A Fresh Vantage Point
My righteous fury and indignation at the new Vantage may have been slightly premature and ultimately unfounded. Having now driven it, here's why.
The previous generation Vantage was with us for 13 years and frankly, was more than a little long in the teeth when it finally shuffled off its mortal coil. Much to the chagrin of Aston Martin purists, the new model featured an AMG sourced 4.0L twin turbo V8 mated to an 8-speed ZF gearbox. Gone were the naturally aspirated V8 and V12 and gone was the third pedal. To add insult to injury, the DB10 inspired body was considered by many to be less attractive than the old model's. However, the "new" Vantage does has one thing going for it - the way it drives.
I'll be honest - at first I didn't quite understand why the Vantage was repositioned. The V8 Volante and V12 models I had driven of the first generation had seemed to be capable enough as grand tourers. Not quite as good as the DB9 or DBS, but for the difference in price and size (and engine in the case of the V8 models) the outgoing Vantage seemed a decent effort from Aston. Naturally then I wasn't thrilled when I heard that the current model had a stiffer suspension and other major changes to give it a more sporting feel. That was long before I had the chance to get behind the wheel, though.
The old models, as I just mentioned, were decent GT cars. The shorter wheelbase led to a less comfortable ride than in the Vantage's big siblings but the sluggish paddle shift gearbox in most examples kept it from feeling like a proper sports car. Certinaly the sluggishness was remedied in the manual cars, but at least to me, the V12 Vantage I drove with the manual transmission almost felt like a pony car. The reality was that the chassis just wasn't really ready for the extra power and torque that the V12 brought. I actually liked that the V12 felt a bit harder to handle as it was more satisfying when you did mange to get it right, but if I'm honest that's not really what an Aston Martin is meant to be. Certainly an Aston is meant to be a very sporting gentleman's express, but just a proper gentleman must, it should always keep its composure. So while the old car may have been prettier and arguably more of a pure bred Aston, it was a bit of a hot mess.
The new car, though, delivers exactly what Aston promised it would - a true sports car experience. The steering response, particularly in sport and track modes, is excellent. Add in the updated chassis and you end up with a car that's more than happy to dance when you show it some twisty roads. I would say that the car does feel a bit too rough even in comfort mode, but given how well it sticks to the road, the extra stiffness in the ride is more than made up for in handling capability. The engine is familiar to anyone who has driven recent AMG models and leaves little to be complained about. Well, except for the inevitable repair bills that is. The real highlight of the engine isn't the power it makes, but the sound it makes. The V8 does sound pretty good in AMG cars, but in the Vantage it sounds simply incredible. It may be childish and undignified, but the crackles and pops it makes on the overrun are simply fantastic. And for those who don't wish to hear them, simply leaving the car in comfort mode changes the exhaust characteristics and gives it a strong but dignified tone.
In years past, Astons would proudly display the words "Power, Beauty, Soul" on their dashboards on startup. Those words were meant to be the guiding principles of those cars - what made them proper Aston Martins. Naturally then, it seems only fair to evaluate the current Vantage with those three criteria. Power it certainly has. 503 horsepower and a 0-62 time of 3.6 seconds are ample evidence of that. Soul in the previous generations was easy to put a finger on. It was that certain magic of being in a car with truly timeless elegance and proper pedigree. The new car doesn't really have that. It does, however, have a different kind of character. At no moment during my time behind the wheel of the Vantage was I doing anything but smiling. It may not have the old soul, but it does have a new, youthful character. That just leaves beauty. I will maintain that the old model was just better looking, but this new body is growing on me the more I see it.
So where does that leave this current Vantage? Well as I see it, it isn't a traditional Aston. It's a new, younger Aston that is more than happy to dance in the corners then straighten out its tie as it arrives at the hottest spot in town. And I am 100% on board with that.