Car reviews - Aston Martin - Vantage - GT
Aston Martin models
Presence, infectious character, supple high-speed ride, handling poise, bellowing V8, easy to use infotainment, comfortable cruising, surprisingly fuel-efficient
Room for improvement
Flimsy column stalks, semi-automatic transaxle at best when using paddle-shifters, lethargic throttle response when not in Sport mode
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5 Nov 2015
Price and equipment
Based on the V8 Vantage S, the GT (known in Europe as the N430) is priced from $259,800 driveaway (based on Queensland registration). Considering the standard V8 S is listed at $251,700, the GT is a bit of a bargain.
At this end of the market, a starting price is just that and V8 Vantage GT we drove was optioned up (pricing on application) with a high-spec security alarm system, red brake callipers, cruise control, full-length piano black fascia trim, a black-vaned radiator grille, front parking sensors, the GT graphics pack, Bang & Olufsen 1000-watt audio system, an auto-dimming interior mirror, memory seats, a reversing camera, satellite navigation, sports seats, Warm Charcoal seatbelts, carbon-fibre side strakes, sports suspension and five-spoke gloss black alloy wheels.
The upholstery comprised Obisdian Black leather, Obsidian Black Plisse (welted) Alcantara and Spicy Red contrast stitching.
Marking out our car as a GT was the optional two-tone graphics scheme, comprising Jet Black paintwork with grey grille surround, roof rails, door mirror housings, rear diffuser and GT-branded stripe along its flanks. The hero hue is an Alloro Green option with yellow contrast trims referencing Aston Martin’s racing livery.
Thumbing the flush-fitting doorhandles and opening the frameless doors – which swing gracefully upwards and outwards to help avoid clashes with high kerbs – presents the familiar Aston Martin cockpit layout, with a broad, bejewelled piano black central stack surrounded by acres of leather and Alcantara.
Our test car had a dark grey welted Alcantara and black leather interior colour scheme with red contrast stitching. The suede-like windscreen pillars and ceiling completed the purposeful – rather than indulgently luxurious – feel of a sports machine hewn from high-quality materials.
Attention to detail is fanatical, down to the fact that trim on the speaker grilles and tweeters that rise smoothly from the dashboard on the optional Bang & Olufsen hi-fi is colour-matched to the upholstery’s contrast stitching.
For tall occupants, the two-seat cabin was spacious enough in all directions and the sports seats fitted to our car were supremely comfortable for long journeys while providing ample support for enthusiastic fast-road driving without resorting to extreme bolstering.
With power seat adjustment (three memory settings to keep the whole family happy) and plenty of column adjustment for the sweet little Alcantara-clad steering wheel, settling into an ideal driving position was easy and we were ready to explore the biggest news of this 2016 model year V8 Vantage, the updated central stack.
Based on that of the range-topping Vanquish, it gets rid of the old button-fest fascia and its ergonomic foibles. Crucially, the V8’s infotainment system is brought into the 21st Century with crisp, attractive graphics, Garmin satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming and haptic touch-pad shortcut buttons to compliment the better-located and more intuitive rotary controller.
In a major departure from the bad old days, it was one of the quickest and easiest systems we have used to pair a smartphone via Bluetooth. The navigation was accurate and its response to requests via the rotary controller and shortcut buttons was fast. There is still no voice activation and reaching the controls can be a stretch, but at least using the high-set, clear screen was not too distracting on the move.
Like some smartphones the touch-pad shortcut buttons provide haptic feedback to acknowledge user inputs and because they are slightly recessed, accidental activations were few.
Aston Martin has been criticised for its dated infotainment systems, so it is good to see this addressed with an efficient, if not class-leading, set-up that works well.
The gunmetal grey counter-rotating speedometer and tachometer are not the last word in readability and the latter lacks a redline. Small dot-matrix digital displays for speed readout and basic trip computer are sufficiently functional but serve as reminders of this vehicle’s age. Flimsy-feeling column stalks were the only real quality let-down.
We could go on about the 300-litre boot, storage shelf behind the seats, incredibly powerful air-conditioning and fantastically detailed sound of the optional Bang & Olufsen hi-fi but it is time to push the combined key and starter button into its slot and hear that barking, boisterous V8 burst into life.
Engine and transmission
We used the word burst because that’s the best way to describe how the Vantage’s 4.7-litre, 321kW/490Nm V8 alters the aural landscape once its 98 RON lifeblood is ignited.
The tailpipes emit a sharp, silence-shattering bark loud enough to startle even those bystanders expecting the engine to fire up, followed by some guttural, phlegmy gurgling and finally a lumpy burble with a timbre from somewhere between Detroit and Modena. Which kind of describes Aston’s home in Gaydon, Warwickshire.
