Aston V8 Vantage A touch of class and great to drive – Why the 4.3-litre is the one to watch. When we last drove an Aston Martin Vantage 4.3, we all loved it. Well, apart from Nathan. He still doesn't think it's a great GT. Its talents lie elsewhere, he says... Words Nathan Chadwick. Photography Adam Shorrock.
Once more with feeling Aston Martin V8 Vantage 4.3 – the hooligan's choice?
James Bond missed out on the high-rev thrills of the 4.3-litre Vantage. That might explain it's affordability. Can that last?
Think of long-lived cars and two come to mind. Merc SLs seem to change shape at the same time continents break free of each other. Then there's the Aston Martin Vantage, which lived on new-car sales lists for 12 years. And it doesn’t look old – it’s aged better than the R231 SL.
We’ve covered the 4.3 Vantage before, in the February 2018 edition. It won the group test against a Maserati GranSport and Porsche 911 997, but I was an angry dissenter – for me, the GranSport made the finer weekend GT and the Porsche 911 the better, more practical daily driver. The Aston didn’t sit well as either.
2000 UK cars left. On B-roads the Vantage is a hooligan.
Adamant I was wrong, JJ urged me to think again. So here I am taking in one of Bedfordshire's finest routes, the twisty and undulating B660. Can it change my mind?
Just absorbing the Henrik Fisker-penned lines almost has me convinced already. Picking it up from Centurian Automotive, where it’s up for sale, the taut bodyshape is just as alluring as it was in 2005, when it was first revealed. It’s truly elegant, a fine mix of modern, progressive design with subtle nods to Aston’s heritage. The grille echoes the 70s/80s Vantage, but where that had square jawed brutality, here there’s smooth restraint; its aggression comes from the hunkered-down stance and arch-filling 19-inch wheels. The most beautiful British car since the S1 E-type? Just maybe. Does it make the new Vantage’s design seem iffy? Almost as clumsy as a SIII E-type…
There’s shades of Jaguar under the skin, too – the 4.3-litre V8 was derived from Jaguar’s 4.2, but only the casting is the same. Everything else was crafted by Aston – quite something for a company that only half a decade earlier had been the preserve of the patriotic or the persistent, and surviving on a diet of Jaguar leftovers with Ford parts bin garnish. The difference between a DB7 and this is simply night and day – and that becomes clearly apparent when the engine barks into life, settling on a muscle car throb. Subtle it isn’t.
We begin our journey just south of Peterborough, near Conington airbase, a former US WW2 site that housed B-17 Flying Fortresses. Machines of great speed and firepower – something that I can’t help but feel the Vantage lacks. That might seem ridiculous for a car that punches out 380bhp, tops 170mph and hits three figures in a little under 12 seconds.
But looked at in the context of the time, the Germans were packing serious heat – the BMW M6 and Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG had 500bhp of Teutonic thump each. The 911 (997) had similar punch to the Aston, but all that rear push and Traction makes it seem quicker, and even the Maserati GranSport’s high revving Ferrari V8 feels like it has a more accessible mid-range.
Seeing as this car’s pitched as a mini-DB9, and with all the resulting GT connotations, that matters. The GT’s function is grand touring, the kind of driving that needs thumping torque to blat past obese SUVs that stagger into the outside lane and back again like a drunk middle management type encroaching the DJ booth at the Christmas party.
Aston later bored the engine out to 4.7 litres and this did much to assuage this criticism, and among Vantage aficionados they’re much preferred. For all the drama barking out of the exhaust, drive a 4.3 Vantage in the manner of a GT and you might be a little disappointed.
The answer is simple – don’t. The lack of any rear seats, even token ones for extra storage (think 928), is a big GT no-no, and the cramped cabin isn’t comfortable for the larger gent. Instead, better to think of it as a proper sports car, with luxury trimming. Let’s test the theory…
As we leave Glatton I slot into second and plant the throttle; the village must have thought one of Conington’s planes had missed the runway after 74 years away. It just sounds so angry, so brutally muscular. Get past 5000rpm and the engine takes on another, more frenzied tone.
