As the old saying goes, “the English are different.” Nowhere is this more evident than with the best British motorcars, which are traditionally a beguiling blend of racing-inspired performance and private-club-like luxury. One of the best examples of the genre is the elegant and thoroughly modern Aston Martin Vantage, which is invigorated for the 2011 and 2012 model years with the introduction of limited-production V8 Vantage S coupe and convertible models and a V12 Vantage coupe.
Built by craftspeople at the company’s headquarters at Gaydon in rural Warwickshire, England, the Vantage is Aston Martin’s smallest, nimblest and most-affordable model. This stylish low-slung two-seater is engineered to take on competitors like the BMW M6, Maserati Gran Turismo, Porsche 911 and similar athletically exotic sports cars, but with a decidedly British accent.
With its long hood and wide front grille, the Vantage’s sleek bodywork bears more than a passing resemblance to its larger showroom sibling, the DB9. Constructed from a combination of steel, aluminum and composite body panels, this shell is draped over a lightweight, yet structurally rigid, bonded aluminum structure that affords exceptional agility and ride comfort. The coupe versions’ rear hatch-back design (with a fairly generous luggage shelf located behind the seats) adds an element of cargo-carrying practicality not typically found among small sporty cars.
The V8 Vantage S gets distinguishing visual tweaks like a carbon fiber front bumper, a larger front air intake, side sills, a revised rear bumper and specific V- spoke wheels. The V12 Vantage is available in a special edition Carbon Black version that features handcrafted black metallic paint, black leather upholstery and interior trim, carbon fiber side strakes and – you guessed it – black wheels.
The V8 Vantage comes powered by a hand-assembled all-aluminum 4.7-liter V8 engine that generates a spirited 420 horsepower; this is bumped up to a slightly quicker 430 horses in the V8 Vantage S models. Expect a 0-60 time around five seconds. Meanwhile the V12 Vantage amps up the acceleration a bit with the 510- horsepower 6.0-liter V12 that otherwise resides under the hood of the DBS; it’s responsible for about a quarter-second quicker 0-60 time than the V8.
A close-ratio slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is the standard transmission on the V8 and V12 Vantage models and remains the gearbox of choice for motoring enthusiasts. A smooth and sophisticated automated manual gearbox produces super-fast gearshifts in either automatic or manual mode, with the latter via steering wheel paddle shifters. It includes features like corner detection (to hold a gear while cornering), hill-descent detection (to hold a low gear while driving downhill) and “comfort” and “sport” shift settings. Meanwhile, the V8 Vantage S debuts a new “Sport shift II” seven-speed automated manual that weighs less and affords a quieter ride at cruising speeds than the six-speed version. It likewise features a sport mode that affords more-aggressive throttle response and a throatier exhaust note. We expect this transmission to find its way in other Aston Martin models within the coming year.
The Vantage’s rear-mounted transaxle contributes to a nearly ideal 49/51 percent front-to-rear weight distribution with a low center of gravity; combined with a double-wishbone aluminum suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels and high- performance tires, this translates into superlative handling and responsiveness. The V8 Vantage S brings to the table a quicker 15:1 steering ratio, larger-diameter front brake discs with six-piston calipers, stiffer shocks and springs, and wider rubber at the rear wheels.
Inarguably an admirable performer, the Vantage doesn’t scrimp in the safety department, either. Dual-stage-deploying front airbags with occupant-sensing technology and side-impact airbags combine with a specially engineered passenger cell to protect its occupants in a crash. Oversized four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with Emergency Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution functions, Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control assure secure cornering and stopping abilities to help the driver avoid a collision in the first place.
The car’s handcrafted interior is both handsome and posh in the British convention of quiet elegance, with its sport seats both comfortable and supportive through even the sharpest turns. The cockpit sports aluminum-finished gauges and trim and is finished in rich leather upholstery, with myriad color, stitching and trim combinations available.
The V8 Vantage and Vantage S Roadsters feature a lined and insulated power-operated convertible top that stores beneath a metal tonneau cover.
The standard audio system includes an auxiliary jack for connecting iPods and other portable MP3 players; audio controls are incorporated into the steering wheel for added convenience. An optional 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen array rivals some of the best living room audiophile systems in terms of its sound quality. Also available are amenities like front parking proximity sensors, a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface and a satellite navigation system for the directionally challenged.
Aston Martin Vantage Quick Facts
Engine: 4.7-liter V8, 6.0-liter V12
Horsepower: 420 @ 7,000 rpm, 430 @ 7,300 rpm, 510 @ 6,500 rpm.
Torque: 346 @ 5750 rpm, 361 @ 5,000, 420 @ 5,750
City/Highway: MPG 11/17-12/19
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Auto Manual
Wheelbase: 102.5 in
Overall Length: 172.5 in
Width: 73.5 in
Height: 49.5 in
Curb Weight: 3595 lbs
MSRP: $120,750 – $194,995
Did You Know?
While Aston Martin’s rich heritage – it dates back to 1913 – makes it among the most “British” of all motorcar companies, it’s changed nationalities in whole or in part several times over the last four decades. After an extended period of shuffling stewardship the company regained stability and established its current direction under ownership by Ford Motor Company from 1994-2007. Ford subsequently sold Aston Martin to consortium that includes two Kuwati investment companies as its major investors. Dr. Ulrich Bez remains CEO of the company, a position he’s held since 2000.