The raspy echo of a snarling V8 carrying over the desert sand is usually something that would conjure up thoughts of American iron and righteous lawlessness. The movie Vanishing Point comes to mind, and the Dodge Challenger is just the car I would normally think of when the topic of V8s echoing over desert sands arises. But in this case, what I am describing is not a muscle car, but a suave British exotic, fresh from the pages of a novel by Ian Fleming. I am of course talking about an Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage S to be exact, and no, I cannot promise that will be my last James Bond reference because such cliches are obligatory when a journalist drives an Aston, of course.
My drive took place on the racetrack at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas, Nevada. I doubt many Aston Vantages see track time in the hands of their owners, but it was very interesting to get to know this little car in a setting where I could actually explore a good bit of its potential. Exotics Racing had unfortunately unhooked all of the machine guns and the oil slick from the car (things that come standard on every Aston), but on the positive side, that made the car lighter.
Appearance: Bond would smirk and say, “Mine’s bigger…”
I must be honest, I’ve never really given the V8 Vantage much mind or much credit in the past. It was always the runt of the Aston litter, and it always seemed to appeal more to the sort of people who wear their car like a piece of jewelry. It is a bit of a poseurs car, if I’m honest, the sort of car an up-in-coming business executive might lease to impress his peers, rather than buying late-model Porsche 911 Turbo, which would run circles around this thing all day, every day. It has never been much of a car for informed, enthusiast buyers, they’d all have the V12 Vantage or something else entirely.
That said, the Vantage, in all of its forms, is quite a looker. Its styling is both handsome and elegant, and while it may appeal mostly to twits, it certainly does the job of making them look good. Most people on the side walk will be very impressed, but those who know cars will know that you wish you had a DB9, and that you should’ve gotten an R8 or a Porsche instead.
Inside: Nice, but is a leather wrapped seatbelt buckle too much?
I definitely appreciate attention to detail in cars, especially ones that cost six-figures. That said, there is no way to make that awful red plastic seatbelt buckle elegant in any way, and trying to do so just makes it worse. Aston’s designers need to learn when to just live and let die. (oh yes, that just happened)
The interior overall definitely feels worth the $140,000 price tag. All the materials are solid quality, and the design flair is both functional and quite attractive. Aston Martin likes to get flamboyant with the stitching in their cars, and this Vantage S is no exception. Sure, maybe it took another cow or two to make those lovely folds of leather on the doors, but their sacrifice to the gods of style is for a noble cause.
The piano black center console, the alcantara steering wheel, and the smooth metal control knobs are all further details that make the inside of this Aston a very nice place to be. The car only seats two, and the trunk is a bit tight, but if you can squeeze yourselves into some squishy bags, the Vantage is great for taking a weekend getaway with the Mrs. But in reality, who are we kidding? The sort of person who would buy a new Vantage is going to have the sort of wife who insists on bringing her entire wardrobe with her everywhere she goes…. one trip to the next, one country to the next, and one marriage to the next. So really, just bide your time until the divorce proceedings have gone through because this Aston will help a lot for the dating game.
On The Move: A frisky little bugger with a clunky gearbox
One thing that is interesting about a racetrack is the honesty of the experience. Out in the real world, on public roads, supercars have a sort of celebrity status about them. On the track, all of that nonsense gets thrown right out the window, and judgement is rendered on dynamic ability alone.
So all of that image stuff I’ve been poking fun at meant nothing as I got in the Vantage and set out. There was no yearning for a DB9, no KGB agents in pursuit, and most certainly, no divorce proceedings. All that mattered was me, the car, and the track.
What I found most surprising about the V8 Vantage S, as I got into my stride on the track, was how nimble, and well balanced it felt in corners. It rotated much better than I had thought it would, and its heavy steering had a nice, direct feel. While I had to leave the stability control on, the system itself felt much more crude than in other cars I’ve driven, allowing the car to move around a decent bit before kicking in. The Vantage was extremely lively, and wound up being one of those cars that I just wanted to push harder and harder through corners.
If you were to only listen to this car, you could be forgiven for guessing it was a Ford Mustang. It has that same raspy growl, and it is not afraid to shout out loud. The sound is one of the best things about the V8 Vantage, definitely adding to the childish fun appeal of the car.
When it comes to horsepower, there are two ways to look at this Aston. In modern supercar terms, its bark is a lot worse than its bite. However, it is still going to be much faster than 99% of all other cars you will see on the road, so its real world performance is quite substantial. The Vantage’s 4.7L V8 kicks out 430hp and 361ft/lbs of torque. I can still remember when those sort of numbers were considered “a lot”. In truth, horsepower figures have gone completely off the charts, but that doesn’t mean that what was considered “fast” 10 years ago is now “slow.”
