We're not normally given to believing everything company chairmen say about their products, but the best description of the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage comes from Ulrich Bez, Aston's boss. Instead of saying it's the best car of its type in the world, he declares, "It's a true Aston Martin but not yet fully grown up."Despite sharing its extruded-aluminum platform, gearbox, suspension, and myriad subsystems with the DB9, the Vantage is a much sharper, more raw-edged car. It will be less costly and smaller than any production Aston in decades and the first strict two-seater in nearly half a century (the Vanquish offers a rear seat as an option). It's also set to be the most overtly sporting Aston Martin production car since the first V8 Vantage back in 1978.
Aston engineers get very exercised when you mention that the Vantage's engine is essentially the same as Jaguar's DOHC 4.2-liter V-8 and swiftly retort that the cam covers are the only components the two engines share. They also point out that the Vantage has a unique capacity (4.3 liters) and a rather more compelling 385 hp. (It's worth remembering that the DB7 also used adapted Jag power twelve years ago.)
Even from the passenger seat during hot-weather testing in the Arabian desert, it wasn't difficult to see the engineers' point: people are going to be talking about this engine for some considerable time. The purpose of the trip was to see if the V-8 would break in 120-degree heat at 155 mph or while sitting in heavy traffic for five hours. Aston Martin had come to the only place on earth that offers a more reliable source of car-busting heat than Death Valley.
The V-8 took the torture without complaint, but what surprised were its distinctly un-Aston-like manners. It's possible that the fabulously raucous note in this preproduction prototype will have been quieted a shade by the time it has actually complied with noise regs, but not by much. Aston's chief development engineer, Chris Porritt, is adamant that the hard-edged snarl is here to stay. Right now, it's more reminiscent of a race-tuned small block than anything from Aston Martin, and it suits the car's character to perfection.
While the V8 Vantage may be 65 hp down on a DB9, it weighs 3308 pounds, or 500 pounds less. Do the math, and you'll see their power-to-weight ratios are very similar. Since DB9s (all automatics) have no problem popping from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds, it's reasonable to expect a stick-shift Vantage to come home in the mid-fours, before topping out somewhere beyond 180 mph. Certainly, its acceleration showed no sign of trailing off at 155 mph, the engine howling happily at 5600 rpm in sixth. If it could reach its 7000-rpm redline, that would equate to 194 mph. The Vantage may be small and cheap by Aston standards, but it's definitely not slow.
The Vantage has a character that recalls As-tons of an even earlier era than the one patronized by Her Majesty's most famous secret agent. It's actually the spiritual successor to the DB2. In the snugness of its cabin, its taut feel, and its urgency, the V8 Vantage reveals itself as a sports car pure and simple: light of weight, short of wheelbase, and long on power.