Aston Martin builds manly automobiles. From the way the doors thunk when closed to the heft of the steering, the front-engined British sportscars don't carry the same delicate, light feeling you experience in a Ferrari. We think this is a good thing. It's nice that Aston's recent success is a result of excellent design and engineering perfectly in line with the history of the near 100-year-old company, not a carbon copy of the Italian's business case.
In a comparison test between the 2008 Aston Martin DBS and 2008 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano in the July 2008 issue of Automobile Magazine, we gave the nod to the car from Maranello but the purity and gruffness of the English car left a lasting impression. But, at $266,350, the top spec Aston is a true exotic. The entry-level car, the V8 Vantage, is gorgeous and sounds fantastic but we've always felt let down by the lack of power provided by the Jaguar-derived 4.3-liter V-8. With the buzz from the DBS experience still fresh in our heads, we hopped on a plane to Germany for a drive in the tweaked for 2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
At first glance, nothing is new. If you ignore the nineteen-inch aluminum wheels, nothing is new on the outside. Aston really didn't need to change a thing as the V8 Vantage already was blessed with near-perfect proportions and amazing road presence. Inside, there is change but the additions are far better in theory than execution. The old car used a key that utilized a mixture of Jaguar and Volvo parts. It really wasn't good enough for a $100,000 car. Now, the V8 Vantage uses the same setup as the DBS. The ECU, or the emotion control unit as Aston insists on calling the new key, is inserted in a slot where the starter button used to live. Though the ECU ignites the engine more consistently in the V8 Vantage than in the DBS, you can still catch it out at inopportune times, forcing you to remove the ECU and start the procedure all over again. Also from the DBS is the ergonomically compromised center stack and optional satellite navigation. Switching between the integrated iPod interface, the navigation system, and Bluetooth makes BMW's iDrive look impressive. Finally, a taller center armrest was introduced last year and it makes shifting the wonderful, racecar-positive six-speed manual gearbox a chore as your elbow drops into the integrated cupholders while changing gear. We're hopeful these complaints are something that buyers are able to get used to or at least live with, but we feel that it's a case of the styling department leading the show and not the engineers. Chief designer Marek Reichman told us that anyone who is bothered by armrest should just order the improved but still slightly clunky paddle-shift sequential manual transmission. We don't like that answer. We prefer the words of an Aston product guy. He told us that they're aware of the armrest design issue, he's not nuts about it as well, and they are working on a fix. In the end, we just want Aston to concentrate its resources on pure, driver-focused function instead of questionable interior design as the V8 Vantage is a car you want to drive and hear.