2018 Aston Martin Vantage review

Better than a Porsche 911? We think so.

The all-new Aston Martin Vantage is likely the most important car the British company has ever built. It’s also as far removed from the car that it replaces as could be possible, sharing only its door handles.

The Vantage is Aston’s true sports car for the ‘masses’. Well, those highly fortunate masses that can afford a roughly $300,000+ sports car. Like its predecessor, it competes with the likes of the Porsche 911, Audi R8 and Mercedes-AMG GT S. It carries forward its front mid-mounted engine, rear-wheel-drive set-up, and is finally offered with a proper automatic (manual on its way). It also utilises one of the best engines in the business, the AMG-sourced twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8.

It’s unusual for us to send two journalists to a car launch, especially one as exclusive as an Aston Martin event in Portugal, but reviewing the new Vantage is a special experience for both authors here. It’s a car that in its previous incarnation was a favourite of ours for many years, helped by its gorgeous styling, unbeatable engine note and driving dynamics that are – even 12 years after it first came to light – hard to match. But it also wasn’t perfect. I should know, I own one.

Tony, on the other hand, owns a Porsche 991.1 911 Carrera S, the segment benchmark for the Vantage. Between the two of us, we have driven every competitor to the new Vantage extensively, so if there were ever going to be people qualified to pass judgement on a car, you've got it right here.

Portugal is known for its amazing weather, and having attended dozens of automotive events there previously, neither of us had ever seen a drop of rainfall on Lisbon or the famous racetrack at Portimão, which Aston had utilised in this case.

But, of course, when a British car company decides to launch a car there, it brings the weather with it. Not just torrential rain, but even hail. Nevertheless, we were fortunate to have dozens and dozens of dry laps (as well as plenty of wet ones) plus an extensive road drive.

The historic problem with the Vantage is that it has the Porsche 911 as a competitor. Here you have a car that is so insanely complete and refined that you can excuse its German sense of styling and subdued character. The iconic sports car is not only fast and dynamically brilliant, but also comfortable and ideal as a daily.

The German-built 911 has for so long remained the pinnacle of what a sports car should be; a benchmark that all others are judged against. So why would you buy a Vantage instead? Because it’s finally a proper match for the Porsche. But not in the way you might think, so let us explain why.

Before we get into the drive, it’s important to get the styling and interior out of the way. This new sports car, much like the DB11, is the work of Aston’s long-time head of design, Marek Reichman, and his team. He has been at the helm of Aston Martin’s design since mid-2005, basically right after the DB9 and previous Vantage designs were complete, both of which can largely be credited to famous British car designer, Ian Callum, who is now the head of design at Jaguar.

We have yet to meet a single person that would say anything negative about the styling of Aston’s previous Vantage and DB9 siblings. No matter how you look at it, after more than a decade of existence, they remain a hard act to follow.

When pictures of the new Vantage were first revealed, it was immediately polarising. It was such a huge contrast to the old car – and even the DB11 – that it took some time to truly appreciate. It was everything Reichman had told us it would be – different in every way on purpose, so that it differentiates the once very similar DB and Vantage lines once and for all.

Some loved it, some didn’t. But we advise you hold judgement until it is seen in the flesh, and even then the car lends itself very nicely to a multicoloured palette. So it’s quite a different sight in the ‘Lime Essence’ green shown here, as it is when presented in a more traditional dark silver or grey, or even white.

Admired side on, the Vantage remains one of the best-proportioned sports cars on the planet. Like the old car, there is a near perfect ratio of its elements that amplify its angry masculine character without losing the grace that all Astons are known for.

The rear houses one of the most aggressive standard diffusers we’ve ever seen on a factory car. It looks ready to race, and that’s the point. It is. The diffuser can be had in almost any colour, and having it contrast the body colour really makes it pop, leaving no guessing room for the car’s intent.

In fact, the whole rear of the Vantage is sensational to look at. It’s sharp, modern and assertive all at once. It’s almost futuristic without being so. You can have the Vantage with dual exhausts, one on either side as standard – they are not as big as the ones on the old car, and as such don’t really fill the exhaust holes as well – or you could opt for the louder and more aggressively styled sports exhaust, which brings the total of pipes to four and definitely finishes the car off as it should be. We would highly recommend the latter.

Front on, well, it’s rather different, isn’t it? Is it as beautiful and as aggressive as the rear? That’s debatable. We would love to see those headlights stretched out a little more, but the more time we spent with it, the more we came to appreciate how it all works as one cohesive and well-styled package.

Jump inside and it’s a whole new world of sports luxury. Gone is the outdated interior of the old car, and in its place is an ultra-modern infotainment system (borrowed from Mercedes) beautifully matched to a flowing instrument stack that builds up in a U-formation to the start button right in the centre, with traditional Aston buttons to select drive, reverse, neutral and park.

Perhaps the most striking element is the steering wheel, which has a rather peculiar shape that might seem odd at first, but it only takes a few seconds of use to realise that it’s a case of function over form.

