Before Aston Martin ushers in a new turbocharged era for the popular Vantage, it's time for one more, old fashioned, last hurrah for its naturally aspirated V8. Meet the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Red Bull Racing edition.
Let's be clear; there’s a new Aston Martin Vantage coming soon. It’s going to be good, perhaps even great, but it’s not going to be this. The very last iteration of the current-generation British sports car is going out with some serious energy, in the form of the Red Bull Racing edition.
From the outside the $259,995 (drive-away) Red Bull Racing Vantage is easily distinguishable with its red front highlight on the iconic grille and RBR badging along its exterior. Red Bull editions can be had in the same livery as the racing cars with Mariana Blue paintwork and yellow brake calipers standard.
Our test car came in Tungsten Silver but we would love to see this in satin Mariana Blue, much like the racing team's F1 machines. Those with a keen eye will also notice a carbon-fibre rear diffuser and front splitter to improve downforce and road holding.
Other than that, this is the Vantage we've come to love for more than a decade. While Porsche and Ferrari seem to have gone through two generations of their respective sports cars in the same time, Aston Martin’s latest progress was with the DB11, which we recently reviewed. The Vantage will be next in line for an all-new platform sometime next year, but for now, we still have an amazing sports car that history will remember for all the right reasons.
Here’s the thing, this 4.7-litre naturally aspirated V8 is one of the last of its kind. Porsche, Ferrari and even Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW no longer make naturally aspirated V8 engines. Unless you want a GT from Maserati or Lexus, this is it, ladies and the gentlemen, the last bastion of hope for those who seek the thrill, noise and simplicity of what will go down in history as one of the best sounding V8s of all time. Best of all, the Red Bull Racing edition comes with a six-speed manual transmission.
If you’re after a sophisticated, exotic sports car that has a dozen switches and a personality that changes with every single apparent purpose, you’re looking in the wrong place. This Vantage is 100 per cent old school. It does one thing, and one thing only – make happy that inner-kid inside every car enthusiast – and it does that really well.
Firstly, after more than 10 years, the Aston Martin Vantage still turns heads wherever it goes. Although officially the final design has been accredited to Henrik Fisker, the Vantage was the brainchild of Ian Callum, one of the world’s most talented car designers and the designer of the DB9 and basically every Jaguar in the last decade. Callum’s version saw the rear lights of the current Jaguar F-Type on the Vantage, a point Fisker changed with the DB9 look-alike rear end.
Whichever man you wish to give credit to doesn’t really matter, for the Vantage – in our opinion, at least – remains one of the most timeless and well-proportioned vehicles ever. It still commands attention in the classiest of ways. It doesn’t possess the outlandishness of a Lamborghini or the allure of a Ferrari’s purity, but it has its own unique appeal that is hard to dismiss.
During our test drive out of Melbourne towards the Mornington Peninsula, the Vantage garnered plenty of looks and had its photo taken a dozen times. It may be have been around for a while, but its street presence and appeal cannot be underestimated.
But why would you buy this car now, when there is a new one coming? That is an easy question to answer, depending on what matters to you.
For us, that answer starts with the engine and ends with the noise. This is audibly glorious. It emits the type of exhaust note that combines a sense of tough old-school V8 but also sophisticated exotic car all in one. It’s very distinctive and, for those that know their cars, you can foretell a Vantage from its screams well before it graces you with its beauty.
Our familiarity with the Vantage is rather high (this reviewer owns a Vantage N400), but even we were surprised by just how loud the RBR version Vantage is. The exhaust note of the 4.7-litre models has always felt somewhat subdued due to the number of exhaust restrictors it was burdened with. However, this variant is loud, really loud and not just at the high end either, but from well down in the rev range. No doubt helped by a switchable exhaust that allows the V8 engine to scream from the outset, rather than open up just from around 4000rpm.
Sit inside and not all that much has changed in a decade. Like the rest of the package, the cabin is a little old-school. The instrument cluster remains almost the same, the seats, steering wheel, and switchgear are from an era that saw Aston Martin, Ford and Volvo share a lot of components, as part of one group.
