Reinvention rarely comes without significant risk, but Aston Martin was willing to take a gamble with the new Vantage. Hot on the heels of the DB11, Aston's new entry-level machine follows a similar clean-sheet approach with its design, aesthetic and overall intent. But while the DB models put a significant emphasis on grand touring prowess, the Vantage is unambiguous about its mission as a focused, two-seater sportscar, the likes of which can be comfortably uttered alongside the Jaguar F-Type, Mercedes-AMG GT and Porsche 911.
Although the outgoing model was an undoubtedly compelling machine, after nearly a decade and a half on sale, the platform was starting to show its age. Aston sought to combat this by doubling down on the charm, releasing variants like the manual gearbox-equipped V12 Vantage S—a model which provided a visceral, refreshingly analog driving experience that bucked recent industry trends on multiple fronts.
That strategy certainly had its virtues, but the march of progress eventually forced Aston's hand. And to that end the new Vantage represents a markedly different approach for the brand, one which ratchets up the engineering sophistication while seeking out new avenues of emotional engagement.
But can this thoroughly modern coupe stir the soul like the Astons of yore? We grabbed the keys to this Tungsten Silver example and headed out to the winding tarmac of the Angeles National Forest to conduct a thorough investigation.
THE NEW BREED
At a glance it's clear that the new Vantage is a significant departure from its predecessor. While it rides on new architecture derived from the DB11, seventy percent of its bonded aluminum structure is unique to the Vantage, and it's obvious that Gaydon wanted to give its sportscar an identity all its own.
From the muscular haunches to the oversized front grille, the design is equal parts purposeful and carnal, effectively blending aerodynamic elements with the brand's aesthetic heritage. While few take issue with its sleek silhouette or the view from out back, the front end proves to be more divisive. We wouldn't call it outright polarizing, but it does represent a departure from the norm for the typically understated British luxury automaker, and another indicator that Aston wasn't content with more of the same this time around.
But if the bodywork doesn't convince curious parties, the hardware that lurks underneath it will. Pop the clamshell hood and you'll find an AMG-sourced 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8 that churns out 503 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque—substantial jumps from the 430 hp and 361 lb-ft generated from the previous generation's naturally-aspirated 4.7-liter V8. The boosted mill gets a few tweaks for Vantage duty as well, including reworked intake and exhaust systems to help provide a unique soundtrack, as well as a traditional wet-sump oiling system rather than the dry-sump system used in the Mercedes-AMG GT.
Power is routed to the rear wheels by way of an eight-speed ZF gearbox that's mounted at the back of the car to help achieve a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Aston cites a dry weight of 3,373 pounds, so we'll estimate that the Vantage tips the scales at around 3600 when all is said and done. While it's not an outright featherweight, the stellar powertrain combination results in an inarguably quick sportscar that's capable of dispatching the sprint to 60 mph from rest in 3.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 195 miles per hour.
The cabin isn't shy about the car's sporting intentions, either. Outfitted with a chunky flat-bottom steering wheel and large shift paddles, the sense of occasion begins the moment you plant your keister in the surprisingly comfortable sport buckets and gaze at the deep-set digital gauge cluster.
Evidence of Aston's partnership with Mercedes-Benz can be found here as well, as the infotainment system is more or less a direct port of the latter's COMAND system. A touchpad and rotary knob selector are flanked on either side by a collection of hard buttons.
With the infotainment inputs, push-button transmission controls, and the hard buttons for the HVAC system all within close proximity of one another, the control layout can be a lot to process initially, but having all those buttons at the ready equates to less time hunting around in menus for commonly-used functions. Our main gripe with the control scheme was focused on the unrefined feel of the plastics used for some touch points—particularly the HVAC vents—which seemed a little out of place here, especially given Aston's penchant for sweating the details. And it's those details, like the red-glowing ignition button in center stack, that remind you that you're at the helm of something special.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Press that jewel-like button and the motor springs to life with a soulful, authoritative growl. We'd by lying if we said we didn't miss the rowdy snarl of the old naturally aspirated V8, but it's hard to find much fault in Aston's choice of engine here. The four-liter's turbochargers bring a wealth of mid-range torque to the party, and having them nestled between the cylinder banks minimizes turbo lag to a nearly imperceptible degree. This is a damn fine—and thoroughly modern—V8.
The ZF eight-speed gearbox has become the gold standard for automatic transmissions in recent years and it performs as expected here in transaxle form, firing off shifts with minimal hesitation while remaining far more well-behaved around town than a typical dual-clutch. The latter might have provided some additional drama, but the ZF suits the Aston's personality just fine.
The Vantage offers a trio of drive modes: Sport, Sport+, and Track. While the lack of a Normal or Comfort mode seemed to foreshadow abusive ride quality, we didn't find it particularly objectionable while traversing the pockmarked streets of Los Angeles with the suspension set to Sport. Considering the performance on tap here, the Vantage is surprisingly docile in traffic and relaxed on long drives—quiet, comfortable, and unobtrusive. These are good qualities to have in a sportscar that you want to drive regularly.
Once we made our way to the base of the mountain, coaxing the Vantage into attention was as simple as the push of a steering wheel-mounted button. Dialing up the Sport+ and Track modes brings increasingly urgent throttle response, stiffer dampers, and revised shift schedules into the mix, effectively transforming the car's dynamic personality in one fell swoop. Massively capable brakes coupled with a reassuringly firm pedal provide the confidence needed to properly cane this thing on a good stretch of road.
Here the Vantage is truly in its element, urging you to brake later, dip deeper into that deep well of power, and carry more speed through the corners. This, along with the impressively balanced chassis and plenty of mechanical grip, means that the Vantage has very few bad habits, allowing the driver to focus their attention further down the road and increase the pace in turn. It's a truly rewarding machine to drive with sporting purpose.
But there's an elephant in the room in the form of Porsche's 911 GT3. The Vantage and the 911 take wildly different approaches to sportscar design and, for many, engine placement alone may be all it takes to sway their vote one way or the other. But considering their similar dimensions, power, and price (the GT3 undercuts the Vantage's base price of $149,995 by several grand), the comparison seems almost unavoidable.
In years past, the Aston's luxuriousness and unique character made it a natural choice for those who wanted a break from the predictable with an added dose of exclusivity. But with so much AMG-derived DNA on-board in the new Vantage, that proposition is a little bit murkier today. Gaydon promises that a manual gearbox option is on the way for Aston's new sports car—the first application of AMG's four-liter V8 to offer one. For three-pedal fans, that will likely go long way toward separating the Vantage from the pack. But you know what would go even further? An Aston Martin-built V12.
Still, it's important to maintain some perspective here. This is, without question, the best V8 Vantage that Aston Martin has ever produced. And if the last generation Vantage's production run serves as a harbinger of things to come, this sportscar has a bright future ahead of it.