By on June 27, 2018

Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

It’s a question that comes up a lot more often than one would think, particularly in the lifelong molasses-sludge known as “middle-class American existence”: When purchasing a new (insert name of new thing here), should you get a fully-equipped or high-end item from an “everyday” brand, or should you stretch to the stripped-out base model of the prestige brand? I have a lot of admiration for the fellow who buys a Grand Seiko Spring Drive for the price of a plain-Jane Panerai or Rolex Submariner — but on the other hand, I think a plain wool suit from a Savile Row tailor is probably more desirable than the pimped Zegna Trofeo coats that have accompanied me around the world for the past 15 years.

The fashion comparisons are fun (for me, at least) but the majority of buyers are most likely to face this problem when car shopping. Loaded Camry or base Lexus ES? Yukon Denali or no-options Range Rover Sport? Nismo 350Z or Corvette Z51 1LT? Then, of course you have my pal Chuck, who after years of trawling Porsche’s bargain basement wants to try… something that isn’t much better, IMO.


Across several e-mails, Chuck writes,

What do you think of an older (2007 or newer) Vantage to replace my Boxster….

I still like the Boxster but the newish ones are expensive and I am not ready for the blown 4 boxster yet. Besides, I lookd at an S equipped like mine and it was $85K, crazy. I keep looking at Astons for sale, looks like they might be hard to sell.

The Boxster is now at its new home… A guy bought it as a wedding gift for his fiance without her knowledge and she had never asked for a Porsche (she wanted a Jeep)… Hence, I went Saturday to drive a Vantage and despite you best advice I am again lusting for that car…

Entry and exit in the Evora is impractical for me and, while I still like the XK (drove a coupe last week), it would be hard to drive one knowing I could have had the Aston. Plus, I believe the XKs will continue to lose value just like the XK8s have. Astons are probably at their bottom now, like 308s were a decade or so ago. Any last dire warnings on the V8 Vantage OR another alternative would be welcomed.

As you may be able to guess from reading between the lines here, I’ve been counseling Chuck against a used Aston Vantage. Why, you ask? Simple.

Let’s begin by pretending that the Vantage was the product of a company besides Aston Martin and therefore subject to criticism just like any other everyday ordinary car. Just look at it. The original Benz SLK was hardly any more of a stunted little runt than this 7/8th-scale sports car. It looks exactly like what it is: an attempt to take a sleek four-seat grand-touring car for adults — namely, the DB9 — and shrink it into a cheaper, smaller model that takes up less space on the road, costs less, and uses less fuel.

In other words, it’s the Ford EXP to the DB9’s Fox Mustang. Except the Ford EXP was actually proportioned correctly. The Vantage has this little turret roof on its squished little body. Whenever I see a Vantage, I imagine somebody describing an Aston Martin to a computer hooked to a 3-D printer with a damaged nozzle or something like that.

You can harp all you like about the Boxster, which happens to be Chuck’s old car and is a great example of an entry-level luxury product that almost nobody really wants, or about the 944, which was an odd attempt to sell a VW as a Porsche, or the 914, which was like a 944 only even more feckless, but at least all of those cars had their own distinct style. The Vantage isn’t different from other Astons. It’s just worse.

Defenders of the Vantage, if any exist, may point out that is available with a V8 and a manual transmission. Okay, you have a point. But you know what else is available with a V8 and a manual transmission? Approximately a half-dozen cars that are cheaper, faster, and better than the Vantage. Every Coyote Mustang. Every Corvette since 1997. The E92 BMW M3. I could go on, but I don’t want to get to the point where we are seriously discussing how a used Camaro ZL1 compares to a used Vantage at the same price, because the answer is: like a Smith 629 .44 Magnum compares to an old Model 10 “M&P” surplus .38 revolver.

Did I mention that it’s astoundingly expensive to fix, and that nobody wants to fix them at any rate? What about the interior quality, which is better than that of a Camaro but only marginally so? Have we discussed what they cost to insure?

In truth, we don’t need to do any of that. Because there is only one reason that anybody buys a Vantage, and it’s the same reason that people pay $2,799 on Touch Of Modern for scrubbed up Seventies Rolex Oysters with glossy aftermarket dials and “remanufactured” mainsprings: they want the brand. They want to tell people they have an Aston Martin.

