A truly great sports car is more than the sum of its parts. In the case of the new Aston Martin Vantage, those parts are already pretty impressive; a lightweight aluminium chassis, a twin turbo-charged V8 and an 8-speed ZF transmission. Add in more essential ingredients such as a strong racing history, unsurpassed design heritage and a forebear that’s widely acknowledged as being one of the most beautiful cars of the 21st century, and you have a recipe for something special.
The new Vantage is instinctive, unadorned, stripped of armour: The end result is raw yet focused
For a start, there’s that name. Vantage has been in the Aston Martin family for seven decades, ever since it was bestowed on a special engine option in the DB2 in 1951. From the outset, the word signified power; there were also Vantage variants of the DB4, DB5 and DB6. The first car to be badged as Vantage in its own right was the William Towns-designed V8 Vantage of 1977 and, subsequently, there were Vantage variants of both the Virage and DB7. The first generation VH Platform Vantage debuted in 2005 and has had an exceptional innings. As a V8, V12, V8S and numerous racing variants, the Vantage became the sporting heart of the brand.
The new Vantage takes this heritage to another level. “Our design philosophy was that the Vantage is undiluted,
with simple clarity of purpose,” says Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer. “It is instinctive, unadorned, stripped of armour. The end result is raw yet focused.” For Reichman and his design team, it was essential that the performance characteristics of the new Vantage shone through. “This car is an elemental object, with lines inspired by the language of the DB10 and the dramatic forms of the Aston Martin Vulcan, a car without a traditional grille,” he explains.
Craig Jamieson, Aston Martin’s Senior Vehicle Engineering Manager, and Matt Becker, Chief Engineer, Vehicle Attribute Engineering, are key figures in the Vantage development. It was Jamieson who oversaw the production of the DB10, the thrilling concept that was brought spectacularly to life for James Bond in the film Spectre in 2015. As those familiar with the brand well know, the DB10 began life as a concept sketch for the new Vantage, one of many iterations Marek Reichman’s design team were exploring. “The movie car gave us a dry run at that project,” Jamieson says, recalling the speculation and analysis the DB10 was subjected to by those looking for clues as to Aston Martin’s future direction. “Many of the design and engineering team that delivered that car transferred into the production car,” he says.“‘The core designers under Marek and Miles Nurnberger [Aston Martin’s Chief Exterior Designer] were the same guys who worked on both the DB10 and new Vantage.”
Bold though the DB10 was, arguably the new Vantage goes further. “Obviously for Spectre, the production company also had a clear vision, which was perhaps a bit more restrained,” says Jamieson, “but it gave us a chance to judge feedback about the car.” The new Vantage is more visually aggressive than the DB10 or original Vantage. Despite being developed on its predecessor’s chassis, the DB10 actually ran on a lengthened wheelbase with a slightly wider track. “The geometry was already heading towards Vantage,” says Jamieson, “but with the new Vantage we have more character and more individuality, which helps differentiate Vantage from the other cars in our range.”
This car is an elemental object with lines inspired by the language of the DB10 and the dramatic forms of the Aston Martin Vulcan
Design is, of course, integral to every Aston Martin. The many different avenues explored for the new Vantage had to accommodate the car’s key role as the company’s performance star, the core of the range tasked with outgunning its market rivals on road and track. You can read about the simultaneous development of the Vantage GTE in this issue (see page 56), but suffice to say the new car was already carrying a weight of expectations before a line had even been committed to paper.
The Vantage has an athletic, dominant stance. It conveys the drama of competition, the dynamism of the track and the muscle, strength and conviction it takes to compete, without losing any of Aston Martin’s inherent sense of beauty. Like every Aston Martin, it has been shaped by the combination of proportional purity and hand-sculpted surfaces, with the close synergy between design and engineering. With minimal overhangs, front and rear, deep scalloped flanks and a radical new iteration of the iconic Aston Martin grille and side-strake, it is both contemporary and forward-looking.
Jamieson believes “the interior will surprise a lot of people. It has true sports car ergonomics coupled with the interior values you expect from an Aston Martin. I’m quietly confident it will meet up to expectations.” Aerodynamics also played a vital role in shaping the car, with cooling air channelled through the powertrain where needed by a sophisticated front splitter-rear diffuser set-up. At the rear, the upswept rear deck lid helps to generate impressive levels of downforce.
The real test of success is how the car feels on the road. “The original Vantage is still an absolutely stunning, timeless car,” says Becker, widely regarded as one of the best dynamics and handling specialists in the British motor industry, if not the world. Becker spent over a quarter of a century at Lotus, during which time that company cemented its reputation as a purveyor of light, agile and supremely tactile sports cars.
Aston Martins are no stranger to excellence in ride and handling, but the breadth of ability within the range is markedly greater. One of Becker’s first tasks when he joined the company was to assess each model and see if it lived up to its brief. “Dynamics is a very personal thing,” he explains, “and even with the old Vantage there were things to improve. The steering could have had more detail, for example. However, it was incredibly fun to drive — the base ingredients were correct.”
The new Vantage is engaging in everyday use, but really comes alive when you wind it up
Becker’s role cannot be overstated. “When Matt first became involved, we were still in the visual and concept stage,” Jamieson says. “Then we started getting into discussions about dynamics.” Powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 mated to a rear-mounted eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, the new Vantage generates an impressive 510PS/685Nm. The car can accelerate to 60mph in 3.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 195mph. Fast steering response, together with Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Torque Vectoring, make it an exceptional driving machine. “The other big platform decisions were the gearbox and drivetrain,” Jamieson says. “We now have an Electronic Rear Differential (E-Diff) for the first time. It’s opened up the tuning capability of the car for Matt and his team.”
Becker explains how the new Vantage’s inherent balance and weight distribution is enhanced by the E-Diff: “It allows us to create the perfect blend of dynamics and stability. There’s a nice sound quality, with the pops and crackles indicating upshifts. It all has to feel integrated. We spent a huge amount of time making the driver feel connected to the car and we’ve ended up with the best of both worlds. The new Vantage is engaging in everyday use, but really comes alive when you wind it up.”
“The original V12 Vantage was an enthusiast’s car, a big part of which was down to the massive torque of the V12,” admits Jamieson, “but now we have higher levels of torque in the ‘base’ Vantage.” The 2005 Vantage also had a remarkable 12-year product life and, as Jamieson notes, “you don’t get the opportunity to replace a car like this many times in your career.”
Becker agrees. “With the DB11 we were building the team. Now we’re all working well together and we know exactly what we want to do,” he says, hinting too at more things to come.
“You can’t have a short-term vision with a car like the Vantage,” adds Jamieson. “Vantage has a long history and
built a heritage on the road and on the track and this car is unmistakably a Vantage. This car is the new foundation for
our sports car platform going forward.”
Dr Andy Palmer, Aston Martin President and CEO, describes the new Vantage programme as a “challenge to relish”. “The outgoing Vantage is the single most successful model in Aston Martin’s history, but the new Vantage is more explicit in looks and intent. It’s the pure driving machine enthusiasts have been waiting for.”