7 DEADLY SINS

Designed to be the naughtiest Aston in the range, the new baby, AMG-powered Vantage is also a critical car for the British maker

by BEN PULMAN pics JOHN WYCHERLEY & CHARLIE MAGEE

AFTER 12 YEARS, the old Vantage has been put out to pasture. Its replacement is this vision in eye-melting lime green, and it’s by no means just a styling refresh. The new Vantage is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from AMG (as deployed in the V8 DB11), uses a new aluminium architecture with a shorter wheelbase than a 911’s and boasts a gorgeous interior with infotainment from the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Admittedly the new car shares parts with the DB11 – suspension, for example – but 70 per cent are bespoke. The days of Aston photocopying old blueprints and changing the scale are gone.

Take a look at the personnel involved and your hopes drift even further skyward. Marek Reichman (ex-BMW and Land Rover, father of DB11 and also responsible for Aston’s stunning Vulcan hypercar) crafted the exterior form, while the Vantage’s engineering team was headed by technical officer Max Szwaj, formerly Ferrari’s head of body engineering. As for suspension tuning, the Vantage is a product of the seat of Matt Becker’s pants, the man who spent 26 years at Lotus churning out really sweet-handling cars.

Here are seven ways Aston hopes the Vantage will steal customers from a certain rear-engined foe.

01 IT LOOKS WICKED

WE’LL come to the 007 comparisons in a moment, but what strikes you first about the new Aston Martin Vantage isn’t the similarity to the DB10 that Daniel Craig stuck in the River Tiber, but rather the colour. It’s almost radioactive in its intensity, and very un-Aston.

The lime creates a distinct contrast with the optional carbon fibre, the grille almost discrete from the nose, the swooping carbon curve that winds up over the exhausts and down below the numberplate creating a dark chasm in which only the nuclear waste-dipped diffuser blades are visible.

Let’s backtrack a moment, though. Before chief creative officer Marek Reichman and chief technical officer Max Szwaj even pull back the dust sheet it’s the curvaceousness of the shape beneath that hits you like a sniper’s round. The nose is low, the tail high, and the wheelarches so prominent you half expect a racecar without a wing to be hiding beneath. And is that a hint of a double-bubble roof under the fabric?

As the cover comes back, you start to take it all in. Suddenly the outgoing Vantage looks sedate, and conservative. Its nose was near vertical, Aston’s trademark grille pushed high to meet the leading edge of the bonnet. No longer. Now it’s pulled down, creating a clear separation between the grille and the heavily contoured bonnet. Gone too are the delicate side vents with their single strakes, and the nipped waist, replaced now with dark pockmarked panels (which reduce air pressure in the front wheelarches) and angular sills that push the hips out towards the rear wheels.

Reichman refers to the new Vantage as a hunter. “The DB11 is a Savile Row suit, a great GT, everything that is expected of Aston,” he says. “The Vantage is different. It is a spirited drive, assertive but not aggressive. It is hedonistic, and all about the driver and driving.”

President and CEO Andy Palmer has decreed that every model must look different – and the company now has the cash to allow Reichman and his team such freedom – so the days of identikit, Russian doll Astons are gone. Only the door handles and rear badge are shared with the DB11, meaning the bigger GT’s controversial floating C-pillar has vanished.

In fact, the whole rear end is a huge departure for Aston. There’s now one vast light blade that sweeps across the width of the Vantage, kicking up with a hatchback bootlid. The peppered finish to the panels that surround the exhausts mirror the design of the side vents, and the pipes that show through are the real deal.

And how does Daniel Craig’s DB10 fit into this? Spectre director Sam Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli visited Gaydon to see the DB11 that was to be Bond’s company car. But Mendes spotted a scale model of the Vantage and convinced Reichman to build 10 cars for filming just six months later.

See the Vantage and suddenly the DB10’s glitzy grille looks like overkill, its headlights somehow less elegant, its bonnet insufficiently muscular, and the width of the rear wheel-arches out of proportion.

That the Vantage has this effect on the DB10 says a great deal about just how right the new car is. The world may have fawned over Craig’s DB10, but the new Vantage comfortably eclipses it.

02 IT PACKS A THUMPING AMG V8

DON’T get hung up on the fact that the engine in the front of the new Vantage is German and comes from AMG, because the engine in the front of the last Vantage was built in Cologne, in the grounds of a Ford factory. Instead, remember that this is one of the best engines on the planet, and that AMG’s idea of downsizing is a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8.

It’s the fruit of a partnership between Aston and AMG (and parent company Daimler) that’s both a business relationship and a technical collaboration. Selling engines to Aston helps AMG with its economies of scale; Gaydon is able to spec its own version with subtle, but important differences. The crank, block and basic architecture remain the same as that used in the Mercedes-AMG GT, but the Vantage sports its own turbos (nestled between the cylinders in a hot vee), a revised wet sump to mount it lower and further back (for a front-mid layout behind the front axle) and a bespoke exhaust.

