2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Road Test Review
WE HAD IT for four days. They, like the scenery, passed in a blur.
You see, you can’t sit in an Aston Martin and think ordinary thoughts. At the wheel of the V8 Vantage, everything becomes a little surreal. It heightens your senses, makes your heart beat faster, and electrifies things around you.
And all those other cars you’re sharing the roads with suddenly become a little more threatening.
But it’s all worth it of course. There is no such thing as a negative when you’re cosseted in one of the world’s most desirable sports cars; and one that sounds and feels and goes like the V8 Vantage. (So this is what it’s like to be ridiculously rich...)
Is the V8 Vantage not one of the most sublime and beautiful of modern sports cars?
Most people don’t just stare when you pass them in a car like this; they salivate, they eat it with their eyes. And some, for the few seconds as you drive by, see nothing else.
So, how good is the V8 Vantage, besides very? We packed a notepad, a crayon and a ruler, and set out to find out.
What is there not to like about the V8 Vantage’s gorgeous hand-crafted style? Tough, low, lean and wide, it sits fat on massive 19-inch alloys with 235/40 ZR19 Bridgestone Potenza’s up front and 275/35 ZR19 rears.
‘Ours’ with the Sports Pack, came with optional lightweight five-spoke alloys, re-tuned Bilstein dampers, up-rated springs and anti-roll bar.
Its sculptured lines sweep back from a flattened signature Aston Martin grille over a long bonnet, flat low screen and outrageously pumped guards. If you catch it approaching in your rear-view mirror, it has the menace of a closing White Pointer.
The lingering image of the handsome rear, which is what you’ll be staring at for mere seconds as it disappears into the distance, is of superbly muscled haunches sitting squat over a wide, wide track.
Interestingly, it is only when you park next to a sensible car that you realise the V8 Vantage is not very big. It is in fact about the size of a Volkswagen Golf in terms of the shadow it casts on the ground.
But you’d never guess it. It sits ‘big’ - all muscular elegance and supercar presence.
Besides the optional Sports Pack, our 'tester' came with curious black striping; a nod to the Vantage GT4's racing livery, but we think the car looks handsome enough without any such touches.
There is a kind of flawless beauty to its panels and in the translucent depth of the lustrous paint that gives the V8 Vantage a classical and rare elegance.
The understated chrome, the LED rear lamps and halogen headlights, the flush-sitting lever-style door handles, all-metal grille and side vents, and even the Aston Martin badge – crafted by a jeweller incidentally – are all absolute premium fare. Something for the enjoyment of an exclusive few.
But it is not just the beauty of the beast that gives the Vantage its appeal; contained in its handsome coachwork is the latest in metal and composite technologies.
The comparatively lightweight but rigid body is a bonded aluminium structure, incorporating magnesium alloy, aluminium alloy, steel and composite body panels. Roof, bonnet and doors are aluminium; rear tail-gate and front fenders are polymer composite and side impact bars are extruded aluminium.
There is also more than simply style behind the long bonnet. The 4.7 litre V8 sits hard back against the firewall, which, with the rear-mounted transmission, contributes to the V8 Vantage's astonishing on-road balance.
The doors rise as you open them (called ‘swan doors’), protecting the lower leading edge from scraping the footpath. There is no wing defacing the lines of the rear. The wide-opening hatch, sitting over a space that's big enough for personal luggage for two, has a rear spoiler incorporated 'duck-tail' style into its lines.
The exclusive hand-finished style carries over to the interior. There, sumptuous-feel full-grain leather, alcantara headlining, and a stylish centre console of die-cast zinc alloy await.
The leather dash, with hand-stitched seams, is trimmed like an expensive club chair. A domed instrument binnacle, containing two beautiful chronograph style gauges on an etched metal and glass backing plate, sits perfectly in place ahead of the driver. The displays, Organic Electroluminescent (OEL), are soft on the eyes, stylish and brilliantly clear.
The multi-function steering wheel, just right for feel and size, is adjustable for tilt and reach.
In the centre console, below the sat nav display, are the press-button controls for the Sportshift transmission and engine-mapping ‘Comfort’ setting. While infinitely more stylish, these will be vaguely reminiscent to anyone who remembers the old Valiant press-button torqueflite automatic.
And, setting it all off, the crystalline glass, stainless steel and polycarbonate ‘key’, the ECU, which glows red on ignition, simply reeks of distinction and class.
It’s snug inside, the cabin space is quite small, but headroom and legroom is generous and it never feels claustrophobic. The seats too, although shaped for performance driving with heavily bolstered wings and base, are firm-fitting but comfortable.
Even after a long day in the saddle, they still felt right.
The handbrake sits at the driver’s right thigh. It’s a flyaway style, something that drivers of classic English sports cars are used to, but which, though it is easy to use, will be foreign to many.
