We’ve all been there: deeply smitten by a witty, intelligent, urbane, drop dead gorgeous potential partner. Whether it’s an actual acquaintance or a distant celebrity, their innate hotness sets our souls ablaze. And then, eventually, familiarity breeds contempt. The wit becomes tiresome, the intelligence debatable, the urbanity mundane and the beauty– well that stays. Despite the obvious physical attractions, the time eventually comes when you realize that true love tends to forget. And yes, I’m talking about the Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Blessed are the souls at Ford's Premier Automotive Group, for they gave Aston's sublime DB9 a more youthful, athletic and attainable sister. The Vantages’ timeless long hood/short deck maintains the family resemblance, but the its tighter proportions work better with Aston’s characteristic sexy C-pillar and toned shoulder lines. Thumbing their nose at Bangles and Blingers, Aston tucked all ancillary objects out of sight, or integrated into the big picture in a manner befitting Gaussian Elimination. If the slick door handles don't impress, the utter lack of body cutlines takes minimalist art on a four-wheeled joyride. The pictures don't lie.
Eighteen inch wheels tucked neatly into the package add to the sleek but muscular stance. Work the trick door release and a symphony of hinges open and raise the portal. Sure, the Vantage’s interior is basically the same as the DB9’s, but that's like saying Ashley Judd and Naomi Watts could be sisters. Tender, aromatic leather wraps around everything in sight. The car’s switches, buttons and levers move with such silky precision I bet they were marinated in Mobil 1 before assembly. The aluminum HVAC knobs click with all the reassuring resistance of rheostats in a ‘60’s vintage stereo console.
Not to belabor the point, but the Aston’s cabin’s sensual tactility is inescapable. Like the perfect love, the seats hold you tight without feeling clingy. The machined aluminum gauge faces make your TAG Heuer look like a $9.99 blue light special. Taken as a whole, it’s Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome on wheels. And then… Attention K-Mart shoppers! If you like the Aston Martin’s clock, why not stop by the Ford aisle and pickup a Fusion? And so it begins…
The AM’s stubby suede sunvisors lack illuminated vanity mirrors– a necessity for any ride appealing to buyers who’d never even think of calling Neiman Marcus Needless Markup. Where are the ventilated seats? Why is the beat box so unworthy of audiophiles’ attention? Where’s the auto dimming rearview mirror? (For over two decades, Dearborn's vehicles have sported this necessary gadget for a moderate premium.) Granted Aston's minimalist presence implies a rejection of BMW-league gadgetry, but a $110k grand-touring car that’s missing the luxo-basics proves that less is (indeed) less.
Depress the Vantage's solid glass starter button (an affectation worthy of its heritage) and your potential soul mate comes to life. The Aston’s exotic engine tenor speaks volumes, but step on the throttle and the love in your heart wanes. It’s a wonderful day when 380 peak horsepower is merely adequate for a luxury two-seater, but the Vantage's powerband fails to satisfy like a fully engaged Porsche 911, or dumbfound like a boosted Benz at full chat. Aston's paltry 302lb-ft of torque at 5000rpm is shameful for a modern eight-cylinder. Acceleration is brisk above 3500 revs, but the Aston nameplate should guarantee seamless shove from the git-go.
Allegro up the dance beat and the V8 Vantage's bold exhaust note sets souls afire faster than the perfect Lambada partner. The rearward burble sings a thrilling tenor, even without a harmonizing induction growl up front. The precise short throw six-speed transmission has nicely matched ratios and excellent clutch pickup: a sad necessity to keep pace with its competition.
Throw the Vantage a few curves and it feels, well, okay. The accurate steering sits somewhere between butch Corvette and effortless 911. The dampers say touring above all: flat cornering and impressive feel at 6/10ths, soft and vague at the limit. The Vantage’s aluminum intensive chassis allows the car to swing faster than its stunning proportions imply, allowing for generous speed through a corner (provided you keep the revs up the powerband). But find yourself in the wrong gear mid-corner and the party’s over. Why must such an exclusive, expensive party stop at all?
Aston’s latest beauty clearly states its intention to pistonheads looking for the ideal long-term partner. Its beauty knows no bounds. Its engineering looks great on paper. But drive the beast like a proper sports car, and you immediately discover that the Vantage is the best of all possible rides from the previous millennia. For those willing to sacrifice peak performance in the never-ending quest for beauty, cabin quality and infinite attention to detail, the Vantage makes a fine traveling companion. For the rest, it’s best to worship from afar.