By on April 27, 2012

If you are an automotive journalist who socializes with people who don’t have a bizarre fascination with the automobile and its associated trivia (there’s not many of us, believe me), you will inevitably be asked a few stock questions at parties. Among them;

1) Wow, you have the best job in the world, don’t you? (The answer is, no, not really, but working at TTAC is great)

2) What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven? (The answer is, 30 thousand, 100 million)

This article answers another common question – “What do you think of  (insert car here)?”, and more specifically, what happens when expectations and reality are not the same.

Jack Baruth already covered how to drive any exotic car you want. I didn’t follow all the steps, but the way I was able to get a test drive in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage at age 21 wasn’t that far off.

While in Vancouver for the launch of the Nissan Juke, I decided to extend my stay a couple of days. The program ended on a Friday, but staying until Sunday evening turned out to be slightly cheaper, and one of Nissan’s PR staff was doing the same thing. Journalistic integrity remained intact.

The Juke turned out to be a blast, but after the program was over, I went from my swanky hotel to my friend Andre’s house in trendy but quaint Kitsilano. Andre doesn’t give a lick about cars, but his house was situated a block away from Burrard Street, home of Vancouver’s well-trafficed exotic car dealerships.

Faced with the prospect of some time to kill before Andre returned home from work, I wandered in and out of the various dealerships. The kind gentleman at Aston Martin struck up a conversation with me, and I told him that I was looking at a Vantage with a 6-speed manual. In Vancouver, a young man looking at buying an exotic isn’t such a rare sight (though a white guy looking for such a car may have been). Seeking a good cover story, I told him that I owned a vending machine business in Toronto – how else could I justify being out and about on a Friday afternoon, dressed in shorts, a Polo shirt and Sperrys? A passive income business in an obscure field would help deflect any questions as to the legitimacy of my wealth and how it was obtained at an early age. We made an appointment for Saturday morning, when the roads were clear, and I even made sure not to drink on Friday night – an arduous task when visiting someone I got wasted with in high school, who now had a bunch of hard-drinking Kiwis as roommates.

I awoke that morning with an urgency that was akin to Christmas morning – or what I imagined that to be, since I will never know what it’s like to be saved by the Lord Jesus, and instead celebrate the remarkable longevity of olive oil. The salesman offered me a firm handshake and a surprisingly good cup of coffee as we chatted about cars. The Aston arrived, freshly detailed with a few thousand clicks on the odometer. Oh, and it was a paddle shift car. My disappointment faded as the car fired up with a melodious growl, and the salesman took me on a scenic tour of Vancouver, while I spun brilliant bullshit about my Alger-esque rise to fortune in the vending machine business.

The crisp mountain air and the V8 soundtrack only set me up for further disappointment. My turn to drive the Aston came and within a few kilometers, I was faced with the realization that this car was a giant letdown. The endless praises of Jeremy Clarkson and a million other magazines were just dead wrong. The car was gorgeous to look at, but an utter bore to drive. The engine was responsive, but not mind-blowingly quick. The brakes just felt wrong, the steering was heavy and numb, the paddle shift box was neither smooth nor responsive. Jeremy Clarkson once praised the Aston Vanquish for feeling like it was made in a factory by men with B.O. Well, so did the Vantage, and in this case, that’s hardly praise.

Scrape past the bullshit brand narratives spun by PR and journos alike, and the Aston seemed like an utter farce compared to the Porsche 911. A Jaguar XKR was tens of thousands cheaper, provided a similar driving experience and most good-looking women bystanders couldn’t tell the difference.

When the new Camaro came out, I was invited to an early media drive, and I pronounced the car as a giant piece of crap. My review may have been tactless and bombastic, but I was one of the few who didn’t heap praise on the car, and I ended up being vindicated when all the buff books suddenly reversed course and said that it was just ok rather than a “neo-Corvette” with an “inventive interior” (give me a fucking break). I felt similarly duped with respect to the Aston. I expected the British rags, which heaped praise even on the Jaguar X-Type, to love it out of a sense of jingoistic obligation. But even American mags said that “it drives as well as it looks“. Not a chance.

This might be why when I tell party guests that the Aston is, to use a British-ism, dreadful, they look at me as if I was a convicted child molester knocking on their door, telling them about the heinous crimes I committed. It really is a turd wrapped in fancy wrapping, but of course, nobody in this business will admit it for fear of being cut off from the press fleet, and a chance to take a V12 Vantage to one’s high school reunion.

