HEAD TO HEAD: Aston V8 Vantage vs Audi R8
Two sports cars that defined a generation can now be bought for the price of a Focus RS. Which would you choose?
Don't you just love depreciation? It is often said that time is the greatest leveller in the universe, and nowhere is that more true than in the world of expensive cars.
For example, if you were to have walked through the plate-glass doors of your nearest Audi dealership back in 2008, you would have been asked to part with more than £77,000 in exchange for their latest and greatest V8 sports car, the then new R8. Across the road at Aston Martin, the immaculately coiffured salespeople would relieved you of over £83,000 for their 'most affordable' offering, the V8 Vantage Coupe.
In both cases, those price tags were merely the opening gambit, the 'lights and sounds' sticker on the box to entice you in for a chat with the oh-so-affable staff who fetch you a coffee hotter than the surface of the sun whilst you pore over the options list. "Red leather sun visors for £1500?" you exclaim, "Well, sir doesn't have to have them, but sir should be aware that it could impact upon sir's resale value sir..."
Happily though, thanks to the magic of depreciation, matters such as these are only for the first owners of these iconic cars to concern themselves over. And besides, if they're spending eighty grand on a car, then surely a monkey on a pair of cup-holders is really neither here not there. The important thing for people like you and me, is that a decade or so later, both of these spectacularly good cars can now be had for the same price as a new hot hatchback.
Yep, believe it or not, you can have either one of these exotic dream machines in your garage for the less than the £34,910 that you'd spend on a brand new Volkswagen Golf R. However, does that mean that you should? And if you should, then which one is best?
The Aston arrived first, way back in 2005, and to my eye the years have done nothing to condemn it. The real genius of Henrik Fisker, the man who later went on to lend his name and his pen to the Fisker Karma EV, was to capture the nuances of the Aston 'look' and blend them with just enough aggression as to end up with a car that was very definitely an Aston Martin in it's own right, rather than just a shrunken DB9.
With a snarling 380 horsepower 4.3 litre V8 up front, and a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, the 'baby' Aston brought the brand within reach of thousands of people who couldn't afford it before, and thousands responded by buying one. The V8 Vantage became the best selling model in the range and maintained that title throughout the entirety of its epic 13 year life.
It wasn't the fastest thing on the road. You have to work that engine, but for those willing to do so the rewards are massive. The exhaust note is sublime, and the Vantage is blessed with a superb chassis. This allowed the engineers to use a supple enough suspension setup to allow the V8 to perform it's party trick: This is a powerful, rear drive sports car that you can blat down a crap British B-road in without it feeling unsettled. This is something that many rivals struggled with, and some still do.
Issues? Well, clutches aren't the strongest, but a manual is still preferable to the clunky 'Sportshift' semi-auto. Interiors are well-trimmed, but some of the switchgear is sourced from the Ford parts bin and isn't the best. The Volvo-sourced sat-nav is legendarily crap and you'll soon be downloading Waze.
These days, you can pick up an early Vantage from around £25,000. However those cars will be high-mileage examples, and although the Vantage is generally pretty reliable, neglected cars will give trouble. My pick would be THIS 2006 car. With a reasonable 42,000 miles on the clock backed up by a full service record, and finished in the desirable Onyx Black and Sandstorm Leather combo. Yours for just £31,975.
So what about the R8? Well, at this end of the scale you'll be looking at one of the original V8 models from the first generation. Don't be disheartened though, anyone who tells you that the V8 is the V10's poor relation should be flayed in the streets. The V8 is question, is the 4.2 litre 414 horsepower unit taken directly from the B7 Audi RS 4, y'know, the RS 4 everyone loved.
The mid-engine layout allowed for a more traditional 'supercar' silhouette than you get with the Aston, and whilst it doesn't quite have the superb proportions of the British car, there's no denying the original R8 is a design icon. When it was first show, it was criticised by some for being nothing more than a larger TT, but when you spend time up close with one of these things, you really get to understand the brilliance of a car that manages to be dramatic and exotic, but retains the comforting familiarity of an established brand.
Usability is the name of the game in the R8's cabin, and that's no bad thing. Alright, so the dash layout will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has owned an old A3, but who really wants a complicated interior? The build quality is, unsurprisingly, excellent and the interior does feel half a generation ahead of the Aston. The stereo and navigation systems, for instance, are combined into one intuitive unit.
Out on the road, the R8's 34 horsepower advantage is perhaps not as obvious as you may expect when compared to the Aston, but it still feels faster, it'll rev sweetly and quickly where the Aston can seem tied down by the weight of its own inertia. It isn't quite a match for the full-bore aural assault of the Brian Blessed Vantage, but that isn't to say the R8 doesn't sound good.
Lots of R8's were the first 'serious' car for many of their owners, and the Quattro four-wheel-drive system is a major selling point. I make no bones about this, the security of four-wheel-drive makes the R8 easier to enjoy than it would be without it. It means that normal drivers, with normal abilities can make the most of the car.
Something that isn't so great is the single-clutch robotised R-Tronic gearbox. It isn't as bad as it's reputation may suggest. It just has the low-speed jerkiness and unwillingness to respond that characterises many of those earlier automated manual transmissions. Audi did offer a very nice six-speed manual option, but most buyers chose the R-Tronic and manual cars command a premium on the used market.
The R8 didn't officially launch in the UK until late 2007, two years after the Aston. However the earliest models are now within reach, values haven't bottomed out quite as much as the Vantage but £30k will get you into a leggy example.
Spend a little more though and you could find yourself with THIS on your driveway. A 2008 R-Tronic car with all the requisite history and 67,000 miles up. That kind of mileage may sound high to devotees of the prancing horse, but these things really can take that kind of everyday use. At £34,950 the R8 is a little pricier than the Aston, but it still comes in at less than the cost of that Golf R with a couple of options.
So which one would you choose?
Arrrrrrgh. It's a tricky decision isn't it? The R8 was a brilliant, brilliant car when it was new, and it still is now. It's an exotic, exclusive, modern-day supercar. Does the fact that you could easily use it every single day make it any less special? I'm not sure it does, actually. When you take into account what you'll need to stump up for the R8's sister car, the Lamborghini Gallardo, it begins to look like the bargain of the millennium, let alone the century.
The Aston is a flawed machine, make no mistake. The engine really cries out for the extra power that was finally bestowed upon the later 4.7 litre models that sadly remain out of our price range. It's special though, in a deep-rooted psychological way that I can't explain and the R8 can't quite manage, and there's no question that the Vantage is the purer drivers car.
I think if I bought the Audi, I'd be over the moon with it. I would drive it all over the country, and like it very much. The Aston though, that's the one that would only come out on special occasions, the one I'd use to make memories with, rather than shopping trips. The Aston is the one that I'd love.