The problem with that is as follows: Car people know that the Vantage is the van-engined 924 of Astons. Non-car people don’t understand what an Aston is. If you tell them it’s the James Bond car, then they will either be confused when they actually see your Vantage or they will laugh at you for modeling your life after a fictional character. Buying an Aston because it appeared in a few movies is as stupid as carrying a Walther PPK for self-defense because “Major Boothroyd” says it hits like a brick through a plate-glass window.

Far better, I think, to buy a car on its own merits. Like the gorgeous aluminum Jaguar XK and XKR, which are perfect classic Jaguars and have no excuses to make. Like the Evora, which would be brilliant even if it wore a Suzuki badge. Like a good C6 Corvette, or a Shelby GT500 Mustang.

If Chuck needs that Aston badge, I think he’d be better off buying a DB7 Vantage with the V12. It was a “Jag in drag” but it saved the company and it looks proper. Or he should stretch for a some-stories-included DB9 like this one. Fifty grand. It will need a few things. But it’s a proper Aston, no excuses needed. Personally, I’d rather be in hell with a British Racing Green XKR than be a servant in Aston heaven with a stubby little Vantage. Count this as one of those many times in literature where the bad guy had the right idea. Chuck, I think you should be a bad boy in a Jag.

[Images: Lexus, Aston Martin]

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70 Comments on “Ask Jack: The Name’s Bland… James Bland...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Generally as per ‘classic’ Top Gear, if you waited a few years after Aston issued a model, Jaguar would then issue a similar, albeit slightly better model, for much less.

    Still, having had some history with Astons, the marque has (for me at least) an aura that is very desirable.

    And who would have predicted JB advising someone to take the safer, ‘middle of the road’, approach?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      “And who would have predicted JB advising someone to take the safer, ‘middle of the road’, approach?”

      That’s been his approach for a while now. He drives and proselytizes a Honda Accord FFS

  • avatar
    NoID

    Clearly I don’t know enough about Astons, but did you just poop all over the Vantage, then counsel Chuck to buy a Vantage?

    • 0 avatar
      Lampredotto

      The DB7 Vantage is a totally different model.

      And it was available with a V12 and a manual.

      • 0 avatar
        notapreppie

        You can get a V12 Vantage with a manual gearbox… It’ll just cost you north of $105k for a 2012.

        Though, to be honest, I’d have no problem “settling” for a 2009+ V8 Vantage with an automagic for $50k (assuming I had $50k to burn).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’m guessing this guy’s looking to drop +/- $40,000.

    How ’bout a XLR-V?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      How about a lightly used Corvette?

      • 0 avatar
        Cactuar

        How about index funds! Yeah I’m that guy.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        “How about ANY Corvette,” said the entire sports car market.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          How about NO, said krhodes1, since he is not balding, retired Navy, nor has an inappropriately young 3rd wife.

          I’d drive an Aston Martin if someone gave me one, I wouldn’t take a Corvette for free.

          Don’t care how fast, cheap, and capable they are, they have a stink about them I don’t want associated with me.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            *hates the Corvette owner image*
            *is a living BMW owner stereotype*

            This does not compute.

          • 0 avatar

            As a guy who generally doesn’t care much about image and cars (I used to own a teal minivan) The corvette is one I’m not sure I can get over. I know a number of people that own them and not one is under 70. Not sure why that so bothers me but it does.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        True, but those are a dime a dozen. I think this guy’s looking for something unique.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Maximum Northstar triggering. Post reported.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Well, he IS seriously considering an Aston Martin, so reliability clearly is not his first priority.

        • 0 avatar
          Mandalorian

          Can’t buy a Corvette until he finds the right gold chain, it’s the law.

        • 0 avatar
          SSJeep

          Exactly – Used Aston Martins are hard to sell because they are terribly unreliable, horribly expensive when they break, not serviceable by your average mechanic, and terribly expensive to insure. I wouldn’t touch a used Aston of any vintage.

          But for what this guy is looking for, Id jump into a Porsche 911. For that budget, he can get a later model 911 in beautiful shape and go from terrible reliability in an Aston to spotty reliability in a Porsche.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            The Internets always say this, same as any other low volume slightly exotic car. But are they? Do you have any direct experience with them? The one guy I know who owns an Aston Martin, and one of the pre-Ford early 80’s Mustang look-alike ones at that, says it’s actually pretty robust, but of course parts and service cost a fortune when the time comes. The CAR cost a fortune. He’s owned it a long time too. The Ford era cars are supposed to be better, not worse.

