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2020 Aston Martin Vantage Test Drive: We Need More Tasty Cars Like This on the Road

There’s something enticing, and good, about being different—and Aston Martin delivers in spades.

Mac MorrisonWriterJade NelsonPhotographer

Well isn't this, er, special. I've barely taken this 2020 Aston Martin Vantage on a true test drive yet, and already I'm confounded. Not by some outrageous dose of the car's performance, or wondering how I managed to execute some amazing driving feat or otherwise supernatural form of car control I can exaggerate by a factor of five when relaying the story to eye-rolli … I mean, wholly impressed, friends and colleagues. Nope, this is decidedly uncool, and embarrassing: Photographer Jade Nelson and I are standing in a mountain-road scenic pull-off, and we can't figure out how to open the Vantage's damn hood.

In fairness, we've never previously opened a Vantage's hood, or at least we can't recall doing so, and we've checked the glovebox for the owner's manual. Except there is no glovebox—and no manual stashed elsewhere in the car. There's also no apparent solution: no hood-release lever in the driver's footwell, no electric latch-operating button placed somewhere unconventional, no touchscreen command buried somewhere in the infotainment's menus. And there's no cell service up here, so no instant internet help finding the answer, either.

When a couple of hours later we descend the mountain and have our phone service restored, we quickly find what we're looking for: the red-handled release-lever is right there in the most obvious location: way up in the passenger-side footwell, hinged from the bottom of the dashboard. Never mind the fact we looked there at least twice; when you don't know it's there, the lever's mounting point means you have to really get your head down low and look deep into the space, preferably with a flashlight. Now we're the ones rolling our eyes, at ourselves as much as anything.

The hood release is a minor idiosyncrasy of no consequence in probably 99 out of 100 real-world scenarios—as is the fact there is no external trunk release on the car, only a button in the cockpit and one on the key fob to pop the hatch. If you own a 2020 Aston Martin Vantage, you'll be informed about things like this.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage: The Basics

If you're interested in the Vantage nameplate's long history, we've got you covered on that front here. As for this latest model, in a nutshell:

The new Aston Martin Vantage went on sale two years ago, featuring an extruded aluminum chassis—an Aston specialty—similar to that of the DB11, as well as a similar double-wishbone front/multilink rear suspension setup.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage: Facts and Figures

Also like the V-8-powered version of the DB11, the Vantage uses a Mercedes-AMG-supplied 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine, producing 503 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 505 lb-ft of torque at 2,000-5,000 rpm; the latter figure exceeds the engine's output in the DB11 by 7 lb-ft.

Shifts come courtesy of a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox, and the car Aston supplied for this test drive rides on Pirelli P Zero rubber measuring 255/40 R-20 in front, 295/35 R-20 in the rear. Carbon-ceramic brakes are optional, though this Vantage does its stopping with the standard discs and rotors. Bodywork is devoid of tacked-on winglets and spoilers, as a typical Aston Martin sports car should be, but aerodynamic effect is present: The front splitter and side-gills, respectively, direct air beneath the car to the rear diffuser (as well as for cooling) and relieve pressure from the wheel arches; the Vantage's rear diffuser creates up to 169 pounds of downforce at its claimed top speed of 195 mph. Aston says this car is the first of its mainline production models to actually make downforce, and while it doesn't equate to a bagful of anvils holding the whole thing to the asphalt, the upshot during spirited test-drives on public roads is that aerodynamic lift shouldn't be of concern.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage: The Bigger Picture

But do you want one? Aston Martin intends the Vantage as an alternative to Porsche's rocksteady 911; I hesitate to use the word "rival," if anything because the fractional volumes of Vantages built and potential/actual Vantage buyers appear rather far removed from their Porsche equivalents. The reasons for this don't necessarily flow in a straight line, and this isn't the place to dive into Aston's contemporary business model, its production capacity/plans, or its $0.65-per-share stock price.

The 2020 Aston Martin Vantage itself, however, is an intriguing proposition from a pure enthusiast driver's standpoint. It's larger and chunkier in real life than it appears in some photographs, a fact that struck me when I parked it in the garage space usually reserved for my first-generation Porsche Cayman S. (Granted, this perception applies to all modern sports cars as they've grown larger by the generation during the past two decades.) Its ride height is higher than you expect, and while it might not visually look as extreme-mean nasty as it could in that regard, you also welcome the reality that you don't have to wince for your front end at every speed bump or driveway you encounter.