Fortunately, there’s a solution if you want something that is truly fun to drive and unique looking that won’t break the bank. A Nissan Juke. You can have 10 of them for the price of one Aston Martin.

N.B. the real secret to getting a test drive in a car while looking like a bum is an expensive watch. Anyone can buy a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt at Marshall’s. Dealers will look at your wrist to size you up. And the GT-R is boring as hell, even on a track. There, I said it.

 

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66 Comments on “Capsule Review: Aston Martin V8 Vantage...”


  • avatar
    johnhowington

    Jeremy would love to hear more on your comparison to a Porsche 911.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing Clarkson has gotten right over Chris Harris is that the MX-5 is a great car. Other than that, his views are generally suspect.

      • 0 avatar

        Have you ever read a Clarkson review? I mean tried to.

        Utter rubbish. You’re lucky to get three sentences about the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Manic

        All the comparos I have seen with Vantage in British media have been “yeah, nice looking, but too weak and slow compared to Ferrari/Porsche/something”. That’s why AM made V12 version, which has different suspension settings and is probably better car. I think Clarkson was one of the journos not OK with V8 Vantage.

  • avatar
    Feds

    “You see, the secret is to accept pennies. Lot’s of people have pennies and don’t spend ‘em. My machines take pennies. But you don’t roll ‘em, that’s the real secret. You melt ‘em down and sell the copper. It’s worth more than the pennies themselves.

    I noticed you guys don’t have vending machines in the dealerships. I’m in most dealerships in Toronto. Real classy machines filled with imported candy, like Turkish Delight.”

    Also Applicable: http://xkcd.com/1032/

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    Clarkson tends to worship everything made by the home teams. You really can’t take most of his views at face value because he is more of an entertainer than a serious automotive journalist.

    • 0 avatar
      Manic

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1ZkCRfBQVY
      Well, here he explains what’s wrong with V8 Vantage quite well.
      His columns in Sunday Times (of London) were 2/3 of something and 1/3 review, entertaining Sunday morning read until Murdoch erected pay-wall and I stopped reading that site.

    • 0 avatar
      The Doctor

      “Clarkson tends to worship everything made by the home teams”

      As do most auto journos in every country. It’s simply that he’s the only one that’s known about outside their own borders.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I love how that dealership and Ferrari Store, etc. are located in a part of town where traffic moves at 30kph max and there are stop lights everywhere, and where the nearest freeway is in the next municipality, and where city hall monkey’s with bridge into downtown and turns it into a cycling lane for the summer. Were it not that it was Kits, it would make no rational sense to sell cars there.

    Also, good tip about the watch when buying a car.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    The Aston is still the ultimate panty-dropper. Pull up in one of those and the amount of play you’ll get would make Ron Jeremy jealous.

  • avatar
    kars

    so Derek, what did you say to the salesman at the end of the drive?

  • avatar
    Leets

    I’ve worked on my boss’ V8 Vantage on numerous occasions, and although he’s never let me drive it, my experience with the way the car is put together leaves me less than surprised with this review. Shoddy workmanship underneath, piss-poor materials, and engineering that makes the modern Germans look like masters of simplicity. Whether it’s wrenching underneath the car or driving it, I’d pick my lowly S2000 over the mighty Aston any day.

  • avatar
    meefer

    Did you really just tell me to buy a Juke instead of a V8 Vantage? I might have rolled with you if you said SL63 or Jag, but a Juke?

  • avatar
    carguy

    Modern Astons have always traded on their heritage and name but never really lived up to it. BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes all make quick luxo barges with sporting pretensions that are superior to what Aston has to offer. Given Aston’s limited R&D budget we can only assume that this loss of relevance will not be reversed any time soon.

    • 0 avatar
      tkewley

      I would agree that the companies you named have more resources that allow them to develop cars that deliver a better balance of performance, quality, and value than Aston. At the same time, Ford’s money and other resources allowed Aston to develop the VH platform, and I don’t think you’d get much argument that the DB9 and Vantage are the best cars Aston has ever produced, and by a significant margin.

      To the point of the article, I have briefly driven a Vantage, and I would say that it is roughly comparable to (though MUCH better looking than) the Porsche 911. As the 911 was its’ original competitive target, this isn’t surprising. I wouldn’t say that the Vantage represents good value, even as a used car, but neither would I call it “dreadful” or “a turd”.