            Nobody is pounding 20K miles a year onto these cars, my suspicion is cost of ownership isn’t really all that ruinous for typical Sunday drive and going out to dinner usage. If you can afford to buy one as a toy you can most likely afford to get it fixed as needed. Can’t be any worse than a Ferrari.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    “When purchasing a new (insert name of new thing here), should you get a fully-equipped or high-end item from an “everyday” brand, or should you stretch to the stripped-out base model of the prestige brand?”

    I will be struggling with this in the next several years as I look to possibly my last car purchase going into retirement. I am usually happy, as a Finance guy, to get 80% of a luxury car for 50% of the cost. However, my wife likes the badges.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      To me it depends. I would have a hard time buying a Lexus EX over an Avalon because when you come right down to it, they are the same darned thing. And I’d probably just buy a deeply discounted Buick.

      But a stripper BMW vs. a loaded Accord? No brainer – I want the BMW. RWD, better chassis, better brakes, nicer interior in general, more choice of colors inside and out, more choice of equipment in general, better dealership experience, European Delivery, and most of the toys in the loaded Accord would just annoy me anyway.

      My current buying dilemma is something beautiful and new vs. something beautiful and old. My 50th birthday is next year, and it is down to either a new European Delivery 718 Cayman, or have my Dutch mechanic buddy help me find something special old enough to buy, drive around Europe for a month, then ship back to the US. Lots of nice classic car inventory in The Netherlands. Leaning towards another Alfa Romeo, or a really special W123 Mercedes like a 280CE with the twincam six and a stick. Or maybe something French, a Peugeot 504 Coupe would look lovely in my garage, and I can curse fluidly in French, which helps greatly while maintaining a 504.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If you want to look like you live the “shrimp & white wine” swinger lifestyle then get a Maserati GranTurismo.

    If you want to compare yourself to a fictional super hero then get an Audi R8 (some of the 4.2 ones are available in the $50k range now).

    If you want a V8 forged from the hammer of God get something with the Mercedes M156.

    If you’re a very serious person, own special driving gloves, care a lot about the opinions of Motor Trend, and want to snob on people driving Corvettes and Vipers then get a 911.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The LN7 looked better than the EXP but Mercury buyers said “No, thank you”. Not to be confused with L7, which was a chick band that rocked hardcore.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Huh I have always really loved the vantage style. I get it. It looks great and it’s an Aston.

    Clearly I’m messed up I guess, because the Boxster S I’ve also driven I also was very impressed with.

    But then again I think a Miata is impressive.

    So what do I know? I guess I clearly need to be educated on the “not a ‘REAL’ XYZ” in the auto industry? Which I’ve seen before, and in other industries, and it kinda stinks of something. Elitism? Snobbery? I don’t know. But if the guy likes the Vantage, who cares? For every person judging because he bought the “not a real Aston” they’ll be a guy like me that sees it and always remembers I think they nailed the style. Or someone who can appreciate a car for being excellent, and not judging the car because “they couldn’t afford the DB9/911. Sometimes you don’t want the “real” car. And for every guy like me that doesn’t care to show off much, there’s a guy that has to have a Lamborghini or Aston just so he can drive around making sure everyone looks at him.

    People always gonna judge one way or another. Get the car you like and want. Screw everyone else.

  • avatar
    baconator

    Well, I’ve *got* a DB7 V12. It’s a very different, softer, car from the Vantage V8. I don’t think it’s a replacement for a Boxster. I love driving it, and it’s spectacular on long trips with lots of high-speed sweepers. But I can’t imagine enjoying taking it to an autocross.

    Chuck probably wants a sports car, something a little quicker to dart toward an apex. For $45k, his answer is either the AMV8, an Evora, or a 997.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Well, I’ve *got* a DB7 V12”

      Gonna need you to disclose your annual maintenance, repair, and car costs.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        He’s putting together a spreadsheet. It might take a few days.

        (Seriously, baconator, inquiring minds do want to know.)

        • 0 avatar
          baconator

          I’ve had it for six years and it’s been an average of about $650 / year, plus $100/month in insurance. I’m not driving it daily, obviously. Every year it gets a flush of every fluid at a mechanic’s shop, which is most of the expense. 12 quarts of Royal Purple synthetic and a factory-logo oil filter isn’t cheap.

          It’s coming up on the big service, which includes the coil pack replacement. I’ll do the coil packs myself and the parts will be about $800. Then it should be fine for another 7 years or more. (The new aftermarket coil packs hold up to heat better than the ones it left the factory with.)