There’s unique calibration too – it’s linked to an eight-speed ZF auto rather than a Mercedes gearbox – and it has more torque than you’ll find in the DB11 V8. Okay, it’s only nine Newtons more, but expect an altogether more aggressive character.

In its current 375kW guise it’s barely trying – remember that in Merc’s fastest E-Class this engine tops 450kW. Expect a Vantage S with at least 410kW within two years.

“We don’t have the breadth to be a full engine provider,” admits CEO Andy Palmer, “but the V8 allows us to invest in our own V12. No one else has that V12 – it allows us to express our individuality.”

So far that V12 has only been seen in the DB11, but the firewall in the Vantage is the same, and Aston has a history of stuffing big engines into its smallest car...

03 THE INTERIOR HAS SERIOUS LEATHER-JACKET SEX APPEAL

THE NEW Vantage’s interior is gorgeous – no caveats, no small print. Drop into the snug seat, pull the lightweight door closed with the leather strap, grasp the flat-bottomed steering wheel and fondle the elongated paddles: this is a seriously desirable sports car and a massive improvement over its forebear.

The centre of the dash is undercut to make it appear lightweight, the door handles are small, but perfectly sculpted – the jewel-like fixtures for the leather straps exposed – and the armrests on the doors and in the centre console are slim. You sit upright behind the wheel, rather than slouching over on your elbow and driving it one-handed like you might when you’re cruising in the DB11. Carbon fibre, leather, metal and painted finishes will be offered: if you want traditional wood you’ll have to go to Aston’s bespoke department, Q, and ask nicely.

Vantage feels more focused and more spacious than the DB11 because there’s no vast leather-lined transmission tunnel rising up to meet the top of the dashboard. Compared with the old Vantage it’s a huge step on, not least because that car should have been replaced six years ago. And compared with the Mercedes-AMG GT, it doesn’t feel like you’re being, squeezed up against the door by a vast transmission tunnel and four splayed air vents.

And that Mercedes-AMG is particularly relevant because the Vantage’s contemporary cabin is made possible by the tie-up with the Germans. For over a decade Aston was handicapped first by a Volvo satnav system, then with a Garmin – neither was ever integral to the infotainment system. Now though, everything is essentially current-generation S-Class tech, re-skinned with Aston graphics.

We already know how well it works in the DB11. “When we launched the last Vantage our technology was contemporary,” says CEO Andy Palmer, “but we didn’t have the billions required to keep it up to date. Thanks to our collaboration with Daimler we’ll upgrade when they do, and we’ll always be contemporary with electronics that have had hundreds of millions invested in them. It has future-proofed us. While we pay a margin for that privilege, we can spend the money we save on aspects of the car you feel as the driver, and your connection with the car.”

A case in point? Moving the infotainment controls on the transmission tunnel further back for those opting for the manual gearbox.

04 IT HS A STRANGE LEVER

ASTON made much of the outgoing Vantage being available as a manual with hydraulic steering, championing itself as the enthusiast’s choice – when the reality was it didn’t have the cash for either dual-clutch gearboxes or electric power steering.

However, while the new Vantage inevitably ditches the hydraulic rack, CEO Andy Palmer has insisted it’s still offered with a manual. “There will always be a manual gearbox in this company,” he says. “It’s in tune with people wanting to connect with our cars.”

It’s the same seven-speed transmission as before, but more refined. It’ll be slower in a straight line than the eight-speed auto, and make do with a mechanical rear differential rather than the new e-diff. Also, changes to the weight distribution require specific suspension tuning, and the interior layout has to be reshuffled to accommodate the gearstick. All this for what might account for just 5 per cent of sales when it becomes available.

To Aston, that sacrifice is worth it. “We want to provide a solution for all our customers,” says Reichman. “We support the enthusiast who wants to drive up an alpine pass using both feet. Those customers are rare, but they will appreciate the effort that’s gone into putting a manual gearbox into a thoroughly modern sports car.”

05 IT’S ITS OWN CAR

ASTON’S OLD VH aluminium architecture was a blessing and a curse. Bonded and riveted, with aluminium extrusions, it was adaptable and was used to underpin the DB9, Vantage, Rapide and Vanquish. When times were tight it meant it could create a multitude of different cars from the same platform.

But each new iteration didn’t seem that different because Aston’s engineers were limited in how much the hard points could change. And when the design team started using tracing paper for each new model, the result was a raft of Astons that all looked the same.

Not anymore. “There are only 30 per cent of common components in the aluminium structure,” reveals Aston’s chief technical officer Max Szwaj (formerly Ferrari’s head of innovation and body engineering, pictured). “Our new aluminium platform features pressings and bondings, so there is more differentiation available for our designers and engineers.”

Suspension components are shared with the DB11, but tuned specifically for the Vantage’s shorter, lighter platform – the weight distribution is 50:50, and the dry weight is 1530kg. Aston’s expertise with bonding means the use of different materials isn’t an issue either – you can’t weld aluminium to carbon, but you can glue the optional lightweight, double-bubble carbon roof into the Vantage’s structure with no fuss.

