This is the new Aston Martin Vantage. The ‘baby Aston’ is reborn, with a 4 litre turbocharged engine making 503 horsepower, and a design derived from James Bond’s Spectre DB10.
Nevertheless, the new Vantage does have a tough act to follow. The previous car, which launched all the way back in 2005, spawned upwards of 14 road-going variants and became the company’s best-selling car of all time. Last year Aston’s race team took home the GTE Pro honours in a Vantage at Le Mans – the highest placing available for anything derived from a road car.
The entry-level Vantage in 2005 cost around £80,000 – this year’s replacement starts at £120,900. Pretty punchy, on the face of it. And Aston has brought us out to the challenging Portimao circuit in the Algarve to try the car – that’s also big talk.
To look at, the new Vantage is not a car that shrinks from the fight. Aston wants greater distinction between models than in the previous generation, and to that end the Vantage gets some very aggressive slices of carbon fibre front and rear, a gaping, low-slung grille and much tauter lines throughout.
Distinctive is a word new Aston owners should get used to hearing a lot. I’ve stared at the Vantage from every angle but supine, and I’m still not entirely sure about the looks. Ok, the back and sides are pretty lovely; it’s those eyes. Much reference was made of its resemblance to a shark during the press presentation: something that reminded me I’ve never really liked the way they look either. Aren’t we hard-wired to swim the other way?
You certainly can’t say the Vantage is all talk and no trousers, though. More than once it invited comparisons to a muscle car in the way it gets its 503 horsepower onto the road. At every corner you sense it has the potential to be badly-behaved – but in a very good way. There’s real balance to the chassis that invites you to push it further and further, and at no point do you feel like the tiger shark within is going to turn on you.
Here’s what’s spooky about the Vantage though: it’s may have the potential to be fierce, but it doesn’t feel spiky in normal driving. It’s a comfortable cabin to sit in for long rides, with bags more room than anything this size deserves, and suspension that copes extremely well with patchy roads. That’s vital: thousands of these are destined for the pockmarked roads of the home counties. You can pootle, cruise, manoeuvre, have a relaxed conversation, and then if you happen to find yourself on a long straight – the IC1 between Sao Bartolomeu de Messines and Sao Marcos da Senna, for instance, hypothetically you understand – you can let it rip all the way up towards a top speed of 195mph. With alarmingly little fuss. The twin-turbo V8 sourced from Mercedes – as found in the AMG GT family – is a belter of an engine, with barely-detectable lag and, with Aston Martin’s fettling, a syrupy smooth engine note.
It’s the same story in the corners (with which I can exclusively reveal the inland portion of the Algarve is copiously blessed). That pointy nose is so eager to sniff out the next bend, and whether you’re smoothly linking the curves up or pratting about, hard on the brakes and throwing it into the corner, it never complains. One reason why is the weight: with petrol in, the new Vantage weighs nigh-on the same as its V8 S predecessor, at a shade over 1600kg, but boasts 73 more horsepower.
It’s not completely perfect. The alcantara-clad cabin is comfortable and spacious, but the centre console is riddled with unnecessary buttons, many clearly there to service a symmetrical design rather than your needs. There are a few more on the roof as well; for a car that’s so easy to get in and drive, why make it so hard to learn your way around inside? Aston Martin has been taking its software and infotainment controls from Mercedes since the launch of the DB11 two years ago – which is a vast improvement – but lumbers it with an over-engineered control pad that could so easily be simpler. What else? The steering wheel is a bit of an odd shape… and the lurid green (“Lime Essence”) Aston chose to use to launch the car is fairly unpleasant, but it’s not as if you have to choose it. Aside from that though, I’m struggling.
The new Vantage is a truly compelling car to drive and it is handsome in the right light – but surpassing any of its individual attributes is a real sense of confidence. Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water…