Sure, there have been updates along the way and the RBR edition has its own unique touches, such as the steering wheel being covered in Alcantara with a racing stripe at 12 o’clock, the dash highlighted with carbon-fibre trim, and the Red Bull Racing logo adorning the seats, but it remains the same at its core.
Thankfully, the latest iteration of the Vantage has a very decent infotainment system that also supports Apple CarPlay, which brings it up to the standards of the majority of its competitors. We had no issues using both the internal system with Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming or CarPlay.
Press and hold what is, without fail, still the most amazing looking key in the business - the Aston Martin emotional control unit - into where the start button once lived and the V8 roars to life. With 321kW of power and 490Nm of torque, the Vantage is by no means a powerhouse. But, with a kerb weight of around 1600kg, it will do the 0-100km/h run in around 4.8 seconds if you’re willing to be brutal with the clutch.
It feels much faster on the go than the figures suggest and we highly recommend you stick with the manual gearbox for the maximum old-school feel - and also to avoid the seven-speed sports shift, which is great for when you’re going fast, but not so great for urban commuting.
The first thing you’ll notice behind the wheel of a current Vantage is the weight of the steering. It’s almost laughably heavy and it’s wonderful as a result. It’s hydraulic, and absolutely no sports car you can buy from its competitor set will ever match it for feel and feedback. It will tell you exactly what the front end is doing at all times and its steering weight makes driving it at speed so much more enjoyable than its electric-assisted rivals.
The clutch in our car had a high pick-up point, which took some getting used to and we would be lying if we didn't say we stalled it. A fair few times.
The gearbox itself is super smooth, the seating position in relation to the shifter is also very much in character with the car. You feel a part of the process when shifting gears; there is a sense of union between man and machine as you go through the motions.
The old school handbrake remains to the right side of the driver’s seat, a quirk of not having all that much room on the other side, but also adding more character to the car in the process.
Our Vantage was sitting higher than normal, thanks to the comfort suspension option. It didn’t really affect its performance, but we would rather have it sitting at normal height.
Out on the highway the Vantage is as you might expect, a muscular V8. It can coast along comfortably in top gear from 80km/h without ever feeling out of breath. A quick down-shift or two will have it flying again with overtaking done in grandiose style, and with lots of noise.
As we pushed high into twisty roads, the Vantage begins to really shine. This may be an old chassis, but it is still brilliant for its poise and balance. It’s no 911 (it also doesn’t cost as much in equivalent terms), and it won't beat its German rival on a racetrack or around mountainous roads for time, but it will make you a lot happier while trying.
Combine the exotic allure, exhaust note, hydraulic steering system, naturally aspirated propulsion, manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive, and you have a combination for a sports car that simply no longer exists elsewhere.
Even though we contended with a great deal of rain, the Vantage provided phenomenal levels of grip around bends. The brakes are also more than adequate for its power and weight, with repeated heavy braking, both up and down the mountain, resulting in zero signs of fade.
Get a little aggressive with the right pedal and the back end will step out in the most controlled fashion one might ever ask for. Having no turbos to deal with, the torque delivery is linear and graceful, meaning any sideways actions can be had, even with novice levels of skill.
Strangely enough, despite its very dynamically capable chassis and suspension setup, the Vantage is a comfortable place to be (no doubt helped by the softer setup as part of the comfort system). The ride can, at times, still be a little firm but it's never uncomfortable; it is undoubtedly the type of car you can drive everyday. Even very long distances. It is very much like a 911 in that regard.
Whatever you may think of the Aston Martin Vantage, it’s hard to dismiss its timeless beauty and old school mechanical appeal from an era that will soon be remembered only in the history books.
With the next-generation Vantage set to be powered by the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 found in Mercedes-AMG range in order to meet tougher emission restrictions and deliver more power and torque, this current model is unlikely to ever lose its appeal.
For those fortunate enough to buy one of the 17 Red Bull Racing edition Vantages destined for Australia, it’s the type of car we suspect one keeps as part of a collection that will one day help celebrate the absolute pinnacle of the analogue sports car.
We truly love this car, specifically because it’s not pretending to be anything other than a proper old-school British sports car.
Options fitted to vehicle tested
Front parking sensors, glass switches, auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror, machined carbon-fibre wing badges, comfort suspension, rear-view camera, carbon-fibre mirror caps.
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