So loud were the thundery reverberations through our underground car-park that it felt as though the world was ending.
Low-speed manoeuvres and step-off acceleration are accompanied by a muscle-car throb, with low-to-medium revs under load taking on the pulsating bass of a NASCAR racer.
Because our test vehicle had only a double-digit odometer reading when we picked it up and was therefore in ‘self-protect’ mode, we were unable to explore the howling 7300rpm power peak but we were left in no doubt as to just how addictive, evocative and downright naughty this car’s exhaust is.
Our main regret was not finding a tunnel to blast through with the windows down.
The V8 GT’s official 0-100km/h acceleration time is bettered by some four-cylinder hot hatches these days but a 305km/h top speed, while irrelevant on Australian roads, is not to be sniffed at.
Ignore the audible histrionics and this is a flexible, refined and smooth engine that can easily take a third-gear curve in fourth or even fifth. But it is one that in the right ratio, at the right RPM, can make the steering go light as the car’s voluptuous rear squats and the 285/35/R19 Potenzas bite into bitumen and the Vantage is thrusted out of a corner with grin-inducing force.
Stringing a set of corners together is where this engine feels most at home because straight-line acceleration, be it standing-start or roll-on, feels merely rapid rather than rabid. If that’s not enough, an Aston Martin salespeson will happily point you towards the V12 option.
What threw us was this engine’s silent, smooth idle. At times we thought the car had idle-stop. It also settles into a quiet motorway cruise.
Like many performance cars, the V8 GT has exhaust valves that adjust the sound level based on driving style and mode. Of course in Sport mode the exhaust is louder for more of the time. But regardless of mode, the tailpipes go strangely quiet once underway.
Pulling out of junctions is accompanied by the distinctive V8 burble, which then disappears until about 3000rpm in sport mode and 5000rpm in normal mode, when the noise abruptly returns. Aston Martin is by no means alone in this but it just sounds a bit unnatural and we wish engineers could come up with a more seamless solution.
The two modes also cause a night-and-day difference to throttle response. We ended up driving the GT in Sport mode almost all the time (in fact there is an option in the infotainment system to make Sport the default mode on start-up) because the accelerator pedal calibration goes beyond lazy, with a frustrating amount of travel before anything happens, especially at higher speeds.
Our test vehicle was optioned with the seven-speed Sportshift II automated manual. This single-clutch lightweight transaxle design is probably the feature most revealing of the Vantage model line’s age.
Unlike modern dual-clutch systems like Porsche’s PDK, this is no set-and-forget automatic for daily driving. Left to its own devices there is significant deceleration between up-shifts, making smooth progress around town almost impossible. At low speeds it does not respond well to throttle-on upshifts.
Probably the biggest downside for us was for tight manoeuvres like three-point turns, which result in the smell of burning clutch (they all do that, sir) and require some fumbling through the counter-intuitive but otherwise very cool method of selecting drive and reverse via glass buttons on the central stack.
Overall, the best approach for this transmission is to drive in Sport mode and use the paddle-shifters. Sport mode’s finer throttle response makes the ever-so-slight reduction in accelerator pressure required during up-shifts easy. We quickly learned to work the system and achieve completely smooth urban driving.
Without using the paddles it was too hard to predict up-changes to achieve the same level of smoothness. Overall, it is more involved than a fully automatic transmission but less work than a three-pedal manual set-up.
On the open road and at high revs and speeds, the paddle-shifters were a joy to use and the transmission can quickly skip down a couple or three ratios in one go in preparation for corners. It’s not as fast, slick or seamless as the best modern units but we enjoyed the mechanical feel, which made us feel more connected to the car.
We were surprised at the softness of the Vantage’s automatic down-shift blips, but the V8’s grumbling, hollow and downright hilarious overrun crackle more than made up for that.
And according to the live fuel computer readout, it was surprisingly fuel-efficient, especially on the motorway, where figures in the mid-sevens were frequently recorded. The official combined figure is 13.3 litres per 100 kilometres, which sounds about right.
Ride and handling
Is it wrong to say the Aston Martin V8 Vantage feels like a Toyota 86? It’s a compliment, and one that goes both ways.
Of course the V8 is faster, grippier and more luxurious but we felt some definite parallels. While the Toyota is deliberately mechanical feeling and old-school, the Aston Martin is old-school.
And like the 86, we felt we only truly bonded (no 007 pun intended) with the V8 GT after a session on a familiar and curvaceous stretch of country back-road, where its non-intimidating nature and intuitive dynamics made it immensely rewarding to drive fast.
Still using good old-fashioned hydraulic power assistance, the steering is beautifully communicative, completely organic-feeling and although a little heavy at low speeds, perfectly weighted for most circumstances.
