The Hero's Return
I'm no James Bond, but the key to the new V8 Vantage-an elegant slug of crystal, stainless steel, and polycarbonate, what Aston Martin calls the ECU-is surely as potent an instrument as any weapon or gadget 007 himself employed.
Simply hold it, feel its cool heft in the palm of your hand. Slide into a snug, full-grain leather bucket seat and insert the key into the ignition slot, top center on the dash; push it in and the engine sparks with a snarl, then quiets to a near-silent pulse that's more felt than heard. It's a scenario you'll find yourself playing out again and again, even in your sleep.
Since its introduction in 2005, the V8 Vantage has become the most popular Aston Martin of all time. You wouldn't have called the first one slow, but it's returning for 2009 with a heroic new powerplant and other well-placed modifications to push it ever higher into sports car strata.
Looking at the car won't really clue you into the differences-you need to look under the skin. Chief among them is a newly revised engine. Cylinder bore and stroke dimensions of 91mm (compared to 89mm x 86mm, respectively) push overall displacement from 4.3 to 4.7 liters. The new forged steel crankshaft features hollow sections in its counterweights for less rotating mass and better inter-bay circulation. Efficiency improvements have been made to the dry-sump lubrication system, and the cylinder heads have been modified with enlarged inlet valves (35.9mm versus 34.9mm), new intake ports, and a new intake manifold. The improvements are sufficient to bring output to new peak levels of 420 hp and 346 lb-ft of torque-increases of 11 and 15 percent over the previous V8.
The Vantage transmissions have been overhauled to improve performance and to properly harness the increased power output. Both the standard manually operated gearbox and Sportshift automated manual incorporate a modified clutch and flywheel, reducing rotational mass within the powertrain to improve engine response.
Sportshift, in particular, has been subject to a few further improvements to "offer customers enhanced comfort and convenience with sporting capabilities." Changes include a new-and-improved control strategy that supposedly allows the transmission itself, rather than the engine, to dictate how to deploy engine torque for a smoother, more consistent delivery. As with other single-clutch automated systems, however, full automatic mode is typically clunky in its actuation. It's much more effective when you're hard in the throttle and pulling the steering column mounted shift levers yourself.
Sportshift also features a "dual throttle map" software upgrade that allows two modes of operation: Comfort, wherein the drivetrain reacts more progressively to throttle input, and Sport, where throttle is more direct and aggressive. Sportshift also features improved hill-descent detection that allows lower gears to be held for maximized engine braking.
Some of the suspension improvements introduced in the Vantage Roadster have now been carried over to the Coupe, like revised upper damper mountings and bump stops, along with stiffer spring rates both front and rear. Both models benefit from new steering geometry and stiffer lower suspension arm bushings for more direct input, and low-friction Bilstein dampers for both improved ride quality and dynamic capability. In addition, a new Sports Pack has been made available, which comprises lightweight forged alloy wheels, retuned dampers, uprated springs, and a revised rear antiroll bar.
As stated, looking at the '09 V8 Vantage won't clue you into its superiority over the '08 model-the exterior remains virtually unchanged. Not that it's a bad thing. What's new are 20-spoke, 19-inch alloy wheels as standard running gear. The cockpit-this is one car where the interior cabin can truly be called a cockpit-has been outfitted with a new center console made from die-cast zinc alloy. The ECU key is also new to this model, styled after that of last year's DBS.
Most striking is the car's absolute bulletproof build. You feel indestructible, like you could punch directly through other, lesser cars and leave them twisted and burning in your wake. It's like being behind the controls of a high-velocity projectile discharged from the world's biggest gun. Visually, the Vantage combines overt aggression and tactile elegance like no other modern sports car. Probably the most intoxicating thing about the whole experience is the bellowing roar that explodes out the tailpipes when the tachometer needle swings past 4000.
As history's best-selling Aston, the first Vantage didn't disappoint, although the disparity in price compared to less expensive competitors seemed to be justified mainly in brand prestige and the signature Aston Martin look. With the bump in performance in the new model, it becomes something else entirely, more serious and evermore competitive. Prices haven't been announced yet, but we speculate the new Vantage will be priced in a similar range as the old one, which clocked around $113,000 for the Coupe and $126,400 for the Roadster.
2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.7-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve
Six-speed manual, optional six-speed Sportshift sequential manual
Double wishbone front and rear, antidive, antisquat, antilift geometry
Four-piston monoblock calipers, ventilated steel rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 172.5/80.0/49.5Wheelbase: 102.5 in.Curb Weight: 3,595 lb
Peak Power: 420 hp @ 7000 rpmPeak Torque: 347 lb-ft @ 5750 rpm0-60 mph: 4.7 sec.Top Speed: 180 mph
*What We Like:
Fit and finish, bulletproof build
*What We Don't:
Single-clutch Sportshift clunky in auto mode