I know the 4.692km Portimão racetrack, in the Algarve region of Portugal, fairly well having tested numerous GT and racecars there over the years and I love it. It’s among the top three tracks alongside Spa- Francorchamps in Belgium and Mount Panorama, Bathurst in Australia. In my eyes, they are equally first with none better than the other. I thought that I also knew the weather reasonably well, being fine and sunny every time I’ve been there, so the prospect of spending a good eight hours on track with the all-new, twinturbocharged, v8 Aston Martin vantage had me salivating for weeks in anticipation. What I wasn’t prepared for was arriving at a damp and rainsoaked Algarve with thunderous black clouds overhead which had dumped buckets of rain over the region for 23 days straight. With the sun peeking through and even a rainbow in the distance, I was hopeful things would get better as I didn’t want to be the journo who’d go down in automotive writing folklore (oh yes, we have one) as the one who binned a AEd660,000 Aston on a wet track in Portugal. vantage is possibly the most important car for Aston Martin as it took the mantle from dB9 as the volume car in the range when it appeared in its last iteration back in 2005.
That Henrik Fisker design, as lovely as it was, desperately needed updating and as a string of subsequent models have looked quite similar, it was time to make the brave decision and give Aston Martin a new design dNA without compromising its heritage. Add to this that the 2019 vantage very quickly follows the dB11 v8 to market with an engine that’s not entirely British but a product of a partnership they enjoy with Mercedes- AMG. So, in many ways, this is probably the bravest departure Aston Martin has made from an engineering/styling perspective in living memory. The engine is a 4-litre, twin-turbocharged v8 you will find under the hood of the AMG GT, which amusingly also makes it the vantage’s closest competitor as well as the ‘63’ branded Mercedes models like the C63, E63, S63 etcetera. As the first car on a wet track, it was incredibly slippery with instructions to stay off the painted red and white curbs that were like ice. With 503bhp under the right foot and in ‘track mode’ that allowed a little more wiggle in the rear, I was playing it cautiously, but one thing immediately came to mind. This car had tons of grip. I mean copious amounts that was no doubt aided by the Pirelli P-Zero tyres made especially for the vantage, but still, it was an ice rink out there, yet it stuck like glue. Speaking to senior engineers later who were happy to receive my compliments about its grip, it was Aston Martin’s chief engineer and all-round good driver, Matt Becker who let me in on a secret as to my ability in the car and its supposed grip levels. The driver sits in the new vantage precisely in the middle, equidistant from the front wheels to the back wheels so that car effectively pivots around you which in turn gives you more feel for its movements, therefore arguably more control. It had to play some part in the overall job as a few of us seasoned hacks later commented on the bus back to the hotel that it was an easy car to drive very quickly. When it did step out of line, its electronic rear diff, which is linked to the car’s stability control system, read the car’s behaviour and reacted instantly to direct power to the relevant wheel.
Unlike a conventional diff, it can go from fully open to locked in milliseconds so at high speed its sensitivity enabled it to take control so that it felt more composed in terms of its straight-line stability and cornering performance. Its track composure was certainly confidence inspiring, and as I grew more comfortable with the vantage, my times tumbled. I could brake far deeper into corners that I thought was possible, stay on the gas through sweepers where other high-performance cars I’d driven couldn’t and it would take a high-speed change of direction without so much as an ounce of body roll. That’s because the new vantage is markedly stiffer than the old one and even the new dB11 v8, but it’s also 20kg lighter at 1,530kg. The previous vantage v12 S, which is closest in terms of performance, was 1,570kg, while the dB11 is 129kg heavier. Styling-wise, apart from the new-shape grille that’s designed to give it a predator look as if it’s sniffing the ground, the rear is dominated by a large diffuser that stood out even more by being painted a contrasting colour. It’s not just for looks, though, as it helps with the overall grip by adding nearly 80kg of rear downforce compared to 25kg on the dB11, whereas the old vantage was actually lifting at its terminal speed. This is great on a track, but how did this translate to a nice weekender on the road? The vantage is stiffer than the dB11 and a bit noisier inside, too, due to its rear suspension being solidly mounted for better handling, whereas the dB11’s is isolated to reduce noise. At this level, though, it’s nit-picking as the vantage performed superbly on the open road and better, from memory, than the AMG GT which felt heavier through the steering and has a longer nose making it less nimble through twisty bends. The ZF eight-speed transmission is operated solely through paddle shifts behind the wheel that have been extended for better reach, however Aston tells us that a manual box will be offered next year.
Our ‘Onyx Black’ road car had the standard exhaust system of two pipes compared to the quad pipes on the ’Lime Essence’ track cars, so was quieter on the road, but still provided some nice pops and crackles from the pipes on downshifts. In true Aston style it’s not as dramatic as the staccato noises from the AMG Mercs, preferring instead to offer a more refined, GT experience. Aston Martin even has a ‘quiet start mode’ which is activated by holding the start button for longer which will be a hit with the neighbours if you need to leave home early every morning. The new Aston Martin vantage is a worthy successor to its long-time predecessor, welcoming some desperately needed technology as well as new powertrains and styling. Yet it’s maintained the thing that has carried the marque its whole life, an air of bespoke quality wrapped in a stylish body for the road-and-track weekend warrior just as the company’s founders, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, envisaged back in 1913.
Culled from a feature in Pleasures Magazine July/August 2020 Issue.