Once you really look into it, you realize there are a surprising number of alternatives to the stalwart Porsche 911. The Mercedes-AMG GT is one, as are the Maserati Gran Turismo, Nissan GT-R and Audi R8. Here’s another: the new 2019 Aston Martin Vantage.
New from the ground up, the Vantage sits on a new platform that shares little with previous Aston Martins — but it does have some bits and pieces you might have seen before. While the chassis parts are Aston, the powertrain and much of the electronics in this two-seat luxury sports coupe are sourced from Mercedes-Benz, meaning there’s a lot of the excellent AMG GT coupe nestled under that svelte British sheet metal. Is that a good thing? I had a long weekend in the new Vantage to find out.
The Heart of ein Löwe
There’s a lot that’s familiar about the Vantage, such as the Mercedes-AMG twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 nestled under that impossibly low hood. It makes 503 horsepower and 505 pounds-feet of torque — comparable to its output in various AMG GT models (where it ranges from 469 to 577 hp). It sounds differently glorious here than it does in any of the Mercedes models it powers, with a vicious ripping snarl on hard acceleration that’ll make you want to repeat hard launches again and again.
It also provides massive thrust, but still accelerates a tick behind competitors like the Audi R8 and Mercedes-AMG GT due to weighing nearly 200 pounds more than they do. You’ll never notice, however, as only the most skilled track drivers are likely to experience any deficiency from it. Out on the street, it’s incredibly quick, reaching super-legal speeds in alarming fashion and cruising all day at those elevated speeds without you realizing it — the true mark of a high-quality European sports car, in my opinion.
The ride, while firm, is decently damped; any harshness is the result of those massive 20-inch wheels riding on stiff Pirelli P-Zero tires. But the Vantage doesn’t offer the kind of adjustability of its suspension, transmission, steering and other systems as some of its competitors do. The AMG GT’s exhaust is tunable, if you spring for that option, and you can get specific on various systems for the Porsche 911, as well. But the Vantage limits you to just three driving modes, relying on the company’s knowledge of how the car should behave rather than allowing you to dial in what you think is most appropriate.
But a car this tightly packaged, this highly strung is more about handling and balance than straight-line acceleration. If you were just interested in zero-to-60 times, you could pony up half the cost of this Vantage and get yourself a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, which does the quarter mile in the 10-second range. It’s the areas of chassis tuning and handling characteristics where Aston Martin brought its expertise to bear, creating one of the best-handling vehicles I’ve ever driven. The steering is extraordinarily precise, with a quick ratio that requires minimal input for maximum effect. Feedback is excellent, effort is spot-on and there’s none of the frenetic dartiness that sometimes plagues high-strung sports coupes on the highway (I’m lookin’ at you, Nissan GT-R). A huge part of the Vantage’s appeal is this stellar handling; the powertrain and styling are just icing on the scone.
The chassis tuning and handling characteristics are where Aston Martin brought its expertise to bear, creating one of the best-handling vehicles I’ve ever driven.
I have less praise for the brakes, however. The brakes are a carbon-ceramic system, like many high-performance cars feature, and as usual, they squeal like mad when you drive like a normal person on normal roads at normal speeds. Pedal feel is average, nothing special, but once you heat up the brakes, their ability to haul the Vantage down from speed with immediacy is serious. Thing is, you have to get that heat into them first — and for a street car, I still think carbon-ceramic brakes are an unpleasant waste. Unless you’re using your Vantage (or your Porsche 911 or your Audi R8) as a track toy, skip the carbon-ceramic option.
The Body of a Supermodel … With Unfortunate Orthodontia
Mention has to be made of the Vantage’s styling, which combines some traditional Aston Martin styling cues with some new looks and features. Most onlookers I surveyed agreed: The Vantage is about 90 percent gorgeous. From the headlights rearward, it’s stunning, with tidy proportions and no extraneous strakes or cut lines. The biggest issue? That chicken-wire grille, which retains Aston’s traditional shape but seems to be made out of backyard fencing material. It ruins the front three-quarter view of the car, making the Vantage best viewed from the side or rear quarter.
