The steering is a little heavy around town. At low speeds, it transmits a subtle sequence of monochrome action and monochrome response. But as soon as load transfer starts to work the rear wheels, the helm fills with life, your hands begin to feel the road, and the interaction between man and machine gets up to speed. The V8 Vantage is an accurate sports car that begs to be pointed and aimed. It rewards precise inputs with precise execution and prefers carving and small exact moves to sliding and spectacular grand gestures. There is plenty of grip, and the transaxle layout also delivers strong traction, although a heavy right foot on slippery blacktop and through tight-radius turns invariably will bring out the ESP brigade.
We zigzagged through the Dales and clipped the Forest of Bowland before descending to Blackpool. Some roads were too narrow to give the car full stick, but others were wide and panoramic and long enough for the Aston to develop a rhythm. It's mainly third- and fourth-gear stuff, 70 to 110 mph, rarely flat out but always pressing on. The V8 Vantage is not keen to waste time sampling varying degrees of understeer or oversteer. It much prefers to get the job done in a fast and fuss-free manner. Although it tends to be slot-racer perfect most of the time, there is enough compliance in the rear suspension to talk you through the difficult bits.
Composite brakes are not in the pipeline for the V8 Vantage, but this is not a major deficit, since you would have to go to a track to discover the true limits of the fat, ventilated cast-iron rotors, which are straddled by fire-red Brembo calipers. The engineers opted for a nicely progressive action that requires a firm right foot before the system will pull out all the stops. Riveting deceleration, plenty of staying power, and pedal travel that is long enough to let you modulate the performance are the strong points. Like the handling balance, the brake balance does not favor one particular pair of wheels. As a result, the car feels extremely well tied down even when excessive speed needs to be squashed pronto in the middle of a corner. Its controls may be a little on the heavy side, but for a sports car that wants to be kept on a short leash, this is exactly the right calibration.
The V8 Vantage is a tool for talented drivers, the incarnation of challenge and reward, a new fixed star in sports-car heaven. It doesn't win pole position in every discipline, but it is true to the promise made by the in-dash display that lights up when you insert the ignition key: power, beauty, and soul.
Unlike Porsches, which have become a ubiquitous commodity of the rich, and unlike Ferraris, which are too loud for their own good, an Aston Martin is the perfect underdog for anglophile connoisseurs.
Those considerations aside, the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage is competitively priced at about $100,000, its production rate of only 3000 units a year means exclusivity, and the convincing driving experience is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.