Test drive: Aston Martin Vantage V8

By thoriq, 03 April 2019
Aston Martin Vantage V8

“What? It has a Mercedes V8 engine?” exclaimed a few surprised and confused folks when we answered their queries as to what powers this yellow-hued, quintessentially British sports coupe featured here.

This, of course, is the all-new Aston Martin Vantage and, having sampled it with a spirited drive up to Kuala Kubu Bharu and back with our colleagues from TopGear Malaysia Chinese Edition just before the recent festive holidays, there’s much to say about Aston’s new baby. But before we get into it, here’s a quick history lesson.

Since its reintroduction in 2005, the Vantage stood as the Aston Martin’s most driver-focused offering. Simply put, if you wanted a lightweight Aston Martin that was built to carve B-road corners, or to hoon about during weekend trackdays instead of its usual heavy but plush, mile-munching GTs, you’d want the Vantage.

Also, though the brand is renowned foremost as vanguards of the mighty V12 nat-asp powerplant, the Vantage was the only exception as you could have it with a free-revving V8 heart instead alongside an even more focused V12-powered option that came later.

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Back to the present and, on the surface at least, it seems that creed hasn’t changed in the all-new iteration. Hints of this Vantage’s newfound German-esque traits only come into view once you take in some of the new details in the cabin.

You still climb aboard into this strict two-seater coupe’s cockpit with the traditional Aston Martin ‘handshake’ door handle opening, with the doors slightly hinged upwards when opening.

Once here though, you’ll start to realise much of the borrowed tech from Mercedes-Benz, namely the infotainment controls. It’s essentially the three-pointed star marque’s complete COMAND unit that’s been grafted into the Vantage’s hand built dash, albeit with slight changes here and there.

In all honesty, there’s nothing wrong with this if you asked us. It’s a system that works very well, making life behind the wheel much more bearable. But thumb the engine start button and opinions are once again divided – even within TG Malaysia’s camp – about it’s next rather German-esque trait.

Like its predecessor, this new Vantage still harnesses a V8 up front, but it’s no longer one that’s hand-built by a bloke in Warwickshire, England. Instead, the deep rumbling soundtrack you will hear resonating from its twin pipes is a V8 hand built by a different sort of bloke in Affalterbach, Germany. More specifically, one who works at Mercedes-AMG.

Yup, purist fans were up in arms at first, and so were we. But as blasphemous as the whole affair looked, it didn’t take long before it became the tiniest speck of worry at the back of our – as well as the naysayers’ – minds. Give this mill the beans with your right foot and it will silence all doubts as quickly as it sprints from nought to 100kph.

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In retrospect, the 503hp and whopping 685Nm of twist this 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 delivers will please just about any of its prospects. If those figures – the 3.6-second century sprint time or even the claimed 314kph v-max this Vantage boasts – do not, then perhaps this mill’s soundtrack would when the needle goes past 4,000rpm.

We’ll agree, the soundtrack from this new and blown V8 isn’t as much of an event as its nat-asp predecessor was. However, the drama in delivery hasn’t dampened us to say the least.

In fact, it only got better, with peak torque coming from as low as 2,000rpm. In our race towards the Kuala Kubu Bharu dam, there wasn’t a moment of doubt towards this suave Brit’s new German power source.

What’s adds to the affair too is the slick eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic box managing both outputs to the rear wheels. The box is supplemented with a clever electronic differential (E-Diff) suite and a lightweight carbon fibre prop-shaft too.

And don’t also for a second think that these rather new and very German traits have dampened any of the Vantage’s quintessential ‘British-ness’. This is still the finely handcrafted British sports coupe that’s perhaps the four-wheeled equivalent to a finely tailored suit from Saville Row.

Also, don’t let the youthful ‘Yellow Tang’ paint scheme mislead you either. There’s still plenty of this true old school British-ness to marvel in inside and out. With the former, it’s the rich use of fine and plush leather covering the seats, dash, door inlays and centre console, all hand-stitched and crafted to perfection similarly to those seen in the Vantage’s GT cousins.

