+ Pros Fabulous noise | Truly engaging chassis | Feel of specialness | Long throttle travel to mete out the power
- Cons Gear lever position not great in manual car | Interior switchgear not intuitive to use | More powerful Jaguar F-Type R Coupé is the same price
Highlights Sports suspension | Lightweight alloy wheels | Unique decals and appearance | Sub-$100,000 price point | Engaging chassis dynamics | Sublime metallic V8 engine noise
Technology Naturally aspirated, 4.7-liter V8 petrol engine with 430 hp and 361 lb-ft of torque | Limited-slip differential on rear axle | Option of seven-speed Sportshift II automated manual transmission with short final drive
Electronics Three-mode traction and stability control system | Sport button for throttle response and exhaust bypass valve | Dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes, Hydraulic Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Emergency Brake Assist, Hill Start Assist
Car nuts with $100,000 burning a hole in their bank accounts have a lot to think about; they're spoiled for choice. That range of options was considerably bolstered recently by the arrival of the sublime Jaguar F-Type R Coupé. Aston Martin, previously insulated from competition with Jaguar by their Ford parents, suddenly finds itself with a rather tasty rival, at a tantalizing price point. A replacement for the Vantage lineup is on the way—and likely to be AMG-powered—but it's still some time off, so Aston's immediate plan is to offer a version of the V8 Vantage that includes all the best bits of the car in a unique-looking and racing-inspired package, all for under the magic $100,000 mark.
In the U.S., it's called the V8 Vantage GT, though it's closely related to the Euro-spec model, designated N430. That's "N" for Nürburgring and 430hp maximum power. While the GT package is ostensibly a styling and equipment update, with a moderate suite of mechanical changes, the association with the legendary race circuit in Germany is a lot more than just a marketing man's idea. This is reinforced as we arrive into the Aston Martin Nürburgring Test Centre to pick up our test cars, just a mile or so from the infamous track (on which the 24-hour race will begin in just eight hours), and home to many of Aston's engineers. Now, most European automakers use the Nordschleife ("North Loop" in English—the old circuit at the Nürburgring is also referred to as the Green Hell) to develop their road cars to some degree, but Aston Martin has carved out a cozier relationship than most with the place over the past few years, thanks mainly to its involvement with the annual 24-hour race.
And the duration of the race is about all this event has in common with the Le Mans endurance classic, held the weekend before. Wander around the car parks at Le Mans and you'll find rare hyper-cars and classic icons aplenty, big contingents of foreign race fans, and clean and tidy RVs. Do the same at the Ring and it's a little different. For starters, because the track covers such a vast area of forest, there's a lot less crowding in any one place, and it's clear that most of the spectators are German. Not only that, but they appear to have camped out nearly a week in advance, eschewing the comforts of a modern RV for ramshackle constructions. The sole purpose of these impressive homemade buildings is to get a better view of the track, while staying dry. And drinking beer. Lots of beer. We were warned by Nürburgring veterans to be careful in the woods late at night, as the locals go "a bit feral," and though we saw no trouble, the loud music, haphazard dancing, and large fire creations we witnessed made the event feel more like an illegal house party than an international auto race.
But the racing is deadly serious. Not only do drivers and machines have to endure a full 24 hours of lapping the treacherous near-16-mile course; few other races in the world feature such a diverse range of machinery with such wild speed differentials. There are more than 200 cars at the start, and we witnessed everything from old Volkswagen Golfs and BMW 3 Series to the top-lining GT3 racers, such as the Audi R8, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Porsche 911, and a single Aston Martin V12 Vantage.
Getting to the finish line is not just about reliability, but also staying out of trouble. The GT3 cars are constantly dealing with slower traffic, and there's as much a variance in driver skill as there is in the machinery on track. The result is plenty of collisions, some big, some less so. Few cars finish the race without some scar to show for it. Into this cauldron, Aston Martin likes to sprinkle a few of its models, as it has done for several years. This year, its single GT3 entry—the distinctively Bilstein liveried blue-and-yellow V12 Vantage—managed a creditable Fifth place overall, though all of its racers finished, and that includes a close-to-production V12 Vantage and two V8 Vantage N430s.
The special-edition road car with its two-tone color scheme doesn't seem so incongruous now, does it? We prefer the look of the Euro-spec car that does without the less than attractive white "GT" stripes, though U.S. buyers can choose to do without them and indeed can order a car without contrasting colors, too. Still, there are five choices of finish where the contrasting hue is applied to the nose, door mirror casings, rear diffuser, and the roof rails that lead into the windscreen pillars. The iconic green and yellow option isn't for the shy, retiring type, but it feels special. Complementing the paintwork is a dark theme for other detailing, plus simply stunning graphite painted forged alloy wheels. Those are lightweight items, too, removing overall mass and unsprung weight for the suspension to deal with.
Aston fits the V8 Vantage S's sports suspension to the GT, too, with refreshingly simple fixed-rate damping. And it's very well judged, endowing the Vantage with incredible individual wheel control, even over some seriously pockmarked German blacktop. The tires rarely lose contact with the road, and when they do, it's only for a split second and it doesn't ruffle the Aston's feathers in the least. This unrelenting composure is one of the defining characteristics of this model's chassis. Yet despite how easy it is to drive this car quickly, it makes the driver feel part of the action. The quick-rack steering is assisted by a hydraulic pump rather than the latest generation of (feedback-sapping) electric motor systems, which is a big help, and there's clear telegraphing to the driver as to how much grip is left underneath.
Traction is immense in the dry and it takes a lot of provocation to overstep the limits. Try to push through a corner too early and the nose will wash wide slowly, though avoid that with a more modest entry speed and the reward is a more neutral cornering stance through the middle of the bend and delicious oversteer as you accelerate away. So good is traction that there's little to fear in turning the control system off fully in the dry, though Aston sensibly provides a midway setting that allows some slip before intervening. Through all this, the big brakes impress with perfect pedal feel and unflappable stopping power. Impressively, even if you have to dab the brakes halfway around a fast bend for some reason, the Aston just tucks in with no nervousness or hint at instability.
Performance is fast by any normal standards, though hardly class-leading when you take the 550hp F-Type R into consideration. Nonetheless, in isolation, the Aston's naturally aspirated engine is a joy to extend, making all the right noises, especially if you have the Sport mode turned on all the time—as we'd recommend. Keen drivers will like that Aston fits the GT with a six-speed manual tranny as standard, and we'd stick with it despite the awkward positioning of the lever. The automated manual alternative isn't quite in keeping with the rest of the GT ethos in this car—and of course would push the price over that $100,000 barrier...
Tech Spec2014 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Naturally aspirated, aluminum head and block 4,735cc
Six-speed manual transmission with single plate clutch and limited slip differential (seven-speed Sportshift automated manual is optional with paddle shifts)
Front: 6-piston brake calipers; steel discs (15 in.)
Rear: 4-piston brake calipers; steel discs (13 in.)
Front axle Double wishbone, steel coil springs over aluminum shock absorbers, tubular steel anti-roll bar with drop links
Rear axle Double wishbone, steel coil springs over aluminum shock absorbers, tubular steel anti-roll bar with drop links, aluminum toe control arm
Wheels & Tires
Front Bridgestone Potenza 245/40 ZR19 (8.5J x 19 rim)
Rear Bridgestone Potenza 285/35 ZR19 (10J x 19 rim)
430 hp at 7,300 rpm
361 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm 0-62 mph 4.5 seconds
3,549 lb. (curb weight)
15 mpg (U.S. mpg combined figure)