A Gentlemanly, Unhinged Sports Car

2019 Aston Martin Vantage Review: Exactly Why James Bond Doesn’t Drive a Porsche


June 1, 2018 Cars By Photo by Nick Caruso
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The 2019 Aston Martin Vantage is the latest iteration of performance-oriented cars that have supplemented the marque’s gentlemanly grand touring lineage. Past Vantage models, including cars from the late ’70s and early 2000s, were typically offered as variants of the company’s flagship of the time, like the DB9. Aston Martin, now in the middle of a brilliant and categorically successful revival, is introducing all-new model after all-new model; the Vantage is its latest debut. The Vantage is a standalone car rather than a performance variant of an existing car; it does, however, borrow architecture from its big brother DB11 and an engine from AMG. The Vantage is the first car in Aston Martin history to offer an electronic differential; it is also one of the only production cars currently on offer that generates significant downforce. Its main competition is, unsurprisingly, the sports car benchmark: a Porsche 911.

The Good: The sound and the fury. Also, the sound and the feel. While I’m at it, the sound and the looks. Aston’s new Vantage is what I like to call a Very Good Car. It is purpose-built to stun every sense. Take one look at its distinctive and futuristic yet heritage-inspired shape and you’re intrigued; hear it start up, and its raucous V8 ignites in you a traditional muscle car lust; drive it and you understand how supportive of your wildest daredevil dreams a car can be. This is an all-new car meant to break into a heavily-contested segment, and it makes a massive statement. The Vantage’s fit and finish are extremely good. It pushes the boundaries between luxury and sport. Perhaps best of all, this does not feel like a brand new experiment; the Vantage feels so confident and solid and well-done that it may as well have always existed.

Who It’s For: The 911 guy who wants something more exclusive and traditional. Your buddy’s Porsche isn’t hand-built; plus, it’s shaped funny and the engine is in the wrong place. You want a very relatively rare and very fast sports car that’s nimble on the road and vicious on the track; one that’s got a V8 in front and a classic coupe profile. Something with heritage that’s also thoroughly, vividly modern. Something you can customize to your every whim; something British. Because James Bond doesn’t drive a Porsche.

Watch Out For: There’s road noise, though not an inappropriate amount for a muscly sports car. If you want an Aston Martin (you do) that’s quiet, you get (the utterly magnificent) DB11 V12. If you want a relatively quiet Aston Martin that is quite sporting, get the DB11 V8. If you want a true sports car from Aston Martin, you likely also don’t mind road noise; if you’ve driven a recent 911, you’ll notice about the same amount of decibels emanating from the german’s tires. This is a caveat, but also a total wash. The Aston Martin Vantage is, simply, an on-par, serious sports car.

The car’s styling, which is a mix of 007’s movie-only DB10 and the current DB11, is forward thinking — a quality that’s always a bone of contention, especially among purists.

The Aston Martin Vantage is also more expensive than its direct competition: the 911 features a base price of $91,100, almost $60,000 lower than the Vantage. That cost delta isn’t entirely unjustified: for that extra change, you get a hand-built car that’s completely customizable. To be fair, if you start customizing things willy-nilly you’re going to pay quite a lot more than the base price.

Alternatives: The Porsche 911 is directly in the Vantage’s crosshairs. One of my favorite cars in recent memory is the (also British) Jaguar F-Type SVR which, with its 575 horsepower V8, is also a competitor. Audi’s civilized, mid-engine R8 (which now comes in rear-wheel drive) should also be cross-shopped if you’re in the market.

Review: The Aston Martin Vantage shares its architecture with the larger and more opulent DB11, and it also uses an engine and tech developed by Mercedes-AMG. Those bits coalesce into a marvelous package that feels totally planted on the road or track at all times, and provide copious power and agility that’s needed to compete in this segment. This engine sharing isn’t Aston selling out; it’s a smart move by CEO Andy Palmer, and likely the easiest way for the company to continue its aggressive growth. Regardless, it’s a fine motor. There’s power in abundance every time your foot summons any. It’s smooth and sounds unhinged — my favorite combination.

Styling is the only sticking point I’ve identified with the Vantage — it’s costly and loud, yes, but those qualities are completely expected and as such don’t matter at all. I’m personally quite partial to every last line on the Aston, especially after being given a detailed talk about the car by Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman. (Listening to an artist wax thoroughly about the golden proportion tends to do that.) Still, I understand the criticism: the headlights are unusually small and the front of the hood strikes a different shape than most cars, what with there being no readily discernible grille. My advice to detractors is to acknowledge that this is an all-new sports car by one of the most reasonably forward-thinking brands in the world — like it or not now, this car heralds in its own small way the future of design language.