Modern Astons have always survived on their beauty more than anything, and the Vantage is no different, though it isn't as organically stunning as its predecessor. Some of that perception depends upon whether you prefer rounded or sharp lines and proportions. Styling is always subjective to a large degree, as is color: this particular test car's orange paint, despite being a $6,380 option from Aston's Q division, somehow sells its lines short. For sure it grabs attention, but for my money I'd opt for the Lime Essence paint and relish even more in the curbside flash.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage: The Drive

Taking this test drive to Los Angeles' streets and canyon roads, the 2020 Aston Martin Vantage is effectively one big grin. Each of its drive modes—Sport, Sport+, and Track—delivers a unique experience in terms of exhaust volume, suspension damping, throttle and gearbox response, electronic-differential tuning, and stability-control leeway.

None of this is unique in the modern performance sports-car space, at least not conceptually and in how it functions when you hit the mode button. However, you quickly appreciate how Aston tuned the Vantage: Cycling through the different modes delivers an immediate, feelable, and predictable change in the car's character, response sharpness, and ride quality—and each one is absolutely useable in real life. We noted the same thing several years ago for the DB11, and the big takeaway is, none of the modes feel like something you will never actually enjoy or find use for in real life.

In some cars now on the market, you select the more extreme modes just to see what they are like or to show your friends, drive along for five minutes, and realize you'll never choose that setup again short of a track day. But in the Vantage, even in Track mode, the experience is never uncomfortable. I find myself cycling between modes on-the-fly as road surfaces and my mood changes, with legitimately effective results as opposed to playing with settings out of boredom or simply because I can. That's a noteworthy accomplishment, credited to Aston's chief of vehicle attribute engineering, Matt Becker, and his team. They deserve a nod for grasping how the majority of real people use these cars in real life.

I find myself using Sport+ most of all, which amps up the exhaust sound and provides the best balance of the various hardware calibrations for the twisting mountain roads I'm pushing the Vantage over. The only thing I miss from Track mode here is a lack of an oil-temp gauge, but that's mostly a personal preference for peace of mind rather than any real concern about the engine's health in this type of driving environment. There are a few other silly little quirks, too, like the separate buttons arranged around the center console for selecting P, R, N, and D. Another one is not being able to control the song(s) playing from your phone via the steering-wheel buttons—even though you can control the volume from the wheel. Yes, yes, traditionalists will say you should just listen to the engine when you're driving, regardless, but let's be real here.

The good news: The Vantage is a great drive. Its pedals are positioned well for either right or left-foot braking, and the brakes are strong and predictable. The steering is lovely; it provides good on-center response and nice feel for what the front end is doing. Its weighting is just right, and the 2020 Aston Martin Vantage reacts quickly to inputs.

Run the coupe into a corner and you get some nice cracking and gurgling from the exhaust on the overrun, and some easily controlled slides on the exit. (You can also dial out much of the noise by using regular Sport mode, to avoid upsetting the canyon locals or your neighbors.) This car is easy to drive quickly, with just the right amount of hidden hooligan available whenever you choose. Kill the stability/traction control completely, and the Vantage is happy to be the British drift star you've always dreamed of, if anyone ever actually dreamt of such a thing.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage: Bottom Line

This is a great driver's car and a great sports-tourer that should leave anyone looking for something a bit different to the 911—the car it theoretically competes against—more than satisfied. Much like the Porsche, it's simultaneously aggressive, compliant, and up for almost anything most drivers will throw its way. It always reminds you of the fact you're driving something aggressive and special, without hitting you over the head with annoying side effects from its performance chops.

There's this, too: If you care about catching attention, about feeling exclusive, as much as you care about catching g-forces, the 2020 Aston Martin Vantage probably does even better in that department than the ubiquitous 911, due its comparative rarity. Either way, regardless of the underlying reasons for its relative scarcity, it's a shame we don't see more Vantages doing their thing on the road on the regular, quirks and all.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage Highlights:

  • Typically fetching Aston Martin styling
  • Fun chassis balance
  • Drifts all day
  • Strong engine
  • V-8 sounds great
  • Excellent steering
  • Various drive-mode adjustments are useable in real life
  • A true driver's car
2020 Aston Martin Vantage Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $156,081/$185,916 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 4.0L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/503 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 505 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 18/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 175.8 x 84.8 x 50.1 in
WHEELBASE 106.5 in
WEIGHT 3,650 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 3.5 sec
TOP SPEED 195 mph