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Aston Martin Vantage: British motoring is back, with more muscle

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When I first laid eyes on the all new Aston Martin Vantage at an event in New York City in late 2017, it really was love at first sight. The smaller, sportier evolution of the new coupe silhouette designed by Aston’s chief creative officer Marek Reichman looked perfect. I love grand touring cars, and Astons are the embodiment - plus they sound great. With a thumping twin-turbo, AMG-sourced V8 engine, I was eager to get behind the wheel.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

When the car arrived at the Yahoo offices recently, its gray, almost pewter exterior did not disappoint. Acclaim for the exterior package isn’t universal, with many critics pointing to the front end. But I like that widemouth opening up front, flanking a wire-mesh grill. It’s aggressive, and this is supposed to be Aston’s most sports-oriented car.

I’ve been a fan of the Aston side strakes, here leading to the taut waistline that expands out to the wide rear-quarter panels, finishing off with the short back end. The back is an evolution of the new Aston design, now revealing a full-flowing rear light set up that rises to meet the hatch glass in the middle. The Vantage looks sporty and classy at the same time.

Aston Martin Vantage.  Portugal.  February / March 2018 Photo: Drew Gibson
Aston Martin Vantage. Photo: Drew Gibson

One thing that caught my eye in a bad way were the uneven, and in some cases very wide, body panel gaps. These were especially glaring in the front end hood and quarter panels and in the rear of the car. I contacted Aston, and I was informed my tester was a preproduction model, one of the first that came out the factory. I’m going to assume that the production version will have more consistent, and hopefully smaller, panel gaps.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

The cockpit

Interior coachwork Is an Aston Martin hallmark. Now for a car starting at $153,000, the question is would the craftsmanship and materials live up to the mark.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

And indeed, the leather work was beautiful. The sporty two-toned color-scheme worked wonderfully in the Vantage, and our tester had a very ornate letter stitched and tufted roof lining, which if you didn’t look, you’d never notice. It’s a nice touch — an extravagance really — but one a discerning buyer would appreciate.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Under the dashboard was a new digital display. It was a clear, high resolution display. But I really missed the beautiful Aston gauges, the dials that looked like a luxury, mechanical watch face. They were a special Aston feature, but as times change and so does the tech, the old-world charm can’t compete with smartphone-like data visualizations.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

There’s nice use of carbon in the cabin, but there are some plastics here and there that don’t seem to match the Aston’s aspirations. But this is the entry-level Aston (funny to say). The paddles flanking the wide-steering wheel were nice though.

In the rear of the car was a decently-sized hatch with little shelf aft of the seats for storing some items in the interior of the car. Note the Aston is not a 2+2, so you’re really going to find that interior shelf handy, because there is no glovebox either.

Aston Martin Vantage.  Portugal.  February / March 2018 Photo: Drew Gibson
Aston Martin Vantage. Photo: Drew Gibson

The engine, or in this case, der Motor

Just like Aston’s DB11 V8, the Vantage is powered by a Mercedes-AMG (DAI.DE) V8, pumping out 503hp and 505 lb-feet of torque. This is the same engine found in the Mercedes AMG-GT coupe, which we tested last year (and a fine car at that). Just like the AMG-GT, Aston adds a carbon fiber prop-shaft that leads to the transaxle located at the rear-wheels. However Aston uses ZF’s 8-speed automatic here, not the AMG’s 7-speed DCT dual-clutch transmission.

Aston Martin Vantage.  Portugal.  February / March 2018 Photo: Drew Gibson
Aston Martin Vantage. Photo: Drew Gibson

Driving impressions

It was a cold, misty afternoon as I slipped into the driver’s seat on the way to Cape May, New Jersey. It’s about a 3-hour drive from the greater New York City area, a nice amount of time to put the car through its paces.

Aston Martin Vantage.  Portugal.  February / March 2018 Photo: Drew Gibson
Aston Martin Vantage. Photo: Drew Gibson

A little background on Cape May. Located at the southernmost end of the Jersey shore, Cape May is America’s oldest seaside resort. Founded in the early 1600s, the town, with its Victorian-style homes, started hosting vacationing families in the mid 1800s.

I stayed at Congress Hall, a grand resort built in 1816 that still maintained much of its old charm and beauty. In fact President Benjamin Harrison made Congress Hall his summer White House. A nice, classy setting for the all-new Vantage.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Starting up the Vantage is a pretty glorious experience. It’s loud as the engine roars to life, and you get all those nice exhaust pops muscle car fans love so much. That these snarls are coming out of a British grand touring car is a little strange, but the Vantage is Aston’s performance vehicle, after all.

Starting off in the ‘sport’ setting for both powertrain and suspension, basically its comfort mode, the car drove basically like a luxury, performance sports coupe. But — there’s a big but — I found the suspension a little stiff for my tastes, even in its softest setting. God help you if you used sport-plus or the track-suspension setting because a visit to a chiropractor could be your next stop.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

From a power-train perspective, sport-plus was great. The engine came alive and the exhaust was thunderous. This car is powerful — 500 plus horsepower in a smallish coupe is overkill for just about anyone — but it is a lot of fun. And it’s fast - capable of hitting 0-60 in 3.5 seconds, according to Aston. Now the car does weigh over 3,500 pounds, which is surprising, but I didn’t find the Vantage too heavy or bloated.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

The 8-speed transmission was a perfect complement to AMG’s twin-turbo V8. I find automatic transmissions, now in many high performance cars, are actually much smoother than your typical dual-clutch transmissions (exceptions here are Mercedes’ own DCT and Porsche’s PDK, which are both great ). One problem I did encounter with the Aston’s transmission is that it has decent amount of creep - you let off the brake in ‘drive’ and the car lurches forward quite a lot.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Other than that, driving dynamics are well-balanced. The car felt planted, steering was direct and the wheel had a nice weighty feel to it. Brakes are responsive but have almost too much bite at first, especially at slow speeds. This took a bit of time to get used to, but eventually you learn to compensate for the harshness.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Although a bit chilly, I was able to ring out some nice runs along stretches of the highway. It is a wonderful vehicle to take on a road trip — oodles of power, comfortable seats, and above all — just look at it! Cape May is a nice town with some high-end cars on display, but wherever the Vantage went, the eyeballs followed. Along with a million questions about it.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Yes, Aston Martin nailed the look. But there is tough competition in this space. You’re talking Audi R8s, the Mercedes AMG-GT, Porsche’s (VOW.DE) sublime standard bearer, the 911. And Aston is creeping into McLaren 720S and Ferrari (RACE) Portofino territory as well.

2019 Aston Martin Vantage
2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Aston had to step up with a modern GT car, and they did. The Vantage is Aston planting its flag in the high performance sports car world. It’s a great effort but the car definitely needs some fine tuning. That being said Aston’s team in Gaydon, Warwickshire has a solid base to iterate from with the new, sporty Vantage.

Aston Martin Vantage.  Portugal.  February / March 2018 Photo: Drew Gibson
Aston Martin Vantage. Photo: Drew Gibson

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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