In the rare earth atmosphere of exotic cars, Aston Martin seems to possess the better of two worlds. The brand has the same status as Ferrari and an honest claim to that stature, building rare, fast cars like the $268,000 DBS model as well as winning in motorsports competition. At the same time, the far less costly Vantage model has helped Aston Martin set sales records and return to profitability without diluting its image.
To create a new sports car that had much of the style and performance of its 12-cylinder models without the exotic price, Aston Martin borrowed the competent 4.2-liter engine from its then-partner Jaguar. The willing power plant was reworked to make more horsepower at a higher rev range. The rest of the car was pure Aston Martin without the lavish use of hyper-expensive carbon fiber.
Late last year, Ford sold Aston Martin to an investment group and the new owners have quickly struck out on their own path to become fully independent. The popular Vantage model has been reworked in a mid-year freshening with a revamped engine, improved Sportshift transmission, and suspension tuning for a bit better ride and handling balance.
The most notable difference between the newest Vantage and current versions is the increased engine power and torque, especially at mid-range throttle applications. Although all Aston Martins are fast, that has hardly been their strongest calling card in the supercar arena.
Not even the increased performance will allow the new Vantage to successfully challenge a Corvette ZR-1 or Ferrari F430, but it’s enough to propel occupants to a 180 mph top speed. And the Aston Martin has that wonderful persona that communicates a sense of classic British breeding over raw power or flashy style.
Since the new engine is larger in displacement, more power output is hardly surprising. But the clever engineers began with a new block that allowed separate cylinder liners of larger diameters, then lightened the pistons, increased airflow with larger valves and intake runners, and added a dry sump oil system. The result is an engine that also gains fuel efficiency with its added thrust.
The sequential-manual transmission, a unit that’s also used by hot-blooded Italian competitors, has better shift logic and will remain the favorite option. Like all SMG units, its best delivery is through the paddle shifters. Otherwise, there’s a hesitation that I find annoying. My preference is the nice, close-ratio six-speed manual and it comes at no added cost. If I ever get too feeble to shift, I’ll settle for a good automatic and be done with it.
The interior has changed little, and that’s a good thing. When the start button is pressed, the message “Power, Beauty and Soul” appears to remind the owner of the wisdom of his or her purchase. Of course, just gazing at this beautiful Aston Martin, sitting behind the hand-stitched leather steering wheel, or listening to the wail of the exhaust at full-throttle tilt should be all the reminder one needs. BRIAN DOUGLAS
Type: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: 4.7-liter, DOHC V8
Horsepower: 420 @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 346 foot-pounds @ 5,750 rpm
Base Price: $119,500
Fuel Economy: 13 city, 20 hwy