Kevin Drives: Aston Martin Vantage

08/10/2018
Kevin Blasko

First Impressions

Aston Martin Vantage

When AlphaLuxe calls, you damn well better pick up the phone. This time around, I was called upon to drive and review the new Aston Martin Vantage, the latest iteration of a car that’s notorious for its ability to deliver exotic thrills at a price point that mere mortals can contend with:

  • $150k base
  • $170k well optioned
  • $190k very well optioned.

I jumped at the opportunity bright and early to put the car through its paces in the canyons, north of Los Angeles.

Design

Aston had a monumental job on their hands in updating the Vantage. The outgoing car, first unveiled in 2003, still elicits impassioned double-takes, and looks right at home next to the latest-and-greatest supercar offerings. Whether the new car’s styling will prove so timeless is a topic for welcomed debate, though it’s undoubtedly one of the most dramatic designs today: strikingly modern; a fantastic compromise between classic Aston design language and wind-tunnel-sculpted aero. The gorgeous rear end, with its ducktail boot-lid and aggressive diffuser, wouldn’t be out of place on a spaceship hitting “ludicrous speed”.

Aston Martin Vantage (photo by ThomasM)

Strategically placed air extractors or a power bulge could have helped to break up the huge swath of sheet metal comprising the hood, perhaps the only letdown in an otherwise flawless form.

Powertrain

Aston Martin Vantage (photo by ThomasM)

With the outgoing model, the over-arching perception was that of a bark much more ferocious than its bite; the motor and chassis didn’t quite deliver on the promises of the raucous exhaust note. Happily, with this new generation of Vantage, that complaint can be firmly laid to rest. The celebrated exhaust note remains intact (even in Comfort mode), but a twin-turbocharged AMG lump, sporting a tweaked top-end and custom engine management, produces oodles of thrust to match.

One would be hard-pressed to detect even a hint of forced induction, given the instantaneous throttle response and sonorous V8 wail as revs build. But, make no mistake; this is an engine tuned for the street. It absolutely adores straddling its plump, flat torque curve from 2000 – 4,000 RPM, providing an instant kick in the butt on demand, though there’s little more in reserve as one explores the upper-reaches of the rev range.

Shockingly, not a single complaint could be mustered regarding the 8-speed ZF slushbox, whose abrupt upshifts prompt hilarious, motorsport-reminiscent bangs through the twin-tipped exhaust, plus effortless rev-matched downshifts to rival the best of the dual-clutch boxes.

Handling

A stiff rear-end, copious grip, and perfect weight distribution mean the chassis stays neutral and composed as the lateral G’s build. Steering feel is light, and somewhat vague, although a drive through some residential areas followed by several runs up and down the canyon quickly shed light on the engineers’ reasoning.

Kevin Drives Aston Martin Vantage (photo by Daniel Gallardo)

The Vantage comfortably cruises stoplight-to-stoplight, then screams to life at the drop of a hat when traffic opens up. It’s always ready to pounce when the perfect set of curves presents itself, and that effortless steering strikes a perfect balance between around-town manners and precision cornering as the pace picks up.

Good luck finding another car that delivers on its performance.

Final Impressions

Aston Martin Vantage pressing on (photo by Daniel Gallardo)

Halfway up the canyon, on my final ascent, I cracked a genuine, full-toothed grin.  I was flogging one of the cars of my dreams; meeting my hero, if you will. And it was delivering, in droves.

The exhaust wailed, popped, and crackled behind. Telepathic throttle response, lightning-quick shifts, and perfect balance meant curves were dispensed without a second thought or hint of fatigue. Thickly-bolstered leather buckets and a luxuriously-appointed interior ensured that my only source of displeasure was the speed-limit-abiding Prius practically idling through the apices. But when the road was clear, and a few curves were strung together, the Vantage produced more smiles-per-gallon than any car in recent memory.

Aston Martin Vantage wraparound (photo by Daniel Gallardo)

It’s the type of car that disappears around the driver, allowing he or she to be truly one-with-the-road: a state where the driver’s inputs are translated directly to the pavement without a hint of protest. Other well-sorted cars can provide such an experience near their absolute limits (cough: GT3), but the genius of the Vantage lies in its ability to deliver that experience at speeds that will keep you out of the back of a squad car.

Thanks, Vantage, for another brief glimpse into that elusive state of motoring nirvana.

And thanks, AlphaLuxe, for another incredible drive!


Counterpoint by Johan Koenig

Keep a handkerchief on hand. Passers-by will appreciate something to wipe the involuntary drool from their maws. At every stop on our journey from Santa Monica, through Malibu, to the San Fernando Valley, strangers could not help themselves. “Beautiful car.” “What kind of car is that?”  It’s just that there’s nothing on the road quite like this amphibious-looking domesticated beast.

Aston Martin Vantage derriere (photo by ThomasM)

It never ceases to surprise me that car manufacturers manage to release a fresh, innovative design when so many have come before. Apparently having trained under Southern California’s finest plastic surgeons, Aston Martin has sculpted the perfect derriere. I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring. Sorry, I realize I’m staring at aluminum (I wasn’t the only one), but baby I want to get wit’cha and take your picture (again, I wasn’t the only one).