Without feeling darty around the straight-ahead, initial turn-in is sharp and winding on additional lock is met with willing and agile responses plus a meatier wheel-feel as it loads up, transmitting grip levels and surface topography to the driver’s fingertips beautifully.
It did not take long to discover just how much the front tyres have to give, leading to soaring confidence levels and associated corner entry speeds.
With the steering wheel screaming that this is the limit, getting on the power too early causes some front-end push. Applied at the right time, a satisfying amount of corner-exit oversteer is there for the taking. It’s all entirely predictable, controllable and heaps of fun at licence-preserving speeds.
In fact, the V8’s combination of slightly rear-biased balance and the plentiful feedback through steering and chassis combine to make corrections so easy that the subconscious mind takes over.
Let the conscious mind push harder through the Vantage’s sizeable breakaway envelope and the electronics gently say no, curtailing throttle inputs and braking an inside wheel to keep this show on the road.
Thankfully the stability control works with the driver and allows the human to make their own corrections rather than simultaneously taking action and leading to over-correction. The level of intervention can be reduced or turned off completely. On the public road we were happy with its default setting.
Likewise the progressive and powerful brakes. Pedal travel is long and the feel impeccable, providing the opportunity for millimetre-perfect modulation and scrubbing off just the right amount of speed.
Australia has inherited a lot from Britain, including an appalling approach to road maintenance. Despite being fitted with the sports suspension option, we could tell the V8 Vantage had been engineered by people who are used to driving on broken, patchy, potholed, rutted and coarse-chip road surfaces.
Occasional steering tugs on motorway lanes grooved by the tyres of countless semitrailers aside, the Vantage was admirably composed and well-behaved when faced with road imperfections, even doggedly holding its line when faced with mid-corner ripples and bumps.
While the worst excesses of road maintenance authority indifference could become a chore in the city, once up to suburban, country or motorway speeds any sharp edges had been ironed out and the V8 GT was far from being the worst urban pothole offender we have driven.
There is always the comfort suspension option for those doing a lot of urban driving or whose local roads are truly horrendous. Considering that country roads are the Vantage’s calling in life, the car was admirably easy to live with.
It adds up to a car you’d drive for the sake of it, and in which you’d take the long way home.
Safety and servicing
The V8 Vantage’s exclusivity precludes an ANCAP rating. Standard safety gear comprises front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, stability control, traction control, parking sensors and hill-hold.
Service intervals are 12 months or 20,000 kilometres and the warranty lasts two years with unlimited kilometres.
As the Vantage enters its twilight years, Aston Martin has addressed one of the model’s major criticisms by updating the interior and the technology within.
Only the semi-automatic transmission could be a deal-breaker, but then there’s always the well-regarded six-speed manual.
Despite a decade on the road, the Vantage still holds its own against some much more modern machinery, providing a rare blend of fast-road fun, touring ability, convenience and comfort without resorting to active this, adaptive that and electronic the other. Just good old-fashioned engineering.
And Aston Martin’s fastest V8 is now that much more accessible with this value-priced GT variant, which just oozes character and is easy to fall in love with.
What else could you have for similar money? A Jaguar F-Type R is the most obvious option and way faster for several thousand dollars less. Or how about a Porsche 911 Carrera S, which offers a pair of extra seats and one of the best automatic transmissions in the business? Then there’s the elegant, understated and rather special-feeling BMW 650i.
But we don’t think any of those offer the same level of exclusivity and in our experience, the reaction of bystanders and other road users to the Aston Martin was way more positive than anything German.
Look at it this way, Aston Martin built around 4000 cars for worldwide consumption last year. At the time of writing, Porsche has sold 3345 cars year-to-date in Australia alone. Last year Jaguar shifted 1167 units here.
Aston Martin? Just 107 made it Down Under.
With that in mind, a quarter of a million dollars for a car that makes you feel a million dollars sounds like a good return on investment.
Let’s take the Aston.
Jaguar F-Type R coupe RWD automatic from $226,580 plus on-road costs
Another spectacularly noisy British two-seater and one that leaves the V8 Vantage for dead in performance terms. Slick, smooth eight-speed automatic transmission makes the Aston look old. But despite its similarly stunning looks, can’t quite match the Vantage for road presence.
Porsche 911 Carrera S coupe PDK from $250,750 plus on-road costs
The Volkswagen Golf of performance cars. Does everything brilliantly, sets the benchmark and as such is the default choice. That, and its yuppie image, count against what is otherwise an almost unbeatable package. The options list is eye-watering too.
BMW 650i Coupe from $231,900 plus on-road costs
Comprehensively specified, with a great interior and more performance than is strictly necessary. More of a luxury tourer than a true sportscar, but once you accept that it is absolutely fit for purpose.
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