What’s more surprising about the Vantage is just how compact it is. In photos and videos, it looks like a large coupe. If you’re familiar with other Aston Martins, such as the Rapide sedan or the DB11, you’ll expect this one to be on the larger side, as well, but it’s not. It’s almost a foot shorter than a DB11 overall, and it’s even shorter than a Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911 and Mercedes-AMG GT. It features a very long wheelbase, however, which gives it those stretched proportions and minimized front and rear overhangs. Whereas the DB11 is more of a grand touring machine, the Vantage is much more sport-oriented; it’s fun-sized, and it looks the part.
Bigger on the Inside
Open an oddly hinged, slightly upward-opening-but-not-quite-a-scissor door, and you can slide inside the leather-lined cockpit. The doors are unusual in that they don’t open straight out, yet they also don’t open up like a Lamborghini, though I found that they make a lot of sense when you’re parking curbside. The Vantage is a low-riding car, but the door hinges guarantee you’ll never scrape the bottom of the door on anything. Pretty slick.
Once inside, you’re treated to a mix of materials. Anything covered in leather looks, feels and smells fantastic; Aston used some high-quality cowhide on the seats and consoles, and it shows. Where it cheaped out was on the plastic bits: The climate-control vents, for instance, wouldn’t feel out of place on a 25-year-old Kia. The seating position is unusual, too, as you sit very low in the car, but the beltline is quite high, creating a tublike effect that makes it awkward to put your left arm up on the windowsill. Though you sit low, the steering wheel and gauges are mounted unnaturally high, and the wheel isn’t adjustable enough to allow for viewing the topmost bit of the gauge cluster if you have a long torso. The wheel is also weird: It’s not round, it’s a squircle — a squared-off circle that initially feels unusual, but eventually blends into the melange of curious shapes in the cabin.
It may be quirky, but at least it’s comfortable. The seats are large and supportive, well-bolstered without being too aggressive, and you can really feel the Vantage’s extra width when bringing along a passenger. It feels far more spacious and open than an AMG GT or Porsche 911, and there’s decent cargo space out back, as well. What there’s precious little of is any sort of storage up front, with nowhere secure to stick a cellphone.
The controls are straightforward. The push-button shifter is the most unique bit inside. The multimedia system is straight-up Mercedes-Benz Comand, so if you’re familiar with the menus and rotary controller mechanism for that system, the Vantage will be easy to use. The audio system is nothing special; it’s put to shame by the high-end Burmester audio in an AMG. The gauge cluster is simple and unique, with a three-region, separated look. It’s a decidedly mixed environment in the Vantage, and aside from the car’s top-quality leather, it’s not necessarily what one might expect for the price tag.
Like most low-volume vehicles, the Aston Martin Vantage has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And like many other vehicles from low-volume manufacturers, it doesn’t offer many more advanced safety systems, like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and so on. However, it does have blind spot warning, backup sensors and a backup camera. LED headlights with washers are standard.
All this glorious style and speed comes at a price, of course, but it’s not quite as dear as you may suspect. The base price of a 2019 Vantage is $152,820 including destination. Add the options my test car featured, and you’ll boost the price to $186,806. What extra equipment did it have to boost the price by more than 20 percent? Couldn’t tell ya; Aston Martin declined to provide a detailed sheet, but one suspects all the decorative carbon-fiber bits played a big part.
As lofty as that price is, it’s comparable to high-performance German sports cars in the same category. The Porsche 911’s price range is big, but the as-optioned Vantage compares well with a 911 Turbo S or Audi R8 V-10 Plus. Keep your hand off the options buttons, and you can bring that price down to compare favorably with the Mercedes-AMG GT in any of its trims, from the base model up through a track-ready R. The Vantage feels like a more agile, more sporting version of the AMG GT, with very different styling and an interior that isn’t quite up to Benz levels of opulence. Selecting one over the other might come down to which has your preferred style or which has better technology. Compare all four here.
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