Tests of the Vantage S have shown 0-60mph in around 4.5 seconds, the quarter mile in 12.4 seconds, and a top speed of 190mph. In other words, it is about as fast as a Ferrari 360, which ten years ago was the standard for supercars. Things have gone nuts since then, and obviously the Lamborghini Superleggera and Ferrari 458 that I drove later that day completely demolished the Aston in terms of performance, but that doesn’t take anything away from this little Aston. In truth, the V8 Vantage S is a sports car, whereas those two Italians are full-on supercars. Apples and oranges. In real world terms, the Vantage S is quite rapid.
So far, it seems the Vantage has all of the makings of a proper sports car, however, now we come to the gearbox. Frankly, Aston Martin has had issues with all of their single-clutch paddle shift transmissions. The Vanquish, on which it originated, was damn near ruined by its jerky, unpredictable gearbox. Things did get a little better over time, but Aston Martin has remained well behind the 8-Ball in the transmission department. So much so that they have since scrapped the single-clutch box in favor of a new slushbox automatic.
While the gearbox in this Vantage S was definitely better than the one in the DB9 I drove a while back, it still felt archaic compared to other cars I’ve sampled. Even the hard-shifting single-clutch gearboxes in the Lamborghinis are leagues better than what Aston managed in this car. Don’t get me wrong, the transmission served its general function, but there was a noticeable delay on shifts, and the engagement was far from smooth.
There is, however, a solution. Happily, Aston Martin offers the V8 Vantage and V8 Vantage S models with an optional manual transmission. The Vantage, being more of a true sports car and not as much a big grand tourer like the DB9, I think is better off having a clutch pedal and a gear lever. Paddle shift transmissions can be quite good, but when they are not that well executed, its best to just handle the shifting for yourself…. more enjoyable too.
So it was a nice surprise for me, learning that the V8 Vantage S is a proper Aston Martin sports car. It has an eager engine that sounds raw and exciting. It handles beautifully, and is quite nimble to drive. It also looks good, and is well crafted. My only gripe was the gearbox, but if you go with the manual (as you should anyway in a car like this), then I think the Aston Martin V8 Vantage S will surely please those who actually drive the hell out of it.
Dollars and Sense: Why would you buy this over an F-Type?
Base Price: $140,000
The Vantage was a great idea back when Aston Martin brought it out in 2005, it really was. However, here in 2013 (soon to be 2014), this car is totally obsolete as a brand new purchase. Jaguar released their new F-Type this year, and it offers the same exact sort of package, with a lot more performance, for a lot less money. Even if we forget that you could have an Audi R8, a loaded Porsche 991 Carrera 4S, or even a Porsche 991 GT3 for the massive $140,000 that this Aston demands, the F-Type alone is enough to put the Vantage in checkmate.
If you still just really like the Aston Vantage, then please do yourself a huge favor and find a used one for less than half the price. You will get the same overall experience, and the experience is why you buy an Aston Martin in the first place.
If it were my money, I’d find a used Vantage Volante with a manual transmission for under $75 grand. I’d still get everything the new one offers, just without pissing away all that extra money. Also, for those wanting a manual transmission, a used V8 Vantage may well be a fantastic alternative for anyone who is considering a Jaguar F-Type V6/V6 S.
Verdict: Surprisingly good little car, but they charge too much for the fluff.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage S proved itself a capable sports car on the race track. I loved the balance and nimble feel of its chassis, and I thought the level of power from its V8 engine was adequate for the sort of car that it is. The clunky paddle shift gearbox threw a bit of a stick in the works, but otherwise it was a sweet little machine. Aston set out to make a sports car, and a sports car they did make.
The issue at this point is the price, and that is why I can’t recommend anyone purchase a new one. Things have changed a lot since the Vantage first came out in 2005, and its level of performance is now lagging pretty significantly for the sort of money it demands. The V8 Vantage was a great start for Aston Martin, but it is definitely time for a replacement.
WoM Score: Aston Martin V8 Vantage S
Primary Function: Performance: 1.5
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 0
Final Score: 7/10
PS: You can try out this surprising little Aston for yourself at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas, NV. It is a great addition to an experience in some of their faster cars. I recommend taking out the Vantage S as the first car you do because its excellent handling balance will really help you to get acclimated to the Exotics Racing Track, which will allow you to go faster in whatever cars you try afterward. It is a truly enjoyable driving experience, and, of course, you can pretend you’re James Bond, if you like.