, and the ex­te­rior pan­els are a mix of com­pos­ites, alu­minum, and car­bon fiber—no steel. The out­go­ing VH alu­minum plat­form was ex­tru­sion­based; this ver­sion in­volves deeper-draw press­ings. The rear sub­frame is solid­mounted. “We traded re­fine­ment and NVH for re­spon­sive­ness,” Jamieson notes.

Then there’s the paint: While main­tain­ing its tra­di­tion­ally muted color pal­ette, As­ton aims younger with some out­ra­geous op­tional hues. It refers to its ra­dioac­tive chartreuse as “Lime Essence.”

Here’s the thing about the new As­ton Martin Van­tage: It’s re­ally forth­com­ing, damn near tele­pathic.

In­side, the lay­out seems a bit retro in this world of scroll wheels and touch­screens. A lot of but­tons are hap­haz­ardly placed in the cen­ter con­sole, but it proves the Brits have a wry sense of hu­mor: The SOS but­ton is di­rectly above the but­ton to de­feat trac­tion con­trol. Also, my co-driver ac­ci­den­tally pressed re­verse when he meant the ad­ja­cent park; in con­sid­er­ing the er­gonomics, it wasn’t a dumb mis­take. Hmmm.

Seats on all the test cars were tightly bol­stered Al­can­tara. There’s plenty of head­room for a 6-foot-1 driver. The win­dowsills are high, so you can for­get rest­ing your left el­bow up there. Ex­it­ing is a cinch, thanks to swan­wing doors that eas­ily clear the most im­pu­dent curbs.

As for sight­lines, a nar­row green­house, raked wind­shield, and stern A-pil­lars com­bine for a mas­sive blind spot look­ing through left-hand cor­ners. For un­der­hood pack­ag­ing rea­sons, the wipers sweep from in­side-out, not right to left.

As­ton Martin calls the Van­tage “a sports car, not a su­per­car.” With its 0–60 of 3.5 sec­onds and a 195-mph top speed, that line is get­ting pretty blurry. But the Van­tage’s us­abil­ity fac­tor is strong, from the mul­ti­ple USB ports to the Mercedes­based in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. The door han­dles, shift pad­dles, scroll wheels, and dial rings are brushed alu­minum. The ig­ni­tion and gear-se­lec­tor but­tons are glass. The hatch area can swal­low two golf bags. Alas, there’s no glove box, and the cli­mate vents feel pla­s­ticky.

For the road test out­side Por­timão, we are given Van­tages with cast-iron brakes, which are re­as­sur­ing and smooth to mod­u­late in the wet. In­ter­est­ingly, As­ton went with 20-inch wheels shod with Pirelli P Ze­ros (255/40R20 in front, 295/35R20 in back) in­stead of Cor­sas. As we ease around sheer drop-offs with no guardrails, we bless them their de­ci­sion.

The sus­pen­sion—up front an up­per A-arm and L-shaped lower con­trol arm with caster con­trol and bush­ings, in back a mul­ti­link setup—is pretty damn stiff. It’s great on the track, but even in the most road-go­ing set­ting, ver­ti­cal in­sults are trans­mit­ted rather abruptly into the cabin. There’s no magic car­pet “rough road” but­ton like in the Fer­rari 488.

Sim­i­larly harsh are the abrupt man­ual down­shifts, which are re­as­sur­ing on a race­track but aren’t as wel­come when driv­ing at a more leisurely pace. It’s eas­ier to just pop it in drive for com­fort.

As­ton Martin has priced the Van­tage just above $150,000. That’s a bit more than a com­pa­ra­ble Porsche 911 GTS, which starts at $121,750 and gets you a back seat. And it’s a hedge fund round­ing er­ror with the Mercedes-amg GT C coupe (which shares the same en­gine, re­mem­ber) at $145,995. Which raises the ques­tion: Is the Van­tage a bet­ter car than the AMG? Does it have the daily driver chops of the Porsche? Or is it merely com­pet­i­tive? Stay tuned for our Best Driver’s Car com­pe­ti­tion to find out.

As­ton Martin’s first shot at this seg­ment was ham­strung by tim­ing. Af­ter a cou­ple years of en­cour­ag­ing sales, the first­gen­er­a­tion V8 Van­tage was swept up in 2009’s global re­ces­sion. Then owned by Ford, the au­tomaker had grand growth as­pi­ra­tions with the Van­tage, where­upon the econ­omy stuck a Fair­bairn-sykes right in its back. Fast-for­ward to 2018, with the world well into a boom cy­cle, and now-pri­vately held As­ton Martin again seeks to ex­pand. Hope­fully, this time the Van­tage gives the sto­ried British brand a proper crack at great­ness. n

MUS­CU­LAR The mas­sive, un­cut ex­panse of the Van­tage’s hood al­lows for the line of the car’s em­phatic shoul­der to start at the head­lamp.

WHO NEEDS WINGS? The up­swept deck­lid and rear dif­fuser gen­er­ate “sig­nif­i­cant” down­force.

CEN­TER STACK Al­though the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is sourced from Mercedes, more of the Van­tage’s func­tions are con­trolled by an ar­ray of but­tons.

BRAIN TRUST As­ton Martin CEO Andy Palmer and chief de­signer Marek Re­ich­man lay out their plans for the fu­ture of the sto­ried British brand.

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