The spirit of James Bond is still alive at Aston Martin in the sleek gunmetal silver form of the marque's 2019 Martin Vantage.
The DB10 created for Spectre, Daniel Craig's most recent 007 outing, was based on the Vantage, in which the rougish personality and devastating charm of Mr Bond remain.
This is the US$150,000 coupe that sold out within days last year after going on sale – the one with a predatory stance inspired by the brand’s Vulcan race car. I love its mean, gaping front grille, its angular sides, and its hood shaped like Venus’s shell. It’s arguably the best-looking sportscar on the market.
More importantly, along with that Vulcan and the 2020 SUV line, Vantage completes the three pillars that Aston Chief Executive Officer Andy Palmer says will bring the company back into glory.
Leader of the pack
Here’s one thing to know: at a special Bloomberg driving event in New York City last weekend, among 15 luxury sportscars - including the usual suspects from Lamborghini, Porsche, Bentley, BMW, and Maserati – the Vantage was the second most popular car for the 60 men and women who drove the models.
(We had a whole voting system set up for fun; the Lamborghini Huracan Performante won the driver’s choice vote, which I don’t want to say I told you so, but ahem.)
The Lamborghini costs gobs more than the Vantage, and it isn’t a direct competitor, but this was as unscientific a poll as you can get. My point is that Aston Martin’s darling punches way above its weight.
If you order one now you’ll have to be patient: you’re looking at a “late summer delivery, most likely,” a spokesman from Aston Martin told me.
Meanwhile, know that the Vantage is a few inches longer and wider than the DB11, with smaller headlights and a more curvaceous hood.
A few other updates – new dials, touch-screen internal controls sourced by Mercedes (thank God), and the new Mercedes AMG-sourced engine chief among them - offer significant advantages over previous Aston Martins.
That engine - a twin-turbocharged mid-mounted V-8 with 503-horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque –complements the attributes that made the Vantage so desirable in the first place. It goes zero to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds, and will continue through to a top speed of 315km/h.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is augmented by a hyper-tightly tuned rear-wheel drive and long paddle shifters on the wheels that push the car to high speeds in what amounts to a simultaneously smooth but raw visceral experience.
The paddle shifters remain stationary as you turn the wheel, which I prefer to the others that move with the wheel as you turn it. As one Ferrari instructor told me, if you’re shifting so deep into a turn that you can’t reach the paddle shifter, you’re probably doing it wrong.
In the rain, in unexperienced hands, or at the mercy of someone who is impatient and rough, the car can go sideways very, very quickly.
Driving the Vantage feels like dancing on a razors’ edge. The steering responds like a hair-trigger. The brakes bite like a viper. Getting inside and closing the door requires a statement of intent: remember, you own this car. Don’t let it own you.
The driving experience in the Vantage is made all the more intense because the car has an exceptionally low seating position. At 1.8 metres typically position sportscar seats as low as they can go: with the firm, speed-racer seats of the Vantage, I raised myself higher with the touch of a button in the door.
This is great news if you’re long-legged or like to wear hats while behind the wheel. Otherwise, you may think you need a booster. The sensation is not exactly like how a child might feel sitting behind the wheel of a race car, but it’s close.
In keeping with the spaciousness of the seats (there only two of them), the rest of the cabin is roomy, with ample head- and legroom if you don’t need to carry any bags or luggage there.
An 8-inch LED screen sits as the focal point in the center of the dashboard. Creature comforts include heated seats and an auto-heated rear screen to help avoid foggy windows.
A carbon-fiber sport steering wheel, full leather interior, chrome or carbon tread plates, embroidery and leather perforation, and interior “jewelry” in lime, red, or white are all optional.
I honestly wouldn’t get any of them – Aston Martin has been producing some extremely questionable interior combinations lately, and I can’t figure out why, other than the old adage “There’s no accounting for taste.”
The cars are born strikingly handsome; additional efforts to doll them up only obscure their beautiful bones, and they make me question the general self-confidence of the owner.
On the outside, maybe alternative brake caliper colors would be nice on those 20-inch Y-spoke wheels. They come in black, red, gray, yellow, satin silver, orange, vivid red, blue, and Madagascar orange.
Carbon-fiber roof and mirror cases, among other things swathed in that weave, are optional though unnecessary to achieve visual distinction among your peers.