Exclusive: We drive the all-new Aston Martin Vantage
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The new Aston Martin Vantage is designed to look like a predator, from its gaping low-slung mesh grille through to its ducktail rear-end.
Behind the wheel it feels like an aggressive hunter, urging the driver to push harder and faster into and out of corners, as it clings firmly to the road or track.
This is a hard-driving, track-ready sports car that comes with all the luxury you would expect from the British marque that has built a heritage around delivering speed in a tuxedo.
Aston Martin is currently in a sweet spot, as it celebrates a sales resurgence on the back of the success of the DB11, with new management and robust funding arrangements placing the whole operation on firmer ground.
The company is relying on the new Vantage, traditionally its best-selling model, to maintain and increase that sales momentum.
But that hasn’t stopped Aston Martin taking risks with the new model, with radically different styling marking a clear departure from the more classic DB11.
We drove the new Vantage at the Portimao circuit on the Algarve in Portugal and on uncrowded motorways and winding mountain roads.
Portuguese tourism authorities promote the region as a place “where the sun chooses to live,” though last month it was often cloudy and it rained most days.
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But this offered the chance to test the Vantage in wet conditions, on often slippery roads and track.
It was an opportunity to see whether its advanced electronic rear differential and 50/50 weight balance characteristics live up to the hype — and they do.
They help deliver a luxury sports car that clings to the road, even driving fast in sometimes greasy and wet conditions.
The Vantage steering is direct and as accurate as you would expect in an Aston Martin. It excels when pushed either in track mode or sport-plus driving mode.
The Portimao race track is smooth, undulating and twisty, with drivers entering most of the turns blind to what lies over the brow of the hill. But even on a wet track, the Vantage handled the conditions superbly. One test driver managed to push it over the limit, spinning out in the middle of a convoy speeding around the circuit, but that was the only incident during a day of track testing.
After the track day, we took the Vantage up a nearby narrow and windy mountain road, over a 200km route, encountering a full range of road surfaces, from rutted gravel surfaces through to super-smooth multi-lane freeways. Across them all the Vantage stuck to the road, with the ride firm but comfortable.
The body is rigid, and the driver sits low and as close to the centre of the car as the designers could manage. This all helps ensure the Vantage wraps around the driver, with the 4-litre AMG engine putting out 375kW of power and 683Nm of torque, ensuring there is an appropriately sporty soundtrack accompanying the drive.
The eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox smoothly delivers oodles of power. We experienced it on the track at more than 230km/h, when it sits firmly on the tarmac.
This is the first Aston Martin model set up by former Lotus ride and handling chief Mark Becker. Although he was involved in aspects of the DB11, he had the freedom to set up the Vantage the way he wanted it.
He is among a small, elite band considered to be the engineering superstars of the worldwide motor industry and his influence is obvious on the Vantage.
He has helped deliver an exhilarating car to drive, which builds confidence the harder you press it.
Becker has brought his talent from creating some of the best-handling Lotus models to Aston Martin, and Vantage owners are the beneficiaries.
It travels from 0 to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds, and has a claimed top speed of 314km/h.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox delivers the power quickly and efficiently, and the Vantage has unusually large flappy paddles on either side of the steering wheel that help make the driving experience so enjoyable.
The suspension can be set to suit the drive — and, make no mistake, this is a quick and comfortable luxury sports car to drive, on the track or on a public road.
It is unusually wide, which is somewhat disconcerting when you are negotiating narrow cobbled streets in Portuguese mountain villages in an unfamiliar left-hand-drive model.
But it is surprisingly easy to get in and out of as the seats have a huge range of adjustment, which makes it easy to set the perfect driving position.
There is a seven-sided steering wheel, something that has mystified some critics of the Vantage. However the wheel is flat at the bottom, helping to make room for larger-framed drivers.
The designers have also ensured the cabin feels roomier than the previous Vantage, with plenty of shoulder room, and although you sit low in the vehicle, it doesn’t at all feel enclosed or restrictive.
There are at least 24 buttons or switches on the dashboard, including the gear buttons, arranged in a triangle on the central console. At first glance the range of buttons and switches could appear intimidating but the physical switches and buttons are simple and easy to use.
They are tactile, and it is more obvious you have actually flicked the switch, than if you have pushed a virtual or touchscreen button. The company says this is important given that Vantage owners are more likely to indulge in more frantic driving experiences (especially on the track) than those driving other Aston models.
Aston Martin’s marketing gurus like to emphasise the “pure, tactile nature of the Vantage driving experience”.
The interior oozes luxury, with screeds of alcantara leather, comfortable and enveloping seats that offer great side support as the car is swung through sharp corners at speed.
The Vantage is an easy luxury sports car to drive. Hop in, set the car to your favourite driving and suspension mode, and away you go.
The sports car takes off, rolling on Pirelli P Zero tyres developed especially for the Vantage.
The cabin even includes discreet knee pads for the driver and passenger in case your knee comes in contact with the central transmission tunnel.
The instruments are clear and the navigation system is easy to programme and provides simple instructions to follow. Some of this equipment is supplied by Mercedes-Benz, so we know it is well-tested, proven and reliable.
The Vantage sells in New Zealand for just shy of $300,000, and the first examples are expected to arrive here in July or August.
The new model brings the iconic Vantage into the 2020s, with massive leaps in connectivity and safety features over its predecessors.
It does this without compromising the marque’s fine heritage, even if some traditionalists may have reservations about its departure from some fine Aston Martin traditions.