There is little to complain about at this work-bench. The sat-nav could perhaps be a little less fiddly, some of the buttons in the centre console are a bit of a stretch with the seats set back, there is nowhere much to put things and the glovebox is simply too small.
I made the mistake of taking the manual out of the glovebox and couldn’t get it back in again. So don’t expect to get much more than a glove, two parking fines and four guitar picks in there.
The piece de resistance in the cabin though is the absolutely sensational 700W Aston Martin Premium Audio System with Dolby Pro Logic II. It has a clarity and imaging that will not disappoint the most dedicated audiophile and it will make your ears bleed before it distorts.
Equipment and Features
The V8 Vantage is all about the drive, but that does not mean you get the appointments of a roller-skate. It’s top-deck premium fare inside and laden with technology.
It comes with electric seats with position memory, a hard disk drive navigation system, automatic temperature control, trip computer, LED map reading lights, rear parking sensors, heated rear screen, tyre pressure monitoring, and battery disconnect switch.
That fabulous 700W Aston Martin Audio System and six-stacker CD comes with full iPod integration, USB connector with Waveform Audio Format (WAF), Windows Media Player (WMA) and MPEG (MP3) audio file compatibility. It is also Bluetooth integrated.
For passive safety there are dual-stage driver and passenger airbags and side airbags. Also standard on the V8 Vantage is dynamic stability control (DSC) – which isn’t too much in your face incidentally – traction control, anti-lock braking (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA).
At the heart of the V8 Vantage, as the model’s name suggests, is its deliciously balanced 4735cc V8. All alloy, it features quad overhead cams, 32 valves, forged steel crankshaft and conrods and dry-sump lubrication system.
Exactly ‘square’, with a matching 91mm stroke and bore, it is a masterful free-spinning unit with instantaneous throttle response.
Maximum power of 313kW is not available until right at the electronic cut-out at 7300rpm. Maximum torque of 470Nm is at a much more user-friendly 5000rpm. These numbers give the V8 Vantage a 4.8 seconds 0-100km/h sprint and will carry it along to a top speed of 290km/h.
Over the previous model, the cylinder heads are modified with new intake ports and bigger inlet valves, increased from 34.9mm to 35.9mm. The result is that, even at high revs, it never sounds breathless or as though it’s tripping over itself.
And, fitted with a stainless steel exhaust system with active bypass valves, when you open the taps you are presented with one of the great sounds of the modern age – a highly tuned and exquisitely engineered V8 in thunderous full chorus.
It is intoxicating, you simply can’t do it just once.
When more sedate driving is called for, there is a ‘Comfort’ button to the left of the start key which controls the throttle mapping.
In the default ‘sports’ setting, the mapping is aggressive. But put it into ‘Comfort’ mode and the edge is taken off things, allowing smoother and more progressive throttle control. (Meaning you won’t inadvertently launch yourself into the car in front.)
While a conventional six-speed manual is also available, ‘our’ V8 Vantage came with the optional Sportshift automated manual transmission.
It can be driven in full-auto mode – simply a matter of punching ‘D’ on the centre console – or used manually via the paddles.
Mounted at the rear with a limited slip differential, the Sportshift transmission can take a little while to adjust to (it’s not as intuitive nor as smooth as a DSG unit). It’s a little slower, even a little hesitant until things are moving (and worse when it’s cold), but you soon adjust to its quirks.
It’s a smart unit though. In full auto mode, the Sportshift utilises information inputs from the steering wheel to decide whether to hold a gear or change up or down and also has hill descent detection for engine braking.
Keeping things under control down below are independent double wishbones front and back with coil springs and monotube dampers. Anti-dive geometry is employed up front, anti-squat and anti-lift at the rear. Bilstein dampers are standard throughout.
The front spring rates have been stiffened by 11 percent at the front and five percent at the rear over the previous model, and the front lower suspension arm bushes have been stiffened by 22 percent.
Steering is power assisted rack and pinion with just three turns lock to lock. It’s meaty but not heavy, even at carpark speeds, and the adjustable leather bound wheel is a beauty.
Brakes are 355mm ventilated grooved discs at the front, 330mm at the rear, with radial-mounted four-piston monobloc calipers. Jump on them and you will feel like you have lassoed a stump - they will make your eyes pop, time after time.
Press the crystalline ECU into the slot in the centre console and it glows red as the 4.7 litres within spring into life with an urgent burble.
The Vantage simply makes the most beautiful sounds. Even at idle there is an ever-present mechanical whirl sitting just below the impatient growl of the highly-tuned V8.
It’s as if the car is straining at the leash before you’ve left the car park.
Of course, to drive an Aston Martin without sinking the shoe is to miss the point. This is a sports car, an expensive one, yes, but with masses of power and road-hugging dynamics.