I started my drive on the Portimao Circuit in Portugal to see just how sporting the lusciously, vividly green cars could manage themselves in the hands of a far-less-than-professional “racing driver” (me). The track was…wet. (That color is called Lime Essence, by the way.) Portugal, which hadn’t seen a drop of rain for the better part of the previous year, was being hammered by a weeks-long deluge from above, and the water did not spare us one moment. This made clocking 160 mph on the straight at full-tilt nerve-racking but also very easy. The Vantage is extremely patient, coaxing every bit of applicable driving skill out of me and putting to good use: I became superhuman in the driver’s seat when I know for certain I am anything but.

I felt entirely confident behind the wheel, and found sightlines and road feel in abundance; the seats held me in place at every turn and all controls were intuitively placed. Moreover, the cars we drove at the track were fitted with an optional sport exhaust that sounded crazy-ferocious especially flat-out in top gear.

The next day, our contingent took to the still-soaked roads in Vantages fitted with the standard exhaust — twin pipes versus quad, and quieter — yet still sounded outrageously good. (My driving companion pointed out that it sounded so heavenly there may be no need to get the sport exhaust.) Even though the Vantage is not necessarily meant to be a grand tourer, it is very comfortable for longer stretches. The car is actually a hatchback (until the convertible comes along, anyway) and there’s a surprising amount of cargo room too.

The Vantage is happy on fun roads: it squirts past slower cars and squirms up mountain switchbacks readily and happily. The interior of our car was bedecked with more electric green accents, a look that won’t be for everyone. But again, if you’re buying an Aston Martin, you’re able to customize every last bit to your liking and you could just as easily make those shiny accents piano black as you could a gaudy fuchsia. I found the lime and black contrast inside exciting, like a superhero’s costume, and every last centimeter of space inside was treated to a tactile carnival of fine materials. The driver and passenger are swathed in technology without drowning in an overabundance of buttons and dials. Even quirky details, like the Aston Martin signature triangular PRDN push-button shifting array, doesn’t seem out of place.

Verdict: I can say a great many positive things about the Vantage, but chief among them is that it simply makes sense. Aston Martin is such a storied brand with a distinct through-line to its heritage — it would be easy to develop a car that betrays the brand’s elegant, opulent, perfectionist ethos with some unremarkable, rough-edged car. But in demarcating the Vantage as the “sporty” option in the lineup, opposite the DB11’s grace and grandiosity, the company has defined what it considers to be the luxury segment’s two-door bookends — and tied them together with a fundamental quality that is inarguably Aston Martin. True, the brand makes much wilder cars than the Vantage, but hypercars like the Vulcan and exotics like the One-77 are outliers. The everyday luxury-segment buyer (if such a person even exists), would be totally justified in having a DB11 for his daily driver and a Vantage for the weekends because the car exhibits the brand’s old-world sporting nature of decades past in a decidedly modern way — that forward thinking I mentioned earlier. More importantly, this is beyond a shot across Porsche’s bow; I’d call the Aston Martin Vantage a small-payload nuke. Especially in Lime Essence paint.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Aston describes the new design as James Bond’s DB10 enhanced by the menacing stance of a Vulcan. Mr. Palmer sums it up as the brand’s “hunter, a car with its nose on the ground.” What Aston had to hold back on its grand-touring DB11 was put into [the Aston Martin Vantage], resulting in a huge ducktail, and even larger grille, heavy venting on the side, and a carbon roof.” — Máté Petrány, Road & Track

• “This is not an Aston to be driven in a tuxedo – I don’t think you’d even wear a tie. This one’s got class, but it’s new money class. Open white shirt class. Take me out and drive me hard class. And for every dollop of class, there’s two of breathless boy racer. It’s going to ruffle some feathers about what it really means to wear that winged badge, and that seems to kind of be the point.” — Loz Blain, New Atlas

• “Few auto companies manage to produce such consistently good-looking cars as does Aston Martin. It is becoming increasingly hard to remember the last time the British sports-car specialist turned out something that wasn’t either handsome or gorgeous. It’s a streak that the new Vantage, set to go on sale early next year, definitely isn’t going to break.” — Mike Duff, Car and Driver

2019 Aston Martin Vantage Specs:
Engine: 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Power: 503 horsepower
Torque: 505 lb-ft
Dry Weight: 3373 pounds
Top Speed: 195 mph
0-60: 3.6 seconds
The Porsche 911 GTS Is a Commute-Friendly Track Car

For an alternate opinion: Eric Adams thinks “Porsche has mastered the daily-use performance machine formula.” Read the Story

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