Aston Martin Vantage front (photo by Daniel Gallardo)

Squinty eyes contrasting with a gaping mouth, less so. But you learn to love those few imperfections on the outside. She has a beautiful silhouette.

Club AlphaLuxe Drive members sit here (photo by ThomasM)

Inside, the cabin is typical Aston Martin luxury, with fine leather and diamond-stitched detailing. The center console itself is a marvel of carefully-considered clutter, abounding in buttons, knobs and switches. The square steering wheel includes controls for toggling the suspension and other settings, with massive paddle shifters planted firmly on the steering column.

Switchgear (photo by ThomasM)

I decided to pay less attention to what those gauges were telling me, and more attention to the road laid out in front of me in the canyons off Mulholland.

Aston Martin Vantage in motion

My initial impression: very quick and very light. Despite the steering feeling lighter than I would have anticipated and providing perhaps too much isolation from the friction of rubber meeting the road, I found the handling to be lovely. Except for one hairy moment where my leaden foot squashed the right pedal just before an unexpected dip in the road, the car felt remarkably balanced and planted overall. Gears shifted without perceptible delay, the throttle quite responsive, and the engine felt smooth while retaining some semblance of throatiness of AMG roots – though without the rawness of some naturally aspirated predecessors.

Aston Martin Vantage bottom line (photo by ThomasM)

Bottom line: I could really enjoy this car as a luxurious daily driver while also hooning in the canyons. And it’s just plain sexy.

Genuflections to AlphaLuxe.


Counterpoint by ThomasM

Infatuation comes easily with perfection.

True love is when you embrace the imperfections as charming and endearing.

Aston Martin Vantage in good company (photo by ThomasM)

Imperfections…

A seeming disconnect between the bubblicious and performance-car guy, fantasy-inducing, rear haunches and the at-first-glance boring front end.

A transmission that leaves you scratching your head – Why do I have to take my hand off the steering wheel and press D on the center console? Why can’t I just pull the paddle shifter to go into Drive mode from Neutral or P? (Maybe because the ZF 8 speed is a torque converter slushbox, not a clutched manu-matic or auto-manual…even though it plays the role of one perfectly!);

Center Console (photo by ThomasM)

This car wears an Aston Martin logo, as powerful a brand as ever there was, that comes with pallets full of expectations – ne plus ultra materials crafted into timelessly elegant shapes in the best understated stiff upper lip British tradition. “We don’t shout or demand, but you turn to look when we pass and you listen when we speak…”  How do you reconcile high expectations with a tarted-up “aluminium” center console surround that feels more like plastic than metal? Yet the center console screen is wrapped in leather…

AMG Twin Turbo V8 engine (photo by ThomasM)

Under the broad front hood is an outsourced motor (Mercedes-Benz AMG twin turbo V8, with custom Aston Martin plumbing and tuning) that has achieved the holy grail of performing and sounding like a NA powertrain;

Conflicted…

A too light, too loose and slightly vague steering wheel and too much body roll for a hardcore sportscar yet for some reason smile inducing rather than confidence shattering…

Aston Martin Vantage – a driver’s car (photo by ThomasM)

As the miles piled on and the range of roads diversified, something magical happened – rather than get bored or more disappointed and distanced from the new Aston Martin Vantage, I found myself falling in love…

Some cars are brutal blunt instruments – Can you say Hellcat? – that can never be mistaken for surgical instruments in dissecting tight twisties. But there is something to be said for sledgehammers. Others are precision instruments – think Porsche GT3RS…

Somehow, the new Vantage manages to find that sweet spot between slightly loose rear end with just a hint of floatiness, and yet, with reasonable throttle modulation and steering input, stays planted enough to make harder-edged performance cars sweat as they try to run away.  Change the settings to Sport+ or Track, mash the gas pedal, and the relaxed, elegant daily driver turns into a performance car junkie’s fix – 3.4 to 3.9 secs for 0-60mph runs and straight on to near 200mph V-max.

Aston Martin Vantage – The End (photo by Daniel Gallardo)

Love…

True love lies in the irrational, the unexplainable, the nonsensical, at the margins and beyond. You fight and storm off, but then you can’t wait to go back. You embrace imperfections as  “idiosyncratic and eccentric; endearing and charming.” When apart, you’re not forgetting her slowly but rather longing to get back; for yet another adventure and another mile or  several hundred…

I think infatuation is turning into love…


Author’s Biography: Kevin Blasko

Kevin Blasko is a 29-year-old auto enthusiast – a Mechanical Design Engineer by day, and serial side-hustler by night. By age 4, he could spout the make and model of any passing vehicle, and by 12 he was an expert in the inner-workings of the internal combustion engine. His love for all things motoring expanded into the two-wheeled world at age 17. He currently owns a 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, and a 2018 Ducati Panigale V4, and has somehow managed to retain his driver’s license.

When he’s not daydreaming about cars or motorcycles, you’ll find him at the gym or yoga studio, on a backpacking trip, or walking shirtless on the beach to maximize Vitamin D, whilst listening to the latest book or podcast on nutrition and healthy living. He currently resides in Santa Monica, CA with his girlfriend of 8 years, and the world’s cutest Dachshund-Yorkie mix: Vincent.