Press ‘D’ to select drive, nail the accelerator, and things happen very quickly. But while it’s fast, a good home-grown V8 will stay in touch for the first couple of seconds. It’s when the revs and speeds rise that the Vantage comes into its own.
Above 4500rpm it’s a monster. Thanks to the exhaust by-pass valve, the engine note of that multi-valve V8 passes from a full-throated bellow to an outraged visceral howl, and things begin to blur.
The gear changes in auto mode are abrupt and clearly defined. With each change, there is a jerk of momentum then an instantaneous brutal thrust as the rev-needle races again round the anti-clockwise dial.
There is no redline in the backwards rev counter - hit the electronic limiter at 7300rpm, and it just flattens things. But with six-speeds, and a willingness to spin its head off, the V8 Vantage has long, long legs in every gear.
It is fabulous fun but best left to the track: the legal limit is reached in mere heartbeats from standstill.
Slowing is accompanied by short urgent rasps with each down-shift, the throttle blipping automatically with each change.
And if you feel you need to occupy yourself with the gear changing (as if there is not enough going on), it is simply a matter of taking things in hand with the paddles for full manual control. To revert to auto mode, just press ‘D’.
It is equally entertaining and fabulously ‘planted’ around a winding pass.
For overtaking, or spearing from one corner to the next, the Vantage’s explosive power in that middle rev-band between 4000rpm and 6000rpm means that it can be positively launched from the apex to apex. It’s as if everything has suddenly been put into fast-forward.
Powering on, you can readily hang the tail out, and, thanks to its superb front-rear balance, it simply refuses to bite the hand at the wheel.
‘Turn in’ is razor sharp, it sits as flat as a dinner-plate and the structural rigidity ensures that you can get the power down hard and early without unsettling things on exit.
In a car like this, you don’t just communicate with the road, it gives an on-going discourse: you are always aware of the subtleties of what’s happening below.
At the wheel of the V8 Vantage you speak to the road and it speaks back to you.
It’s taut – this is a performance car after all – but it’s not uncomfortable; at speed, there is minimal jarring and judder on all but the worst of road surfaces.
In fact, for such a focused performance drive, the V8 Vantage is surprisingly user-friendly. Around town you could almost call it comfortable. It’s no limo underneath, but it’s far from harsh.
That said, our Vantage, with the optional sports suspension package was firmer than the standard car. Some may find it too firm. Better, in our view, to save the extra shekels and stick with the softer standard ride.
The steering is nicely weighted, neither excessively light nor too heavy, the turning circle is good, and it doesn’t sit so low that you’re always worried about scraping the undersides approaching the servo forecourt.
Importantly, there is enough compliance in the suspension for tackling speed humps without getting mown down by an impatient Prado or X5 driver.
The Vantage is also easy to get in and out of. The doors open wide and, while it’s low, you don’t feel you’re putting yourself into a hole just to get behind the wheel.
In some exotics you need a portable winch, a jemmy bar and a tub of vaseline just to get yourself in and out of the driver’s seat.
You can also just set it in ‘D’ for drive and forget it. The ‘creeping’ function of the transmission which can take a while to get used to in normal traffic and in getting away from the lights, is a boon in stop-start driving and for negotiating parking spaces.
The secret to it is in the use of the throttle. It requires a slightly more delicate touch around town. If you’re ham-fisted (or ‘ham-footed’), it can be a little fidgety in traffic.
But, for a car with such performance potential, the V8 Vantage is easy enough to poke around town to be an everyday driver. Provided you can tackle the not inconsiderable hurdle of the ‘entry’ price, that is.
You also do not need to feel you are killing the planet every time you bring it out of the garage. The V8 Vantage returns a combined cycle of 13.2 l/100km – not half bad in supercar terms, especially for one with a thumping V8 in its long low snout.
Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage is a very special car. As if you needed reminding, the words “POWER, BEAUTY, SOUL” light up on the instrument panel when you engage the ignition.
Hand built at Gaydon in the UK, it is achingly stylish, brutishly fast and comes with one of the most exclusive sporting badges in the business.
Of course, for most of us, the V8 Vantage Coupe's price tag, well north of its $258,737 retail price by the time you have it registered and on-road, makes it a distant and unattainable aspiration. With Sportshift, that figure rises to $267,476, and with the Sports Pack, as tested, add another $6620.
World wide, the motoring press has fallen over itself lavishing superlatives on its sublime lines, superb balance and thumping performance. To date more than 10,000 have been sold globally.
If it was our money, we’d perhaps specify the manual over the Sportshift, but who wouldn’t put this car in their driveway in a heartbeat? The V8 Vantage is, quite simply, and as Aston Martin claims, one of the world’s most desirable sports cars.
We won't argue with that.
Night & Interior Photos: Joel Strickland Photography