2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

And boy does it still sound fantastic. Only now, the extroverted music is accompanied by impressive speed. That's the big news for 2009; the V8 Vantage now has the pace to match the looks. The old engine couldn't be pushed past 4.3-liters and Aston CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez is outspoken in his love for normally aspirated engines. The best solution was a new engine block, allowing the powerplant to grow to 4.7 liters. The change yields a bump of 40 horsepower for a total of 420. More importantly, torque jumps by 15 percent. Where the old car always felt quite flat and a bit of a let down when the muffler bypass valves opened up at around 4000 RPM, it now feels like the Aston engineers added power exactly where it was missing. Midrange punch is vastly improved and the pull up to the 7200 RPM rev limiter is strong. We pushed the new V8 Vantage past 160 mph on the Autobahn with little effort, making Aston's claim of a 180 mph top speed seem accurate.

When we turned off the German highway system, things continued to impress. New Bilstein dampers, revised suspension geometry, and an available stiffer sport suspension are all new for 2009. Where the old car always felt outshined in outright handling by a Porsche 911 and in ride quality by the Jaguar XKR, the new car is an improvement in both areas. It still has a stiff low-speed ride, especially with the sport suspension fitted, but it's perfectly in line with the character of the car. All these revisions turn the Aston into a real back-roads weapon. The rear end feels much better planted over road imperfections and the steering is meaty and responsive. The combination of the refined chassis and screaming V-8 make the baby Aston a car that you want to drive and drive hard all day long.

Despite our gushing, one improvement we'd like to see is more supportive seats to match the upgraded performance. Aston offers aggressive yet cosseting one-piece carbon-fiber sports seat in the DBS in Europe but they aren't available in the USA due to the lack of side airbags. We'd love to see Aston design a hardcore sport seat for the U.S. market and offer it on both the DBS and V8 Vantage. Our only other complaint is that the stability control system is slightly over eager to come into play when driving the V-8-powered Aston quickly. The DBS offers a sportier, more tolerant stability control mode and this feature would be a welcome addition to the V8 Vantage as well.

As before, buyers can choose between a V8 Vantage coupe or roadster. We'll give the nod to the hardtop for its gorgeous silhouette, focused character, and cheaper price but the drop-top gives up very little in handling up to eight or nine tenths and allows the sound from the tailpipes to enter the cabin on a near-religious level.

On paper, the not so successful interior changes, the upgraded chassis, and the larger engine don't look like much. But the end product is a fantastic automobile and exactly what the V8 Vantage should have been when it was first launched in 2005. Plus, at an estimated price of $120,000 for the coupe, it carries a balance of gorgeous design, hand-built charisma, and outright performance that is tough to beat. Finally after three years, the baby Aston is a true competitor for both the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Audi R8.

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