Grey mist descends on the front straight of Portimão, Portugal’s Algarve International Circuit. In the distance, the low keening of a V8 rises ever closer until squinting headlamps appear through the fog; a shock of Lime Essence paint slashes through the rain; Pirelli P Zero tyres kick up water behind them as they feverishly spin past the empty waterlogged grandstand; Aston Martin’s revolutionised 2019 Vantage streaks past, a spectre possessed.
If the DB11 initiated the most recent era of Aston Martin, then the 2018 Vantage represents its full realisation. Taking its cues from James Bond’s DB10, which was designed for the 2015 film Spectre and of which only 10 were made, the new Vantage is significantly different from the rest of Aston Martin’s GT line up. “If the DB11 is the gentleman, the Vantage is the hunter,” says Miles Nurnberger, Director of Design at Aston Martin.
Track mode throws the throttle wide open like a puncture to the jugular
While Aston Martin tasked its exterior design team with making the Vantage look different from any other offering, it was up to Matt Becker, Aston Martin’s Chief Engineer and former Lotus dynamics guru, to make the car drive differently. “If you want to know an engineer’s personality, look at the car they’ve designed,” Becker says.
The word Vantage denotes power in the Aston Martin lexicon. Initially the moniker was used for high-performance versions of existing models, such as the DB4, DB5 and DB6. Ultimately, the sports car earned its own identity with the 1977 William Town-designed Vantage which had muscle-car looks and supercar speed. Similarly, there can be no mistaking the purpose of Aston Martin’s newest Vantage in its stable.
While this iteration of the badge rides on the same bonded and riveted aluminium chassis as the DB11, it has greater sport-specific tuning than its grand touring cousin. Springs and damper rates are considerably higher and, because Becker is partial to cars that slide, controllable throttle-steer plays a major part in this two-seater’s DNA.
At once bold and energetic, even in base sport or sport plus settings, the Vantage is as disciplined as a Porsche 911 GTS, its competitive benchmark. Despite being two inches shorter than the 911, the Vantage’s wheelbase extends almost 10 inches longer than the current 991-generation Carrera. Its short overhangs give the Vantage a low-slung stance as it eagerly sniffs out every turn on the undulating Portimão road course.
The efficient eight-speed ZF transmission becomes more aggressive and the engine’s bangs and pops erupt with mounting fervour as the driver increasingly ratchets the car’s powertrain and chassis-setting modes. Track mode throws the throttle wide open like a puncture to the jugular. Through the unseasonably slick conditions around the Autódromo Internacional’s turns, the Vantage’s back end playfully squirts about, only to be snapped quickly into shape by an effective traction control system.
However, both traction and stability control can be completely switched off if you’re feeling adventurous enough to take it into your own hands. And Becker wouldn’t have it any other way. Eagerly he demonstrates the Vantage’s full possibility and drifts his Dr Frankenstein’s monster through almost every one of the 15 turns on Portugal’s infamous track. However, even when sliding to and fro, stability reigns. Therefore, in a first for Aston Martin, this new Vantage gets an electronic rear differential that links to the stability control system and electronically varies the torque sent to each of the rear wheels.
“It’s a very clever piece of kit,” Becker says. “It allows you to tune the car to be in its natural state, to be very agile. When you increase the locking torque on the back it basically lengthens the feel of the car, making it more stable.”
Almost 289lb lighter and four inches shorter than its big brother the DB11, the Vantage acts far more assertively than the refined grand tourer. Becker explains that despite the steering ratio being the same as the DB11’s, the Vantage’s shorter wheelbase makes it effectively feel nimbler. In front of an empty stadium a small fleet of Aston Martin’s newest offering circled the rain-soaked Algarve racetrack. The Vantages’ quad-tipped exhausts amplified a chorus of ripping engine notes, which echoed off the track walls and out into the surrounding verdant hills of the seaside town of Portimão.
The Vantage responds generously, at once assertive and compliant
The next morning, that same sonorous din echoed through the white-washed fishing villages of Portugal’s Algarve region as another Vantage, this one resplendent in Morning Frost paint, hurled through the drenched countryside. The ghostly metallic white sheet metal shimmered in dappled light, showing off body details and character lines and turning heads as it sprinted past. Driving on the road equals the exhilaration of the track experience.
The 4-litre V8 not only creates the Vantage’s wicked sound but also churns out 503bhp and 505lb ft of torque. This is the second application of the AMG-sourced power plant, the first being the V8 powered DB11. The unit pumps about 80bhp more into the new sports coupe than the old V8 GT and, at 3,373lb, it carries around about 300lb less for a greatly improved power-to-weight ratio. It charges to 60mph in an impressive 3.5 seconds and has a top speed of 196mph.
Switching to manual mode on the ZF, shifts are quick even when downshifting more than one gear at a time. Large paddle shifters fixed to the steering column make it easy to find them with haste. This engine doesn’t require a professional racecar driver to get the full experience. If you’ve shifted unsuitably, not to worry. With copious amounts of torque, the Vantage responds generously, at once assertive and compliant.
A carved-out Bridge of Weir leather interior accommodates drivers up to 6ft 6in. Ergonomically this is a sports car, but an incredibly usable one. The centre console has been reimagined to provide easy access to shortcut buttons. No longer using Aston Martin’s traditional waterfall design, the Vantage’s controls are directly adjacent to the driver’s left thigh, infinitely more convenient, while race-inspired seats cocoon the occupants in comfort.
Driving the Vantage doesn’t feel like a brutal test and one could commute in it every day. If that isn’t enough, there’s plenty of cargo room to house two sets of golf clubs or similar equipment. There are two brake options — cast iron and the lighter carbon fibre — the second of which were fitted to the cars careering around the track in Portugal. Compared with those of the DB11, the master-cylinder’s diameter is increased to shorten pedal travel.
Becker entered the picture early enough to ensure that engineering and body design played out in concert. For the Vantage this resulted in cohesive aerodynamic features —everything integrates seamlessly. From the front splitter to the side gills, the upsweeps on the undercarriage to the rear diffuser, there are no deploying air blades or wings attached as an afterthought. The effect is one of enhanced balance and stability in addition to a devilishly handsome and polished sports car.
“Every person gets something from it because it’s a very linear car… and you don’t need to be at 10/10ths out to get the most of it,” Becker says. “You don’t have to be a hero to drive this car,” he adds. But when you do, it will absolutely make you feel like one.