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HomeFEATUREDDRIVING THE NEW ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE ON AUTÓDROMO DO ALGARVE

DRIVING THE NEW ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE ON AUTÓDROMO DO ALGARVE

 

When bespoke sports car maker, Aston Martin, launches a new car, any new car, the world stands still for a moment to take it all in. This time around, with the introduction of the new Vantage in Portimão on the Algarve, BERNIE HELLBERG went along for the ride.

Exotic launch destination. Check. An even more exotic sports car. Check again. Combine it all with unfettered access to the celebrated Autódromo do Algarve in the new Aston Martin Vantage? Now things are getting real…

So real, in fact, that a slight travel booking mishap on the way to the recent Aston Martin vantage launch event, meant that I detoured via Luanda, Angola to get there. But hey, when Aston presents something as radical as this, missing out is not an option.

NEW ENOUGH

 Two models into Aston supremo, Andy Palmer’s, Second Century Plan to launch a new sports car every year until 2022, things are looking quite a bit different for the brand than it did a few years back.

Aiming to bring more mainstream acceptance to what was a comparably tiny niche sports car maker (to the likes of Porsche, for example), Palmer came up with his plan to introduce a range of sports cars that would each finance the development of the next.

First came the DB11 – a big ‘gentlemen’s GT’, followed closely by the Vantage, aimed squarely at the likes of the Porsche 911, although it uses a number of DB11 parts.

A two-seater in the mould of one of its main German rivals, with the heart of another – a Mercedes-AMG sourced 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 – beating in the front, the Vantage retains the essence of it Vantage V8 predecessor by sending power to the rear wheels via an eight-speed transaxle torque-converter gearbox, coupled with an electronically-controlled limited-slip diff.

Under the skin, is where the Vantage takes most of its great strides forward. Merely a third of the all-aluminium is shared with the DB11. Aston is sticking to its strategy of using more pressings and castings than extrusions in their new cars which, although more expensive to produce, make the structure more space efficient and stronger, which translates to a much roomier cabin than was possible before.

Aston Martin went as far as showing the assembled media a cutaway of the new car’s structure at the launch event. This made plain that the rear subframe is mounted directly onto the chassis for improved handling. The rear suspension now sits on a multilink setup versus the double wishbone layout from the previous Vantage, cushioned by adaptive Skyhook dampers at each corner.

In a car like this, weight and how it is distributed, is hugely important. The Vantage tips the scales at a gingerly 1,520 kg (it can go up to 1,630 kg) when kitted out with forged wheels, carbon brakes, and lightweight seats. And with the engine sitting under the front bulkhead, and the gearbox in the rear, the Vantage achieves perfect 50:50 weight distribution.

VANTAGE TECH SPECS

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front: although the Vantage carries the same 4.0-litre V8 as many Mercedes-AMG models, Aston’s engineers have done enough fettling to “what goes in, and what comes out” of this V8, that the fact it has German heritage truly has no bearing on the car’s performance or its personality. At all. If anything, being one of the best turbo performance engines out there adds gravitas to the Vantage experience.

Putting their stamp on how the engine consumes air and expels exhaust gasses makes all the difference to the Vantage. In an era where the sound that a sports car makes is particularly important, Aston has managed to retain a distinctively characteristic Aston note from the AMG’s more mechanical noise. With a little imagination, it sounds bizarrely like the naturally aspirated 4.7-litre V8 in the previous Vantage.

Sharing elements with the DB11 means that the Vantage also has three driving, and three suspension modes like its big brother. These functions, accessed by buttons on the steering wheel, allow customisation for circumstance beyond the road, and onto the track as well. Sure, the DB11 starts in GT mode and goes up to Sport Plus mode, and the Vantage starts at Sport and goes up to Track mode, but the system is essentially identical.

The smooth-shifting eight-speed auto is ZF-sourced, and the difference to the previous generation seven-speed semi-automatic gearbox is stratospheric.

Controlled by oversized steering-mounted magnesium paddles, or by the ‘box itself, most driving experiences had me pondering just how intuitive the gearbox seemed, whether on the road, or the track. At cruising speeds, it shuffles ratios seamlessly, Jekyll and Hyde-ing it to a surprising level of aggression when you switch to Sport Plus or Track modes.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

To set the scene, let’s get the numbers out of the way… The Aston’s burly V8 pushes 375 kW and 685 Nm of torque onto the road, which is enough to rocket the Vantage to its 100 km/h marker in a blurry 3.6 seconds. At the top end, it will almost run to 315 km/h without hardly breaking a sweat.

Those are some serious stats, yet the Vantage retains an air of unassuming elegance from inside the cabin. Yes, the typically high-mounted Aston Martin dashboard is present, as is the familiar Mercedes-esque switchgear and infotainment screen and controller.

The driving position is comfortable, but I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of buttons and switches that confuse what is otherwise a seriously sophisticated dashboard layout.

After a couple of minutes getting settled and sorted I was ready to first tackle the roads around Portimão before taking to the track.

From go, it is clear that the new Vantage has rewritten everything we knew of the old car. As comfortable as it is sticking its nose into tight corners, it is able to amble along winding country roads. Steering response is great and adapts to both driving modes and driving style perfectly. Push the car harder, and the full extent of available grip becomes clear. It has traction galore too so that you can make the most of the V8’s instant throttle response.

While instant throttle response is great, similarly quick response from the new electric steering somewhat lacks in personality – an inevitability brought about by the switch from hydraulic to electric power-assistance. Could it have been a little weightier? Maybe, but it isn’t intrusive enough to the overall experience to be considered a liability. On the track, of course, the same tendency becomes a benefit, especially in Track mode.

Exploring the car’s limits in a closed circuit environment, revealed just how tenacious the Vantage has become. I’d argue that, in comparison, even the specialised 2015 Vantage N430 would come unstuck where the new car shines. Yes, the rear tyres certainly take some unsticking, but once the Vantage steps out, it keeps a beautifully easy balance and a real sense of connection with what the rear wheels are doing. Even in extreme conditions at the highly technical Portimão track, the Vantage felt sublimely poised.

LAST WORD

From its oversized grille to its whiptail rear, the new Vantage is a thoroughly modern take on the Aston Martin brand. It maintains, in striking familiarity, the unmistakable traditional proportions of the marque; it still looks like nothing Aston has produced before.

More akin to a predator than a sports car, with its squint headlights and daring taper of the greenhouse, the Vantage is fierce and stunningly capable with a brilliant engine.

At its base price of R2,800,00, the Vantage can now compete on price alone with cars such as the Audi R8 V10, Porsche 911 Turbo, and Mercedes AMG GT C. Rarefied company indeed, but after spending time with it on road and track, it is undoubtedly heading for greatness in the annals of Aston Martin history.

Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © CAR FINE ART PHOTOGRPAPHY & ASTON MARTIN LAGONDA

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