You can spend a lot of money optioning out the interior and seats with Alcantara and whatnot. It will look amazing if you do, but even if you don’t, in its original leather package the Vantage presents a gorgeous cabin that is hard to beat for its class.

We were a little disappointed that Aston is making use of a previous version of Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND infotainment system. It’s still one of the best in the business with its super-clear 8.0-inch screen and certainly matches, if not betters, Porsche’s PCM equivalent, but it’s not the same as you’ll find in the new C- and A-Class.

We were also a little perplexed as to the location of the SOS button, which took a priority spot right underneath the D (for drive) and above the mute button, making it rather easy to press accidentally. It also comes at the cost of an ‘exhaust button’ to allow a more aggressive note without changing drive modes, as the chief engineer for the Vantage – Matt Becker – told us they had simply run out of button space for it.

Lovers of old Astons will be sad to know the ‘emotional control unit’ is no longer there. There is no sapphire-crystal key to insert for the start-up sequence – now with the key in the car, you simply put your foot on the brake and press the start button.

The Vantage roars to life with a great deal of fanfare, though perhaps not as much as it used to. Its German heart pumps out a massive 375kW of power and 685Nm of torque, which when its dry weight of 1530kg is taken into account, is a rather healthy power to weight ratio. So, it’s not surprising then that it can go from 0–100km/h in an impressive 3.6 seconds. No doubt helped by the rapid-shifting ZF eight-speed transmission that replaces what would arguably be the most annoying automatic transmission in the business – that being the automated manual nightmare known as SportsShift.

Despite being an AMG-sourced powertrain, the folks at Aston are not using the standard Mercedes ECU, opting for a Bosch system instead. This has allowed the engineers to tune the power delivery and engine note to suit Aston characteristics.

If you’re expecting it to sound like a C63 or GT S, you’d be wrong. It perhaps only sounds similar on idle, but on the move it’s a different beast. Becker told us that they had decided to remove some of the over-the-top crackles and pops that you’d find in an AMG, but instead of having to explain to you what it sounds like, click here to watch it rev on our Facebook page.

There are three engine modes and three suspension modes, all of which remain independent of each other. The normal mode is called Sport – because the Vantage doesn’t need a comfort mode like the DB11 – which is followed with Sport Plus and then Track. The difference between them from a powertrain perspective is rather huge, with much sharper throttle response and gearshifts, to a louder exhaust and more crackles on the shifts.

The suspension is also very usable in standard mode and then solid as it comes for track use. What we loved the most, though, was the traction-control system that also has three modes. Normal, which means it will catch you at the slightest slip, Track that is ideal for allowing some slip and much-needed drifting, and then fully off, which is truly fully off and only for the brave. We tried all three but settled on Track mode because we could still go sideways – for a time – before intervention, and found the computer was very proficient at judging what was a genuine drift and what was a ‘holy f*#k’ moment.

So, we made the bold claim that the Vantage is a better all-rounder than the 911, and yes, the two of us really think it is. But perhaps not in the way you would think. Aston had assembled a crack team of engineers that encompass some exceptional internal talent, as well as some from Ferrari and Lotus, to work on the new Vantage.

They had bought a 911 Carrera S for benchmarking, but then quickly realised that what they were building was more than that – it was a natural competitor to the 911 Carrera GTS, by which they benchmarked the new Vantage. By Becker’s own admission, the GTS does an awful lot of things really, really well, and Aston was not shy of learning from its German rival.

Everything from the brake calibration and ride was heavily benchmarked against the Porsche, and the result is a car that is wholly complete. One that can tackle a racetrack on the weekend and then drive to Coles on the way home, without ever feeling out of place. It’s very Porsche, in a good way.

For years we have always asked ourselves, why is it that only Porsche can make a lightweight sports car that not only rides well, but also drives well when pushed hard? Well, now we have an answer from the Brits, for the Vantage rides and drives beautifully on the road and provides levels of grip that leave the 911 wanting. It provides so much mechanical and tyre grip (specifically made Pirelli tyres) and so much confidence in the corners that we found ourselves flying through Portugal’s mountainside at a supersonic pace.

Around the track, too, we were gobsmacked by the level of dynamic competence on offer. The balance of the front and rear is hard to fault, with Portimão's scary blind corners becoming child’s play after a few laps.

To be fair, the steering is not as engaging as the previous car – it’s hard to match the feel and character of a hydraulic system with an electric one – but it’s nicely weighted and provides ample feedback. The Vantage shows almost no hint of understeer at the limit, and any oversteer is self-induced with the right foot, and to amazing effect, because it’s one of the easiest cars we’ve ever had the pleasure of drifting.

The torque delivery from the V8 is also impeccably linear, much like its application in the AMG GT S. The power comes on and never really gives up, with rapid shifts bringing about the ideal level of torque in the rev range when required. In many ways, the new V8 Vantage is a match to the old V12 Vantage in terms of power and torque, for it leaves the naturally aspirated Ford-sourced V8 of the old car in its dust. There is just so much torque that you can open your arms and embrace the turbocharged future of Aston Martin with glee.