  • avatar
    salhany

    Interesting that you hated the car, Derek, when Justin Berkowitz and Sajeev loved their test drives for TTAC. Sounds like an expectation gap.

    I still love this thing.

  • avatar
    James2

    I don’t think Clarkson was *that* much in love with the Vantage. I vaguely remember a Top Gear ep where the Three Stooges tested the Aston, a 911 and a BMW M6 and, iirc, they liked the 911 best.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The DB9 is THE Aston Martin to have. There isn’t much point in the others unless one needs a sedan (Rapide).

  • avatar
    DearS

    Thnk you Thnk you Thnk you. I’m glad its ok to let go of BS. Why would this car or a california or a even a Gran Tusrimo be better then a 328i coupe? Cause they have bigger engines or awesome interior/exterior? I love a pretty car but if I want to look at something pretty I have my girl (and myself lol). Todays entry level luxury and sports cars have very good engineering which means diminishing returns for super/hyper cars, or am I wrong?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      The Astons (at least the DB9) is vastly more stable at higher speeds than the non M 3s. At GT speeds, 911s are skittish too, compared to the DB9. Don’t know much about the Vantage.

      • 0 avatar
        DearS

        Im sure DB9 has stability. Stability is one part of the equation. Agility and responsiveness are others. Each is a beautiful attribute. The responsiveness, agility and stability package of a 230hp 328i left me impressed. I really liked it. A DB9′s V12 and 911s rear weight add up very differently. The Vantage I imagine is a small GT. I personally like an all around car, that is balanced and not too aggressive for the street. Hence 328i coupe or E39. I own an e34.

  • avatar
    bodegabob

    You weren’t going fast enough.

    Every really fast car I’ve ever driven (Porsches of various vintages, Corvettes, Twin-Turbo Mitsu GT-thingees) was boring and awkward as hell until well into double-double nickle territory. That’s why they are generally purchased and driven by well-heeled or nouveau-riche gits who don’t really like to drive.

    Most fun: Nissan Versa, VW bug with one failed coil pack, Mazdas of almost any description, and a’92 Chevy Caprice.

    • 0 avatar

      No, the Z06 is a joy to drive at any speed.

    • 0 avatar

      This has generally been my experience as well. Especially with German cars.

      Haven’t driven a recent Z06. But the CTS-V manages to be fun at just about any speed. Just more fun if you get stupid in it.

      Unless you live in a place with good roads, something compact with generous windows, agile handling, and good (but not great) grip will be the most fun. Hence Derek’s Juke recommendation (though it does have trouble putting power down in turns with the stick).

      Back in the 1980s I greatly enjoyed small Hondas, especially the first-gen CRX but even an ’82 Civic 1.3 (62 screaming horsepower). Even the second-gen CRX lost some of that magic.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Miatas are fun at low speed (on the street), not so much at higher speeds. Same goes for non M e90s and Mustangs, which are both fun at high speeds on the freeway, but awkward in the canyons.

      S2000s are fun at any speed. As are Boxsters and 911s. Not to mention the Elise. And the M3 (every generation). As much of a cliche as it has become to say so, that thing really is one magnificent all around car.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Considering in large metropolitan areas of the U.S. there is nowhere to drive cars like this to anywhere near their potential (assuming you have the necessary skill set) the people that purchase them by and large do so for ultimate boulevard cruiser status and in my book any Aston Martin qualifies. I mean really it is an Aston Martin after all. Highly doubt I’ll ever be able to afford one but it doesn’t change my lifelong desire to own one.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    I will openly admit to being close minded here, but I still maintain (as I said in the the Mazda CX-5 review) cute utes and crossovers, are by their very nature rubbish pointless vehicles. There’s a lot of cars that may be better than the Vantage. Not having driven it, I won’t dispute the flaws listed. If you’d said you’d rather have 3 Mustang GTs or 3 370Z’s instead of the one Aston (I think that’s around what the comparable costs are), I would have accepted that. But comparing it to the Juke? Derek, between this and your weighing in on US presidential politics, you’re really trying to bait us here aren’t you?

    • 0 avatar

      I just said in the article my purpose for being in Vancouver was for the Juke launch, and I found it more enjoyable than the Aston. It also attracts lots of attention.