          The car has only had three problems: The A/C sprang a slow leak and needed a replacement seal + recharge (about $600), the throttle cables went out of sync and required some careful adjustment to get the idle right ($400-ish but really pissed me off because I couldn’t figure it out myself), and the clutch-ignition interlock got weird and intermittent (bypassed it – $0 but would have been about $500 to fix at the mechanics or $125 if I did it myself). None of these stranded me anywhere.

          It’s a little too ostentatious to drive every day, but if I had the sort of life where I could, I totally would.

          And yes, I’ve got a spreadsheet. But this one is short, certainly shorter than the one on my daily-driver Mercedes and vastly shorter than one on our Lemons racer!

          • 0 avatar
            Compaq Deskpro

            Thank you for this information, this doesn’t sound any worse than what I imagine BMW’s are like.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    *Dons flame suit*

    I had a white 350Z for a few years. To my eye, it looks every bit as good as the Vantage, at least on the outside. Aside from the microcephaly it’s perfectly proportioned, and the bulging fenders give it a sense of sensual brutality, like a curvy powerlifter. The look back factor was alarmingly high.

    To boot, the Z is ~400-500lb lighter, and with the 305HP VQ basically as fast as the early V8 Vantages. They’re also dead reliable (I sold mine with ~190K miles), cheap and easy to repair, and obviously like 1/5th the price to buy. Only real downsides are the interior (which you can remedy somewhat by getting a 370Z), and the exhaust which can go from Chewbacca to 911 Carrera as quickly as you can swap a true dual exhaust on.

    Key for me was that white color; somehow in any other color the Z just screams “vaping college parking lot drifter douchebag”. But in white with the Mary Kay Escalade soap pearl effect it was gorgeous.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Decent suggestion (and one I’d take), but this guy isn’t looking for something that’s fast and reliable – he’s looking for something suave that makes a statement. A Z-car is many things, but it’s not suave.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        That’s on him then, I guess. Times have changed. A 10+ year old Aston Martin makes a statement nobody hears. I’d even go as far as to say a 350Z with the Nismo V2 front bumper and some decent wheels probably makes as much of a statement to an automotive civilian. And the automotive cognoscenti will probably curl their lip at the lack of a V12. But the heart wants what it wants.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Jack Baruth has gone gone full imbecile re aesthetics.

    Or he’s trolling HARD.

    OR, he hit his head again, severely, while riding a BMX bike designed for a 10-14 year old in some pot of despair skate park.

    Say anything one wishes about the Aston Martin Vantage, but do not say that it’s not one of the best looking vehicles of the last decade.

    A d it’s not chock full of nearly 50% Chinese and other lowest-cost bid parts and components made in foreign (some hostile to the U.S. in either principle and/or practice) countries like Jack’s new GM (Guangzhou-Guadalajara Motors) Silverado.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’ll agree with you on the Vantage’s styling – it looks bad-a** to me, particularly in person.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      I love GM s new name.
      I dont see that spelling in press releases and adverts.
      Shame.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      I’m pretty sure he’s trolling. Outrage = Clicks = $.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Have to agree DW. In my opinion, the Vantage had better proportions than the DB9. I was always a fan. I’m sure they’re not cheap to own, but are they really that crazy with all the Ford parts bin components in these?

    • 0 avatar
      W.Minter

      I disagree. The Vantage looks great, but it’s entry level luxury. Like Z by Zegna vs. bespoke Zegna stuff.
      If you buy a Vantage and you want to sell it later (e.g. at auction), the guys with the real deep pockets stay away, because they want an exclusive addition to their 10+ cars collection, and not a daily driver. You can’t impress anyone of your friends with entry level luxury. It’s like a condo at the beach without sea-view, next to beach front villas.

  • avatar
    phila_DLJ

    Is the Vantage as good looking as the DB9? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good-looking, nay, sexy as hell! It’s the “Baby Aston”, sure, but I never saw cynicism in its smaller proportions, just athleticism.

    There are many, many reasons not to buy a used Aston Vantage. Its looks are not one of them.

  • avatar
    cicero1

    “lifelong molasses-sludge known as “middle-class American existence””

    80% or more of people alive today in other counties would gladly change places for the above; and the average poor American lives better than royalty and emperors of the past.

    but I digress . . . . get a JAAAAAAAAG

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Can’t wait to see someone criticize Volvo XC40 on the same grounds: different, smaller insides than XC60, not riding the same, ugly as all get out, and so on. Not a proper Volvo, in short. Also, I think Jack made it popular on these hallowed web pages to complain about people who already made a decision, so they want validation, not advice (this narrative was copied widely since). And now, this?