Aston tuned the 4.3-litre V8 for extra zing at the top end of the rev counter and it’s definitely got that, the whole car resonating in time to the eight cylinder's war cry.
There’s similar muscularity to the way you interact with this car – the gearkob feels chunky, the Graziano six-speed shift is heavy yet smooth, the clutch firm and the steering direct, and just the right side of weighty. You have to expel effort to reap rewards – this isn't a car that's content to do all the work for you. It’s not a tricky character though; as the road opens over the fledgling hills that mark the end of the Fenland billiard table, the steering’s linear, if lacking a little detail. I still feel I can trust this Aston, which is good as the B660 is a stern test. The first of which is a dipping, elongated EauRougeesque section, only without the full throttle safety net of the Kemmel straight; here there’s a tightening lefthander that challenges the committed and exposes the dynamically limited.
The Aston proves a master – there’s just so much front-end grip that I feel confident to make minor corrections, and for what is a fairly heavy car it manages its weight at high speed beautifully. A quick dab of the brakes and press on; the chassis is unruffled. The next challenge comes after Great Gidding. Not only are there sharp 90-degree turns but a tight left-right surrounded by hedgerows. In the DB9, with which the Vantage shares much of it architecture, I’d be fighting the nose on the way in, but here the Vantage is pleasingly neutral. Go in with the restraint of a toddler on a Cherryade binge and you’ll edge wide, but otherwise the Aston just sticks. It’s starkly competent, this car, a stunning equal to the Porsche 911 997.
That’s not surprising, really, as Ulrich Bez, Aston’s CEO and the car’s godfather, led the Porsche 911 993 development team. And that’s widely regarded as the finest 911 of them all. The Aston’s ride isn’t as supple as the 911 997, something these early stretches exposes. In fairness the road surface here is as pockmarked as a teenager’s chops, but the Aston thumps though them, rather than skittishly bobbling over the top. It’s not quiet inside – you really do hear everything, and feel most of it too.
Another mark against it as a GT, but that only adds to the drama as a hooligan machine. Free from the shackles of its luxury cruiser status, I revel in the Vantage’s pugnacious personality. Push it harder and climb higher into the rev counter and it almost squeals with delight.
Keep it up past 5000rpm and you’ll be fully engaged. The confidence with which the Vantage deals with the road’s ripples allows you to push harder and stronger than in any Aston that had gone before it.
There’s hardly any roll or pitch under braking and acceleration; it’s aluminium underpinnings feel stiff, engineered and unshakeable. Such hooliganism means we’ve covered quite a distance in not much time; soon we’re in the charming town of Kimbolton. Glancing at the Vantage’s reflection in the quaint tea shops that line the high street, the Vantage still looks special. Despite Aston selling many thousands of them, pedestrians still turn and smile. I doubt you’d get that in a 997.
If only the inside had the same level of intrigue. A Porsche is more solid, a Continental GT more plush and a GranSport more exotic. It’s still miles more special than a BMW M6, but its interior plastics, brushed aluminium and greys no longer have the cutting-edge style they once had. Aston interiors don’t wear well, though this one is a lovely exception. It’s a mixed bag, and though the binnacles take some mental calibration for their unusual arrangement, they still look enchantingly cool.
Turning right, we’re back on the B660 again. There’s a long, largely straight section that climbs here, allowing the Vantage to sing. It may not have the in-gear thump but stick with it, keep your foot in and you’ll relish the speed at which the revs and pace rise. It’s an absolute hooligan.
After here there’s a series of challenging bends and short straights allowing you to work up a sweat muscling the Aston into its high revving sweet spot. It delivers its punch here, and it makes most sense here too. Far too soon we’re entering Bedford’s city limits. There’s an inkling to pose, the Aston a supermodel among the SUV ‘middle managers’ we mentioned earlier, but the lure of turning around and doing it all again is too much.
It’s not a great GT and too podgy for the track, but unleash the 4.3 on the road, push it like a proper sports car, and it will have you convinced.