I know there are a dozen other choices out there – cars that are more powerful, quicker around a road circuit and much less expensive, but you can keep your Corvette, your 911, your F-Type, your GT-R and your top-spec pony cars. My money would go towards this entry-level Brit with the metallic green paint and bright-yellow race-inspired accents.
Aston Martin has always crafted alluring – and expensive – automobiles. Yet this is the first time one of its offerings has come close to making sense to both the enthusiast's heart and to his or her accountant. It may sound absurd, but considering the GT's engineering, design, pedigree and hand-crafted execution, its $99,900 sticker price (plus $2,825 destination) makes it an absolute bargain.
To experience the new V8 Vantage GT, a model sold as the N430 in other markets, the British automaker invited me to attend this year's grueling Nürburgring 24-hour race. Before I watched its race-prepared siblings lap the famed circuit for a full day (all four Vantage models that entered finished), I was handed the keys to my very own example – in Alloro green exterior paint with yellow club sport graphics – configured with a welcomed six-speed manual gearbox.
As you'll likely recall, the Vantage is the smallest, lightest and most agile of the Aston Martin lineup, and it's been around for a good while already. First launched at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, today the model is offered in Coupe and Roadster bodystyles with the buyer's choice of either a V8 or V12 powerplant. The coupe, like all of the automaker's production models, rides on its modular VH platform, a lightweight bonded aluminum and magnesium monocoque structure fitted with aluminum body panels for Vantage duty.
Vantage is the smallest, lightest and most agile of the Aston Martin lineup, and it's been around for a good while already.
Aston Martin is proud of its aerospace-like chassis, and it's historically been eager to promote its ability to offer its affluent clientele customized vehicles, with personalized upholsteries, colors and options – think of it like ordering a custom-tailored suit. But that exclusivity has previously come at a considerable price, starting at $121,225 (including destination) for its least-expensive V8 Vantage. But the new V8 Vantage GT breaks from this tradition, as it is pre-configured with an enthusiast-oriented set of options and only sold in a handful of colors, thus allowing Aston Martin to trim manufacturing time and thus lowering its retail price. While the automaker will offer both Coupe and Roadster models in V8 GT trim (priced from $102,725 to $122,525, including destination), any deviation from the pre-packaged program puts the customer in a standard V8 Vantage, which means the higher pricing applies.
Don't expect the least-expensive Aston Martin to arrive bare bones. Instead, the specially appointed cabin of the V8 GT surrounds both of its occupants with a full leather and Alcantara cabin, with thick contrasting stitching, combined with real carbon fiber and wood finished in piano black. The three-spoke steering wheel is covered in Alcantara (or leather) and the rotary dials have anodized black faces with matching kick plates and pedals underfoot.
The engine fires to life with a roar that startles unexpected onlookers.
I'm a couple inches over six feet tall, but my frame fits well within the personal space inside the Vantage. There is no sunroof, meaning headroom isn't compromised, and the pedal box is deep inside the wheel well, translating to good room to stretch my feet (passengers will discover that their foot well is quite a bit shallower). Sadly, the incredibly snug carbon-fiber and Kevlar bucket seats in my test car won't make it to the States – blame Uncle Sam and his frustrating regulations – we get thicker (a bit more padding) and slightly less supportive steel and leather units.
In a sequence duplicated with all late-model Aston Martins, the vehicle is started with a crystal key that is inserted into top of the center console. After a momentary pause, the dashboard illuminates and the engine fires to life with a roar that startles unexpected onlookers. The handbrake is located, oddly, on the outboard side and it requires a lift before its button is pushed to release. Preflight done, and the engine burbling away impatiently, the sleek coupe is ready to go.
With a firm push with my left leg, I carpet the clutch while pressing the leather-wrapped gearshift knob forward into first gear, which engages with a reassuring mechanical click. After a buttery smooth clutch release, the Aston Martin rolls gently of the line.
The leather-wrapped gearshift knob engages with a reassuring mechanical click.
It doesn't take but a ten-foot roll to notice the weight of the steering. Without a doubt, the traditional hydraulically assisted steering is one of the heaviest setups I have felt in some time. But I'm not complaining, as it feels wonderful. Maneuvering the V8 GT though a parking lot requires a bit of muscle, just as it should, requiring lots of focus, as the view out of the greenhouse is challenged (a reverse camera and sensors are standard).
Located just ahead and to the side of the driver's feet, on the other side of a thick aluminum firewall, is the automaker's familiar 4.7-liter V8. As it is in the standard Vantage family, the all-alloy engine is fitted with a dry sump and pushed rearward for a low, front mid-mounted position. Special to this model is a standard sport exhaust, which helps it to deliver 430 horsepower and 361 pound-feet of torque (Aston has painted the intake manifold black, instead of silver, to set it apart from the standard engine). A rear-mounted transaxle is standard, but buyers are offered a choice between a traditional six-speed manual gearbox and a paddle-operated seven-speed "Sportshift II" automated manual transmission (single clutch), at additional cost, but the latter has proven to be an utter buzzkill in other Astons we've tested.
