2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

Andrew Frankel
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Richard Newton
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This also should be the best Aston to drive yet. If you wanted to improve further the already impressive dynamics of the DB9, you might do something like this: Cut 5.5 inches out of its wheelbase to make the chassis stiffer, lighter, and more agile. Retain the double-control-arm suspension for ultimate wheel control. Choose an engine short enough to fit entirely behind the front axle line rather than hanging partially over it. Abandon the speed-sensitive power steering because your front-axle loadings are reduced enough to do away with it. Finally, drop curb weight by 500 pounds.

Out in the desert, the roads are too straight and the prototype too valuable to go exploring the outside of the dynamic envelope. But even so, you can feel the car's slight rearward weight balance, courtesy of its short, light engine and rear-mounted transaxle. Traction is truly phenomenal for a rear-wheel-drive, front-engine car. The desert roads are all coated with a fine dusting of sand, but even full-throttle exits from traffic circles in second gear fail to wake the traction control system.

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It's impossible to get an accurate impression of the V8 Vantage's ride quality, because all the desert roads appear to have been laid yesterday, but it's likely to be even stiffer than that of the DB9, a car that has attracted its fair share of criticism for uncompromising spring rates. Aston's gamble is that younger owners will accept and even seek a degree of firmness and that the level of expected comfort will be consequently lower.

Porritt is clearly proud of the car and the job his team has done bringing it to market. "In theory," he says, "it should be a very straightforward development process, because so much of the basic engineering already has been proven in the DB9. In practice, though, there's always something unexpected to keep you on your toes."

To make sure there aren't any unpleasant surprises, the Vantage isn't just being given a roasting in the Middle East. As our time in the desert comes to an end, so does a 5000-mile, flat-out test around the fearsome Nrburgring Nordschleife with veteran racer and test driver Dirk Schoysman at the wheel. Neither the car nor the driver put a wheel out of line.

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The V8 Vantage will go into production in June in the same factory as the DB9, with first deliveries due in Europe late this summer; U.S. sales start late this fall. This will complete the transformation of Aston Martin from a tiny niche maker into a 5000-unit-a-year business, which will make the company numerically more productive than Ferrari. The V8 Vantage will account for 3000 of those sales, so its importance is clear. It will bring Aston Martin to the attention of a less-moneyed and younger audience who will, it is hoped, trade up to a DB9 or even a Vanquish in later years.

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