      What would I buy over an Aston? Well said that too, a Jag, a Porsche. I’d also take a 5.0 Mustang and a CX-5 for the winter and a few bars of gold in the hopes that it hits $2000 an ounce.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        Top Gear found that a puppy also was more popular than an Aston but I could care less. I’m not getting it for the attention. As I said, I’m close minded when it comes to cute utes. I’d never find a wrong wheel drive cute ute (or AWD slushbux depending on the version you drove) to be more fun than a Right Wheel Drive V8 coupe, no matter what they badge (that includes even a Camaro and I really don’t like Camaros).

      • 0 avatar

        Then you’re hopelessly mired in your own bias. There’s no such thing as wrong wheel drive, crossovers are not the anti Christ, so on and so forth.

      • 0 avatar
        designdingo

        Derek,
        Appreciate you taking the time to review – but you didn’t mention if this was a 2009 or later model with the bigger more powerful engine. I had heard that that makes all the difference, in terms of power and feel. And I suspect if the car had been equipped with the true manual transmission you would have liked it more.

        I did an extended test drive years ago and loved it, but I’ll be the first to admit – I’m heavily swayed by it’s looks. It’s a little hard to take your assessment seriously when you advocate the Juke – probably the ugliest vehicle of recent memory – over the Aston Martin Vantage, a car widely lauded as one of the most beautiful automotive designs ever created. What a work of art (pictures don’t do it justice).

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      From an objective point of view, sports cars are less useful and more pointless than crossovers. They’re often expensive, utility-challenged, ride hard, loud engine (which is good or bad), often don’t get great mileage, have more performance than you’ll ever use. Crossovers and Cute-utes have more potential utility, probably better gas mileage, and definitely cheaper insurance.

      Judging entirely on what I’ve read about the CX5 and Juke, crossovers can be made to be enjoyable. Think of it as the american version of the hot hatch. Pity we can’t get the Juke’s engine in a Versa hatch with stiff suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        tjh8402

        Hgrunt this is my exact problem with crossovers. They are dynamically compromised (i.e. raised up off the ground) for no other reason than pure vanity on the part of the buyers (“I will not be seen driving a wagon/hatchback. I have to have something tougher and more rugged than that.”). The Juke and CX-5 may be the “best” crossover, but as you say, imagine what would happen if those same sort of tricks applied to a lower proper car (like a Versa hatch or Mazda 3 or 6 wagon, or even a box on wheels a la Scion xB or Kia Soul). How brilliant a car that could be. It’s the same reason people like to hate on the Cayman; because Porsche has essentially forced that car to go into the fight with one hand tied behind its back for the sake of vanity (of 911 buyers).

        I agree that sports cars come with compromises of their own when it comes to daily drivability. The Aston will have many, and it is certainly questionable whether or not it’s worth the extra dough over the Jag, much less an M3, C63, GT500, Vette, or Mustang (picking out other V8 RWD coupes here), or even the 911, R8, 370z, Evora, Cayman, or hell even a Miata (which we all generally agree to be just about the most fun/$ one can have going to Publix). But I don’t see how there can be any fun to drive comparison between the Aston, much less any of those other cars I listed and a vehicle intended to be the official car of the Kim Kardashian fan club. All it will take is one on ramp or right turn on green with a smooth sweeping turn lane and the balance of that chassis and the sound of the V8 will win the day every time for me.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Why would you want 3 of anything?

      A Vantage or one of:

      -Boxster + M3
      -GT3
      -ZR1 or Z06
      -Viper
      -Shelby Stang + Raptor
      -Vette + CTS-V Wagon

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Are you sure you just didn’t get hammered with your friend and make the whole thing up?

  • avatar
    stuki

    The solution to a boring GT-R is found in the loud pedal.

  • avatar

    Can’t two knowledgeable car guys have different opinions?

    My biggest critique of TTAC’s tone is an implication that because your opinion of a car is different than ______’s, they must be incompetent or on the take.

    There’s room for liking a car for a purpose beyond that which exists in your head. A car that underwhelms in one drive can grow on you over a week, month or year.

    One of the reasons I still value the auto rags is that they actually do instrumented testing, which while still variable, is more objective than “steering feel”, “responsiveness” or other words that can mean whatever you feel they mean.

    Case-in-point:
    I didn’t find the GTR boring at all.
    http://hooniverse.com/2010/10/21/2011-nissan-gtr/

    Wouldn’t surprise me you’d find the GTR boring on-track. With idealized pavement, visibility and run-offs, $25,000 worth of traction management wizardry doesn’t matter as much as driver control. On a windy back-road with moss, water, gravel, guardrails and cliffs, it’s nice to be able to push closer to the limits without the fear of certain death that comes with a Viper, for example.