Free of the Aston Martin testing center parking lot, I turn the nose of the manual transmission-equipped coupe south, away from the Nürburgring circuit, to join two other V8 Vantage GT models for a day long cat-and-mouse chase over lightly traveled secondary roads across the German countryside. We break free from the track congestion and quickly bury the throttle.
Aston's 4.7-liter V8 prefers to spin the needle all the way around its tachometer until the fuel cutoff at just over 7,000 rpm.
According to the automaker, the special-edition V8 Vantage GT is about 44 pounds lighter than the standard V8 Vantage, thanks to the composite sport seats and forged wheels. But the US-spec model doesn't get the lightweight seats and the forged wheels are optional, so consider both Vantage models, standard and GT, as weighing the same, which is about 3,600 pounds. Match the mass to the power, and the sprint to 60 mph takes about 4.6 seconds, which does sound a bit slow in today's acceleration-obsessed sports car climate.
Yet what that number doesn't tell you is how much of a screamer the naturally aspirated V8 engine is – it is an absolute jewel. Nearly all of today's turbocharged and supercharged engines prefer to shift well below redline, as they make all of their torque down low. Aston's 4.7-liter V8, on the other hand, prefers to spin the needle all the way around its counterclockwise tachometer until the fuel cutoff at just over 7,000 rpm. All the while, the exhaust roars loudly under throttle and cackles and barks under deceleration. There is no electronic trickery, just well-tuned pipes – the sound is 100-percent authentic, and your smile will be every bit as genuine.
Rowing through the gears is an effortless exercise, and each engagement is confirmed with a slightly mechanical "thunk" felt through the wrist. The hydraulically assisted clutch releases progressively, with good feel, but the gearbox prefers to be handled with a deliberate touch, rather than rushed. Truth be told, I missed a few shifts – mostly when I was really driving hard and trying to jam it into gear rather than letting it slide. And, be aware that if you stall the Vantage, the showy re-ignition sequence (press and hold the crystal key) seems like it takes eternity when there is someone in the rearview mirror honking.
The heavy steering is very accurate, with reassuring stability whether mid-corner or flying down a short straight.
With both hands and both feet fully occupied between the steering wheel, shift lever and foot pedals, the V8 GT is a joy to pilot through twisty forest roads. Sport-tuned suspension, independent double wishbones with coil springs and fixed-rate monotube dampers front and rear ensure the standard-fitment Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tires (staggered 245/40ZR19 front and 285/35ZR19 rear) maintain their contact patches. The ride is firm, but the stiff damping allows it to corner nearly flat without any unsettling body movement around high-speed sweepers.
The heavy steering is very accurate, and its weight adds to a feeling of comfortably reassuring stability whether mid-corner or flying down a short straight. Its response is quick, but not lightning-so (many of today's supercars have a certain nervousness about them, which allows them to instantly dart through corners at the expense of a relaxing drive). The term "old school" kept coming to mind, and not in a bad way.
A jaunt on the unlimited-speed Autobahn, fortunately with light traffic, revealed excellent high-speed manners. The cabin is surprisingly hushed, nearly absent of wind noise at double-digit speeds. In fact, the GT felt absolutely planted when I pushed it to 170 mph when the opportunity presented itself (the automaker says it will run to a blistering 190 mph, but that would take quite a bit of real estate to verify, as it doesn't pull very hard above 165 mph).
By the time the sun had dropped low, I was at a loss to think of a more enjoyable way to consume an entire day.
To hit the attractive price point, Aston Martin does not offer the V8 GT with the premium carbon-ceramic brakes. Instead, the vehicle arrives with wheel-filling slotted and ventilated rotors (iron surfaces and aluminum hats) with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston calipers in the rear. Even though they weigh a bit more than the ceramics and cannot absorb the same amount of heat, the brakes were unflappable with excellent initial bite and exhibited no signs of fade, despite my heavy use.
By the time the sun had dropped low, the front end of the V8 GT was left splattered with bugs and its fuel tank was dry. I was left craving for more seat time and at a loss to think of a more enjoyable way to consume an entire day.
The dinner conversation on the eve of the 24 Hours of Nürburgring involved heavy discussion about Aston Martin's newest offering, with many agreeing that the often-criticized age of the Vantage platform is actually working in its favor here. While today's performance car world is chock-full of low-revving turbocharged engines, numb electric steering, all-wheel drive and artificial exhaust notes, the V8 Vantage GT still provides the mechanical and analog feedback that an enthusiast craves – within the body of an internationally recognized supermodel.
V8 Vantage GT provides the feedback that an enthusiast craves – with the body of a supermodel.
While the new $99,900 Aston Martin is an obvious shot over the bow of the Porsche 911 Carrera S (which starts at $98,900), the British automaker has accomplished more than just build an alternative to the popular German. By offering a new entry-level model with a standard equipment list tailored to the enthusiast, with race-inspired livery, it has created one of the most engaging vehicles in its lineup. Now, if I can just find a donor to help me pay for my own...