Be it wet or dry, we found the Vantage’s ability to fly through corners and yet deal with poorly surfaced Portuguese country roads (that would make a Sydney city councillor proud) uncanny. In that sense, it has the current 911 well and truly matched. Where it excels over its German rival, however, is that it can do all these things the 911 is known for, yet deliver a sense of excitement and passion, both visually and audibly, that is now missing from the turbocharged 991.2 911. Put simply, the new Aston Martin Vantage makes you want to take a long way home.

You’re never going to go wrong buying a 911, it’s brilliant, but now you can have all of that, and more, with the Vantage. But don’t just take my word for it, hear it from a guy who actually owns a 911.

Anthony:

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been infatuated with the Porsche 911 ever since I watched the 1970 Steve McQueen movie Le Mans, which featured the super-cool McQueen driving a 911 S – for the first three minutes and 40 seconds, at least.

That obsession with all things 911 was literally framed in a watercolour print of a 930 Turbo that my parents gave me for my 10th birthday. The fact that it’s still on the wall in my home office is a testament to my passion for the brand.

Fast-forward eight years, and in another life, which had me going to school in Los Angeles, the opportunity to finally drive a 911 T equipped with a new 3.0-litre engine came up. From that moment on I’ve been chasing my dream to own one. And, while I still dream of owning an original 930 Turbo, I’m blessed to have a 991-series 911 Carrera S in the garage – the last of the naturally aspirated 3.8-litre engine cars. It’s also a car I’ll never sell. Well, that’s the plan.

It’s not any one thing about a Porsche 911, it’s more the complete package – from its unique shape, rear engine layout, handling prowess, perfect driving position and all-round reliability – that has given this car its long-held icon status.

Aston Martin is another brand that has fascinated car enthusiasts for more than a century, not the least of whom includes Alborz and I. The Vantage was Aston’s high-performance sports car, and if you believed the hype when it was released in 2005, here was a car to take on the mighty Porsche 911. While its VH architecture was certainly very good, providing outstanding road holding and driver feedback, it still fell short of the Porsche.

But all that has changed with the arrival of the latest-generation Vantage. This is a sports car engineered, designed and built from the ground up to not only rival the 911, but outperform it – on-road and on-track.

Frankly, I don’t think anyone believed an independently small player like Aston was capable of building such a car – not even those at Aston’s HQ in the UK fully believe the promise. Not that there was any real shouting going on, more like whispers to the tune, “It’s bloody phenomenal mate, wait until you drive it”.

Months later, the scene was set at Portugal’s technically challenging Portimão circuit in the Algarve region. It’s a high-speed track with changing elevations and blind crests – taken at speed. I don’t like it in the dry, but in the wet, forget about it.

But that’s exactly what we got when we arrived at the track. In fact, it actually hailed right before our group was to drive. Panic set in – remember this is still a rear-wheel-drive sports car packing a potent hand-built AMG twin-turbo V8. It’s also significantly lighter than the car it replaces.

I guess those looking for the sweet looks of the previous Vantage might be disappointed because this car is a lot more aggressive – sharing more with Aston’s track-only Vulcan and the DB10 Bond car than any road car. It’s got Fight Club written all over it.

The instant you climb aboard is the moment you realise this is an entirely different kind of Vantage. The seat comfort is truly superb. The driving position, the same.

Hit the starter button and you can hear the weaponry, though you’d never pick it as supplied by AMG. It has a more racecar-like character – think GT3 racer and you’re getting close.

Rain, hail or shine (we had all three in just as many hours) and it doesn’t take long before any fears I might have had of this track simply evaporate. Mind you, there are still plenty of puddles about, but even when the rear end decides to step out, you’re aware of it before it happens and easily control the slide. It’s almost too easy.

This is a car that asks you to trust it, and it rewards with breathtaking high-speed performance and roadholding eclipsing that of even the Porsche 911, at least my 991 version.

Its off-the-line acceleration and cornering speed are huge, but what excites most is its tremendous front-end grip on turn-in. It’s uncanny, it really is. I don’t have this level of faith in my 911, I just don’t.

That said, I still think the electric power steering in the Porsche is ahead of that in the new Vantage, but only just, yet the Aston isn’t far behind and demands less of the driver in that regard.

And, it gets even better on the road – despite the torrential rain that greeted us on the road drive the following day, on some of the best B-roads we’ve ever seen.

Initially, the rear-wheel-drive thing spooked me, but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves pushing harder and harder. Again, the trust we put in the Vantage’s front-end grip was unfailing.

If we thought Porsche was unique in its ability to deliver sensational handling with a compliant ride, the 2018 Aston Martin Vantage rewrites that book. The ride comfort over some very dodgy surfaces eclipsed that of the 911 – hands down. Though the Aston didn’t seem to like standing water, which unsettled the rear end.

All the pedals feel right too. The calibration of the throttle and brake pedals means that you position the car perfectly on the road or track with a level of finesse unlike any other car in its class.

Obviously, more thorough testing of the Vantage will need to be undertaken locally, but for now at least, this is a better car than a Porsche 911.

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