Building a car that’s perfect for the track, yet still compliant for the road is a black art that few, with the notable exception of the Porsche 911, have mastered. Aston Martin, however, may have also stumbled onto the magic formula with this split personality Vantage V8.
I know the 4.692km Portimao racetrack in the Algarve region of Portugal fairly well having tested numerous GT and racecars there over the years and I love it.
It’s among the top three tracks alongside Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and Mt Panorama, Bathurst in Australia, which, in my eyes, are all equally first with none better than the other.
I thought that I also knew the weather reasonably well too, it being fine and sunny every time I’ve been there, so the prospect of spending a good eight hours on track with the allnew, twin-turbocharged, V8 Aston Martin Vantage had me salivating for weeks in anticipation.
What I wasn’t prepared for was arriving at a damp and rainsoaked Algarve with thunderous black clouds overhead which had dumped buckets of rain over the region for 23 days straight.
With the sun peeping through and even a rainbow in the distance, I was hopeful things would get better as I didn’t want to be ‘the journo’ who’d go down in automotive writing folklore (ohh yes, we have one) as the one who binned a $150,000 Aston on a wet track in Portugal.
Out With The Old, Everything’s New
Vantage is possibly the most important car for Aston Martin as it took the mantle from DB9 as the volume car in the range when it appeared in its last iteration back in 2005.
That Henrik Fisker design, as lovely as it was, desperately needed updating and as a string of subsequent models have looked quite similar, it was time to make the brave decision and give Aston Martin a new design DNA without compromising its heritage.
But it’s more than just looks which have been overhauled as the 2019 Vantage also gets a new powertrain which may upset a few purists as it’s not entirely British but a product of a new partnership they enjoy with Mercedes-AMG.
So in many ways, this is the bravest departure Aston Martin has made from a combined engineering and styling perspective in probably living memory.
The engine is a 4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 that you will find under the hood of the ‘63’ branded Mercedes models like the C63, E63 and S63 as well as the AMG GT, which ironically also makes it the Vantage’s closest competitor.
As the first car on a wet track, it was incredibly slippery with instructions to stay off the painted red and white curbs that were like ice. With 503bhp under the right foot and in ‘track mode’ which allowed a little more wiggle in the rear, I was playing it cautiously, but one thing immediately came to mind.
This car had tons of grip. I mean copious amounts that was no doubt aided by the Pirelli P-Zero tyres made especially for the Vantage. Still, it was an ice rink out there and it stuck like glue.
Speaking to senior engineers later who were happy to receive my compliments about its grip, it was Aston Martin’s Chief Engineer and all-round good driver, Matt Becker who let me in on a secret as to my ability in the car and its supposed grip levels.
The driver sits in the new Vantage precisely in the middle, equidistant from the front wheels to the back wheels so that the car effectively pivots around you which in turn gives you more feel for its movements and therefore, arguably, more control.
It had to play some part in the overall job as a few of us seasoned hacks later commented on the bus back to the hotel that it was an easy car to drive very quickly.
When it did step out of line, its electronic rear diff which is linked to the car’s stability control system, read the car’s behaviour and reacted instantly to direct power to the relevant wheel.
Unlike a conventional diff, it can go from fully open to locked in milliseconds so at high speed, its sensitivity enabled it to take control so that it felt more composed in terms of its straight-line stability and cornering performance.
Lighter And Tighter
It’s track composure was certainly confi dence inspiring and as I grew more comfortable with the Vantage, my times tumbled. I could brake far deeper into corners that I thought was possible, stay on the gas through sweepers where other high performance cars I’d driven couldn’t and it would take a high-speed change of direction without so much as an ounce of body roll.
That’s because the new Vantage is markedly stiffer than old one and even the new DB11 V8 but it’s also 20kg lighter at 1530kg. The previous Vantage V12 S, which is closest in terms of performance, was 1570kg, while the DB11 is 129kg heavier.
Styling-wise, apart from the new-shape grille that’s designed to give it the look of a predator sniffi ng the ground, the rear is dominated by a large diffuser that stood out even more by being painted in a contrasting colour.
It’s not just for looks though as it helps with the overall grip by adding nearly 80kg of rear downforce compared to 25kg on the DB11, whereas the old Vantage was actually lifting when at its terminal speed.
This is all great on track, but how did it translate to the back roads?
The Vantage is stiffer than the DB11 and a bit noisier inside too due to its rear suspension being solidly mounted for better handling, whereas the DB11’s is isolated to reduce noise
At this level though, it’s nitpicking as the Vantage performed superbly on the open road and better from memory, than the AMG GT which felt heavier through the steering and has a longer nose, making it less nimble through twisty bends.
The ZF eight-speed transmission is operated solely through paddle shifts behind the wheel and have been extended for better reach. However Aston tells us that a manual box will be offered next year
Our ‘Onyx Black’ road car had the standard exhaust system of two pipes compared to the quad pipes on the ’Lime Essence’ track cars, so was quieter on the road, but still provided some nice pops and crackles from the pipes on downshifts. In true Aston style it’s not as dramatic as the staccato noises from the AMG Mercs, preferring instead to offer a more refi ned, GT experience.
Aston Martin even has a ‘quiet start mode’ that is activated by holding the start button for longer, which will be a hit with the neighbours if you have to leave home early every morning.
The new Aston Martin Vantage is a worthy successor to its long time predecessor, welcoming some desperately needed technology as well as new power trains and styling.