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “The Boxster is now at its new home… A guy bought it as a wedding gift for his fiance without her knowledge and she had never asked for a Porsche (she wanted a Jeep)… ”

    What’s the over/under on how long that marriage lasts? Assuming that it even happens in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Stupid me I meant to give my mistress the Boxster! Hand me the keys back, Honey.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      Id give it a year tops. She wanted a Jeep, he bought her a Boxster. Those are way different animals. The way I read it, she wanted a Jeep – and he bought himself (vicariously through her) a Boxster.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      Shortly after they got married, my dad _sold my mom’s 2002_ and bought her a Mercedes 230TE estate. Three years later, he sold that and bought her a Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

      Somehow, and I have no idea how it happened, their marriage survived as long as they did.

  • avatar
    kobo1d

    As a current Boxster owner, if I had 911 money I would buy a C7 Corvette.

  • avatar
    James2

    Where I used to work I would occasionally see a (I think) DB9. Beautiful car, but then Aston went and hired some Toyota designers to do their latest cars. Pity.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    I have a friend in the local Jag club who has both an XK and a DB9 in the garage. Says the XK is a much better car in all respects – comfort, power, handling, reliability etc. By any measure you care to mention the Jaguar does it better than the Aston.

    I read a buyers guide from the UK Aston Martin owners club for the DB7 and they had this great quote: “DB7 owners need to accept a certain level of fally-apartness”

  • avatar
    conundrum

    “Except the Ford EXP was actually proportioned correctly.”

    A ha ha ha.

    Right. Correct for a toad.

    I remember the classified ads in the newspaper weekly TV supplements trying to get rid of these things. Smudged black and red ink made ’em look even froggier. Not a soul I know had one, not even the secretaries at work. There are limits.

    If an EXP is better proportioned in your mind than a Vantage, I’m Chief Zog from the mind of my college prof offering his outpourings on Principia Mathematica. He had an overly high opinion of himself as well.

  • avatar
    GreginToronto

    If only the Cygnet had been imported to North America. Chuck could get the Aston Martin badge combined with bulletproof Toyota mechanicals.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I say Chuck buys what he wants.

    Besides, 95% of your argument against it is that *you* don’t like the way it looks. Evidently, he does, so that is all that matters. He’s buying it for himself, not you.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Only the Ouija board knows the answer. Ouija says wait a few years until he can afford a used Lexus LC-F

  • avatar
    W.Minter

    The XK (R) is the most sensible (= cheap) way to buy a Ian Callum designed sort-of sporty car. The liftback makes it as practical as a *insert car of your choice here* (it’s a different story for the convertible, of course), the interior is super nice. But, can you buy one after you owned a boxster? Probably not.
    Probably the F-Type R is the answer. It has the impracticality real sports cars need. And the exhaust note is simply awesome. Depreciation is high, of course, because I assume that Jag buyers buy either new (“100 or 50 grand, I don’t care”) or rather old (“25 or 20 grand, I DO care”), and this means if you buy a 50k F-Type now you will be selling it for 25k in a few years.
    A 911 is always a better investment, but keeping it on the road can be eye-watering expensive.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    I would speak up against any used exotic unless you already have good relations with a shop that a) you trust and b) knows how to work on them.
    I’ve seen one too many YT vids with mouthbreathers rattlegun-tightening Ferrari suspension components and generally acting stupid next to +100k machinery.
    On the upside, some of those are surprisingly cheap, really cheap, like have you taken a look at what an used 575M costs nowadays? I might swing one like that, but that is out of your budget.
    German machinery is great new. I would not recommend even with a gun to my head buying a used M4. New they cost the same “crazy” $85K with a few necessary options thrown on.
    This means looking overseas. You won’t go wrong with a 370Z Nismo if you can bear looking at that dash all day. That’s the official, cant-hold-me-to-that advice.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    I started reading this piece, rolled my eyes at the douchebag ramblings about luxury watches and coats, and thought “weird, a submission from the former boy wonder editor of this publication.” But no, it’s from our man Jack. Meaning he’s just trolled me into commenting. Dammit!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    “Buying an Aston because it appeared in a few movies is as stupid as carrying a Walther PPK for self-defense because “Major Boothroyd” says it hits like a brick through a plate-glass window.”

    Personally, I carry a Walther PPK for self-defense because it fires energon rounds and occasionally transforms into a raspy-voiced robot.


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