Sharp, nimble, precise, Aston Martin weren’t kidding about the Vantage being ‘a born predator’

With the latter, well, this odd yellow hue might not show it, but study the Vantage’s proportions and lines properly and it’s plain to that this is one sleek beauty indeed. Perhaps one that’s arguably as dapper as a certain British secret agent, more so if dressed in the right shade of silver or dark grey.Then there’s the way this Vantage drives, which is properly fun to say the least thanks to its claimed perfect 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution. Perhaps it is fun as that blonde British bombshell you once met and danced briefly with at a rave in Ibiza a few summers ago.

Sharp, nimble, precise, Aston Martin weren’t kidding about the Vantage being ‘a born predator’.

What to amplify the excitement? Just thumb both the ‘S’ and suspension button located on both sides of the steering wheel into Sport or Sport+ modes. Things get even raunchier in the latter as the electronic stability and traction control assists are lessened, but perhaps this is best left to the likes of Max Verstappen or Jazeman Jaafar at least to master and tame.

Needless to say, when you’re in either Sport or Sport+ modes, the clever electronic suspension and power steering suites are both sharpened and firmed up, followed by the heightened engine power management and throttle sensitivity.

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Even in the ‘milder’ Sport mode, you could feel that the Vantage is ready to help the British secret agent mentioned earlier make a swift getaway from the baddies.

Don’t fret if you aren’t as skilled as either of those two drivers mentioned earlier, there’s still plenty in the Vantage’s performance mix to keep all its power in check.

Besides the trick electronic driver assist and suspension we’ve highlighted, there’s also the set of sticky Pirelli P-Zero tyres wrapped around our tester’s tasty bespoke 20-inch alloys that help the Vantage stick on the road like glue.

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Even then, some still argue that the Vantage’s steering and ride manners aren’t as sharp or precise as say a Porsche 911 GT3 or Mercedes-AMG GT R, the latter of which uses a similar but more powerful V8 as the Vantage. Nevertheless, you can trust us when we say that the Vantage does have enough brain and brawn to close the gap against those two indeed.

Beyond that, our only gripes with the Vantage lie in the rather high wind noise intrusion from the frameless windows, and perhaps the slightly cramped cabin real estate should you have a taller than average physique.

Regardless, these aren’t deal breakers to say the least given just how much fun and style the Vantage presents.

Surely, this much fun should be illegal, right? Well, no, it isn’t, but it does cost more than both your arm and leg combined. Want one? Be ready to part with RM1.61 million when you order a Vantage with Aston Martin Kuala Lumpur. Mind you, that’s just the base price sans options and on-road costs

By day’s end, there’s no denying that the Vantage hasn’t lost much of its British-ness. Equally undeniable too is just how much more capable and perhaps slightly more refined it has grown into thanks to some of the new borrowed German tech, namely its powertrain, it now possesses.

For those still crying out for the Vantage to have a true Aston Martin-built V12 mill, then worry not. Given how the last generation Vantage developed, we’ll likely see one happen soon enough. But until then, this is the most focused, veracious and intense sports car Aston Martin has to offer, and that’s a treat indeed.

VERDICT: 8/10

Not – we repeat, NOT – merely a Mercedes-AMG GT dressed in a Savile Row suit. Also a refreshing alternative against the rather ‘predictable’ choices.

OR TRY THESE:

Porsche 911 GT3
The driver’s car you actually want, but is the most ‘predictable’ choice of all.

Mercedes-AMG GT R
For those who want the full-blown AMG experience, not just the engine.

SPECS

  Engine   3,982cc, V8 twin-turbo, RWD  503bhp, 685Nm
  Price   RM1.61 (base)
  Performance   0-100kph in 3.6 secs, 314kph
  Economy   10.3L/100km, 236g/km CO2
  Weight   1,530kg