Automotive theatre at its best
By Nauman Farooq
Product placements can be the best thing for a company and its products. But they can also be a kiss of death. Take Aston Martin for example. Most people recognize the brand for its association with James Bond and quite frankly many people like that. But some people are uncomfortable with this tie-up because they feel people will look at them as wanna-be agent 007.
So today we won’t look at this 2010 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Coupe as James Bond’s potential company car (007 does prefer the bigger DBS model afterall), but instead focus on it as just a car, to see how good or bad it actually is.
Let’s start with the looks. It was penned by Henrik Fisker and was first shown in concept form back in 2003. Time has done nothing to diminish its appeal. It always was and still is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous automotive designs ever. Even now it turns heads everywhere it goes, drawing in admiring glances. So if you don’t like getting noticed, look elsewhere.
If you like cheap, plasticy interiors that rattle, look elsewhere again, because the quality of materials used to make its interior can only be described as first-class. Almost every surface is covered in leather or aluminum, and any bits made of plastic are made from the finest stuff. The minute you open its swan-like doors (they tilt slightly up as you open the door, so you won’t scrape them on a high curb) you can tell by just the smell that this is an exquisite machine, built mostly by hand. Having toured their production facility in Gaydon, England, I can tell you first hand that the people working there love their work and take their time making sure everything looks and feels perfect.
Slam the light aluminum doors behind you as you sit, and you will first notice the comfortable, form fitted seats. You will also notice that you sit rather low in this vehicle. Even after adjusting the seat to my liking, it still felt like sitting in a go-kart. This takes surprisingly little time to get used to.
The dials in the instrument cluster also take a little getting used to. Yes, they are absolutely gorgeous to look at, but the white numbering on an aluminum finish is not the easiest to read. You’ll also notice that while the speedometer turns clockwise, like it should, the rev counter turns anti-clockwise. This also takes a little getting used to. But if getting used to its few nuances means spending more time with it, that is hardly a chore now is it!
Spending more time in it means going for a drive, and that is where its beauty shines the brightest. The second you plop in its key into the center of its “Engine Start” button (why they haven’t gone for a keyless ignition system like the ones found in all the new Jaguar’s is beyond me), and press it all the way in, you hear the starter motor whirring for about a second before the engine fires up with a fierce growl. This motor means business, but that wasn’t always the case.
You see, when the V8 Vantage was first introduced, Aston Martin was owned by Ford Motor Company, who also owned Jaguar at the time. To save money, Ford gave Aston a Jaguar motor, which itself had been around for awhile. The AJ26 motor started life in 1996 as a 4.0-liter lump, producing 290 hp. In 2003, it was enlarged to 4.2-liters and made 300 hp. When Aston Martin first got hold of this engine, they enlarged it slightly to 4.3-liters, but managed to coax 380 hp. While this motor sounded great from the get go, it lacked the performance one expected from such a car. It wasn’t slow by any means, but neither was it jaw droppingly quick. Now though, the car has finally got the engine it always deserved.
It might still only be a variation of the old Jaguar motor, but it now displaces 4.7-liters and produces 420 hp and 346 lb/ft of torque. So now it goes as well as it sounds. Accelerating from 0-100 km/h is dealt with in 4.9 seconds according to Aston Martin, but in reality it feels quicker than that. Top speed is quoted at 290 km/h, which makes it faster than the planes the O.P.P. uses to patrol our highways.
But figures are one thing; its how the car makes you feel is what makes this such a joy to drive. Because while it is no where near the fastest car you can buy for under $200,000, the emotions it creates in you certainly makes it one of the best.
You will love how sharp the throttle response is, you will love the immediacy of its brakes, and you will love how the steering translates the roads in the palm of your hand.
I’m sorry if I am sounding like I am writing a brochure on this car, but it truly is that good.
It even handles well, not race car well, but well enough. It prefers taking flowing corners rather than be tossed through tight corners. The culprit is its weight. Despite its almost all-aluminum construction (even the chassis is made from bonded aluminum), this car weights in at 1630 kg. That is quite hefty for a car that is smaller in size than the current Ford Focus sedan.
So this is not a track day toy, it is best suited for a grand tour. Fittingly, Aston Martin’s only dealer in Ontario is called Grand Touring Automobiles.
So if you want to go far away with a companion, you’ll find this two-seater has ample luggage space under its hatch. It won’t cost you much to drive it either because it easily manages 14-liters/100km, and that is despite having some full-throttle runs along the way.
It will cost you quite a bit to buy though. The V8 Vantage starts at $135,495. Throw in options like special paint, parking sensors, Bluetooth, satellite navigation, N400 package sills and a sports pack, and that price can rise very quickly indeed. My very loaded test car came to $175,000, despite it having just a regular six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional Sportshift gearbox with pedal shifters.
So cheap it ain’t, but then again, buying an Aston Martin was never a rational decision. You’d buy it if you’d fall in love with its looks and personality. Afterall, you wouldn’t marry someone just based on their stats; you marry the person that makes you feel a certain way. The Vantage has enough charms to woo just about anyone, and this latest version is such a big improvement over the old Vantage that if you had driven the old model and were not particularly impressed, you seriously need to have a go in this new one.
Let this automotive love affair begin.