The wheelbase is 100mm shorter than DB11’s, making the Vantage shorter than a 911. Also, the rear subframe mounts directly to the structure, which, Szwaj says, makes the Vantage feel more connected to the road.

06 A LOTUS BLOKE DID THE CHASSIS

BEHIND the wheel of our camouflaged prototype is Matt Becker, the ex-Lotus chief engineer Aston CEO Andy Palmer chased down as soon he got the top job at Gaydon. Becker spent years working on Elises and Evoras, but Lotus’s consultancy arm means he’s more familiar with a variety of bigger, more powerful sports car than you might think.

As the Vantage barks into life its new character is obvious. Aston engines of old, be they V8 or V12, always sounded strained on start-up, and there was too much mechanical thrash in the background before the bellowing exhaust took over. Now, though, the V8’s magic is instant, and the noise all-consuming.

“Marek was given a clear brief by Andy Palmer to make all of the cars look different, and I have my brief,” says Becker. “Our cars have to drive differently, and drive how they look. Our GT cars have a sporting nature, but this looks more aggressive so it drives more aggressively. I wanted it to feel agile without being uncomfortable. It had to retain a level of comfort, but it could be more focused on circuit driving. The Vantage is not a sports GT, but a sports car.’

Both the dampers and the powertrain can be adjusted by the driver, cycling through three settings, but whereas the DB11 features GT, Sport and Sport Plus, the Vantage moves the spectrum, dropping comfort-orientated GT for a more focused Track mode. Toggle the powertrain setting and you adjust the throttle pedal map, gearshift aggression and exhaust; adjust the dampers, and the chassis setup changes.

There are bespoke Pirelli P Zeros (255/40 ZR20 at the front, and 295/35 ZR20 at the rear) instead of the DB11’s Bridgestones, and a shorter final drive ratio. The Vantage generates ‘a significant level’ of downforce at both ends, where big brother produces a little lift at the front. There’s a new brake master cylinder and booster too, for a more aggressive pedal feel, and carbon brakes will be on the options list.

“We use the same steering ratio as the DB11, but because the wheelbase is 100mm shorter it’s effectively much faster,” reveals Becker as the Vantage slices through a quick roundabout with a roll of his wrists. “The solidly mounted rear subframe makes for a stiffer chassis and increased agility, plus we have torque vectoring via braking and our new electronic rear diff. The Vantage is the first Aston to be fitted with it, and we unlock it at low speeds to aid agility, increasing the locking at higher speeds for stability. It can go from fully open to 100 per cent locked in milliseconds.”

“I wanted this car to have a really strong front end, but that doesn’t mean the rear will oversteer instantly. Instead our damper settings – Sport, Sport Plus and Track – change the whole dynamic of the car, making it progressively more playful and involving the driver more and more. The e-diff is linked to the dampers and complements their settings, and the steering map changes too, with two modes, one common to Sport and Sport Plus, and another for Track.”

On the road the Vantage feels short and agile (its V8 might sit ahead of you but the Vantage is unmistakeably mid-engined), flitting through direction changes like a Cayman. And with every throttle application you feel the torque of the engine, with a punch that will leave any 911 with a Carrera badge far behind. You really had to work the old Vantage’s V8 – from low revs the new one just flies. It doesn’t rumble like the AMG GT either. Instead it roars, its exuberance less synthesised. Aston has dialled out the bassy tones and added more high-frequency music to encourage you to rev it.

The new Vantage does feel wide, though, and what we don’t yet know is how good that electrically assisted steering is, or how sharp the V8’s throttle response is. Those answers will come. But we’re betting that Aston’s got it right, that Porsche is worried and that Mercedes-Benz is wondering just what it’s unleashed...

07 IT’S GOT PROPER SPECS

ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE

That badge, AMG power, style to prompt a GQ magazine supplement and a seriously good chassis – what’s not to like?

Price $299,950

Engine 3982cc 32v twin-turbo

V8, 375kW, 685Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-drive

Performance 3.7sec 0-100km/h, 314km/h

Weight 1530kg

PORSCHE CARRERA GTS

Aston smashes far cheaper 911 Carrera GTS on power. Magic 911 GT3 is close on price, but requires Porsche dealer brownie points to get yours hands on one.

Price $289,790

Engine 2981cc 24v twin-turbo flat-six, 331kW, 550Nm

Transmission 7-speed twin-clutch, rear-drive

Performance 3.7sec 0-100km/h, 309km/h

Weight 1450kg

MCLAREN 540C

‘Entry-level’ Mclaren has engine in the right place (rear mid-engined). Trumps Aston on speed and has a trick carbon tub.

Price $325,000

Engine 3799cc 32v twin-turbo V8, 397kW, 540Nm

Transmission Seven-speed twin-clutch, rear-drive

Performance 3.5sec 0-100km/h, 320km/h

Weight 1311kg