    That said, I don’t think any less of you ;)

    • 0 avatar

      Tim, did you not see the part where I said that different people have different opinions on cars? I’m pretty sure I said it twice.

      • 0 avatar

        Apparently. Still not really seeing it, aside from your comment about the S2000.

        Or did you mean the section about the Camaro? You and I are in agreement there (I compared it to Hooters, which also sucks). I have no idea how anyone could love that car.

        Nuggets like this:
        “It really is a turd wrapped in fancy wrapping, but of course, nobody in this business will admit it for fear of being cut off from the press fleet, and a chance to take a V12 Vantage to one’s high school reunion.”

        …are more like what I was getting at.

        The takeaway was “the V8 Vantage sucks, and anyone telling you otherwise is doing so for the wrong reasons”…as opposed to “I briefly drove a V8 Vantage with paddles and found it to be boring”.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Instrumented testing is good as long as what’s tested is meaningful. Skidpad, slalom etc. numbers on smooth track doesn’t really translate very directly to driver enjoyment on the street, however.

      So much is just sticky tires and stiff, over-dampened and short travel suspensions; which falls apart in the kind of bumpy, off camber canyon sweepers where confidence to push on makes for the difference between the time of your life and a boring transport stage.

      As much as most here seem to disparage drifting and drifters; cars that drift well are generally cars that are fun to drive on the street, at less than 10-10ths ‘Ring speeds with Hans “don’t lift” Stuck behind the wheel. Wantonly sliding around, at a minimum encourages cars to be set up for less than gluelike tires, which in and of itself makes for a more lively and entertaining driving experience in most situations. And that’s good.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Thank you Derek for an excellent read. A friend and I used to test drive whatever looked interesting on our days off with a similar gambit. Beat going to a movie.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    Ever since being given a nice watch for graduation and not failing at life, I find myself looking at others’ watches. It’s a bit of a pity that the watch I was given, is commonly replica’d.

  • avatar
    torontoscott

    I had one of these for a weekend, its a great looking car to make you great looking, that’s it. I would never consider buying this. All the Porkers I’ve owned (5) would beat this in every sense. Except perhaps for the luxury angle, but I found the interior junky after a day, like a Jaguar, it won’t last.

    That said they can be had cheap, and if you have small feet (very cramped foot well) and low self esteem that can only be filled by driving the ghost of a once mighty company, be my guest.

  • avatar
    craiger

    If the car you drove was a paddle shifter, then how did the shifter feel notchy?

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Charm is the hardest thing to engineer into a machine. My Lexus is fast comfortable and competent. My Cressida, despite its blandness, charms the crap out of me. Similarly, my brother’s Honda 900F is smooth and the gearbox shifts like it was made by Rolex. My Yamaha feels crude by comparison, guess which brand I would buy again.
    Remember too that average cars have gotten so much better. Today’s Camry is as fast and luxurious as yesterday’s XJ6.

  • avatar
    sching

    “In Vancouver, a young man looking at buying an exotic isn’t such a rare sight (though a white guy looking for such a car may have been).”

    Nice little in-joke/fact for those familiar with the demographics (and associated purchasing power) of Vancouver.

  • avatar
    beefmalone

    Nice job wasting that guy’s time for your little joyride. Hopefully he was going to work Saturday anyway and didn’t take time off from his family to come in for your appointment b/c he was trying to make a sale.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Might as well retitle the website. How about “Stuff about cars written by people who sometimes tell the truth”?

  • avatar
    rpn453

    My buddy drove this car, along with four others, at a Vegas track offering exotic car rentals. Ten hard laps in each. He loved the F430, Gallardo, Carrera S, and R8, but not the V8 Vantage. It was too soft and understeery, and the brakes were inadequate. “It doesn’t belong on a track.” I don’t think he took the time to analyze how it would perform as a GT though!

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Derek,

    You owe yourself a drive in a 2009+ model with the bigger motor, revised suspension, and most importantly, a 6 speed manual. Whole different car. If you are ever in Houston, I’ll explain in person.

  • avatar
    roadscholar

    Excellent article, Derek. “I awoke that morning with an urgency that was akin to Christmas morning – or what I imagined that to be, since I will never know what it’s like to be saved by the Lord Jesus,” Funniest thing I’ve read in some time. BTW, I’m 6’7″ and can’t even fit in an Aston drop top (w/ the top up of course). I’ll take a 911 any day although the “panty-dropping” factor will be way lower.


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