There is an awful lot of doom and gloom about at the moment. For a start, there is the weather, which has become so miserable that you can Sky+ the miserable weather forecast once and watch it over and over again. Not even the joy of the TG4 weather girls, growling in their guttural Gaeilge, can lift our spirits. If you live in the Midlands, you are more likely to want to sell your house for a canal boat – of course, that would be if your house were still worth any money, which it isn’t.
A few years ago, ‘Credit Crunch’ might have meant buying your breakfast cereal with a Visa card because you'd blown all your cash clubbing the night before, but today it means something rather more sinister. Up and down the country, families are scratching their heads with dismay as they wonder how much they can get for their 60-inch LCD television on eBay, just so as they’ll have enough to pay for the shopping in Aldi. Extra Virgin Olive Oil has given way to cooking oil, bruschetta to batch loaf and nights on the town to nights in. So what better time then, to get an Aston Martin delivered to my house, just to annoy the neighbours?
Those ever-curious people had cause to be curious again, as a large delivery van meandered its way into my humble estate. Inside was a green V8 Vantage, delivered the same way as if I had ordered it from IKEA: squeezed into the back of a covered truck and handed over by a friendly man with a clipboard. The V8 Vantage – the baby Aston – has become the most successful model in the brand’s history. Ireland has become quite fond of the Aston Martin brand of late, especially the DB9, and Aston Martin is paying attention. Rumours abound about a dedicated dealership opening in Dublin. Recession? What recession?
Awareness of this smallest of Astons is not that high on this side of the Irish Sea. Priced comparable to a Porsche 911, the Aston looks like it costs much more than that. Granted, €180,000 will never be called a bargain, and there are of course all those bespoke options to choose from, but at this price there are few cars that can offer so much kudos and instant presence. Critics have been kind to the Vantage too, apart from the usual Aston complaints of too much Ford switchgear and flavour. But with Ford out of the loop and the millstone of their financial woes off their necks, Aston has given the Vantage an executive health check and a trip to the tailors.
Gone is the 4.3-litre V8, replaced by a new 4.7-litre V8 that puts out 420hp. That’s up 11 percent over the previous unit, and there’s also been a 15 percent increase in torque to 470Nm. This means it’s quicker, too, with the 0-100km/h sprint taking just 4.8 seconds, and the acceleration continuing all the way to 288km/h.
There is nothing new about the exterior design of the car, but then there really didn’t need to be. Compact and poised, the Vantage is a car that looks good from every single angle. It even manages to do so in the rather dodgy green that Aston has attempted to ruin our test car with. Even in a colour only pond life could relate to, the stunning lines of the car still manage to win out.
Inside, things have improved since the previous model. There is a new centre console made from die-cast alloy with a silver graphite finish, and the cheap-looking Volvo key has been ditched in favour of the ECU (Emotional Control Unit), which is a fob made from glass, polished stainless steel and polycarbonate that you slide into the dashboard to start the car. It is a small detail, but one that buyers should appreciate.
Start up the car and the V8 plays a delightful tune: part growl, part concerto. It actually remains quiet for most of your average journey, but press the throttle, and, like poking an angry dog with a stick, it responds ferociously. Heading out of Dublin, the SportShift transmission reveals its usefulness. In automatic mode, the ‘box makes light work of stop/start traffic and doesn’t leave you with a dead left leg like so many other manual supercars. Purists tend to complain about this kind of paddle-shift gearbox, but the arguments are wearing thin.
The SportShift features dual throttle map software. When ‘Comfort’ mode is selected, the engine reacts in a smoother manner than the more aggressive default ‘Sports’ mode. Heavy rain pummelling the windscreen doesn’t encourage much use of the latter setting, with the rear wheels searching for grip from the massive Bridgestones.
Away from Dublin, with the rain clearing and the roads opening up, Comfort mode is abandoned and the paddles are flicked in earnest. Pow – the car wakes up! That meaty exhaust note is hopelessly addictive, and you find yourself dropping gears and indulging in childish bursts of acceleration. The new car has been given suspension revisions, including stiffer spring rates front and rear, and there is also improved steering geometry to provide more feel. The road from Mitchelstown to Mallow is a welcome relief from the drudgery of the N7 and N8, and its winding, meandering shape and varied surfaces force you to stay alert. It’s a good test of any car’s chassis and it’s not a natural home for the Vantage.
In the standard Sports setup, the car struggles a little with pitted roads and isn’t quite as forgiving as a dedicated sports saloon like the BMW M5. You don’t really feel like pushing it harder and harder on this type of road; this is a car that is more suited to the south of France than the south of Ireland. On a better surface, however, the Vantage really comes into its own. Power delivery from the gorgeous V8 is smooth and potent, and the gearbox responds really well, allowing the driver to hold a gear as long as is required. The steering is incredibly accurate, requiring only tiny inputs and responding with an almost clairvoyant amount of feel.
Cork’s motoring nuts were enamoured with the Aston, and stopping for pictures on the city’s docks quickly drew a crowd, despite the pelting rain. You feel sure that the same would not happen with a mid-range Porsche 911. Perhaps it’s the car’s relative rarity in this country, or the fact that it has the edge in terms of outright beauty, but old men stopped and asked questions, mothers were lead by the hand by their children and most mentioned James Bond. You can’t see that happening with a 911.
After an overnight in Cork and just one tank of petrol down so far, we head for Rosslare. The road between Cork and Rosslare is one of Ireland’s hidden gems. Beautifully surfaced for the most part, this road allows the Vantage to come into its own, chewing up the kilometres with ease.
A day in and I am really starting to like this car. The cabin is a gorgeous place to be, with a superb navigation system that pops up from the piano black dashboard, a clever integrated iPod system and excellent climate control. Aside from visibility, which can be poor, especially if you are parking someone else’s €180,000 car, there is little to fault the interior except for the placement of the electric seat switch, which is easily bumped with your left leg. However, boot space is tight, so pack wisely for weekend jaunts to Monaco, or in my case Wexford.
After another fill-up (€78.50 from empty), it’s on to the ferry to bring the Aston home to Gaydon in Warwickshire. The once-pleasurable experience of England’s good roads has long since been ruined by speed cameras every five kilometres, and by Britain’s fondness for caravan holidays. However, Wales is one part of the UK that remains a little haven for the motorist. The perfect surfaces suit the Aston, allowing an excursion into Sports mode, where the car feels pin-sharp once more. Despite spending several days in the car at this stage, neither my passenger nor I are feeling too battered, though I still haven’t got the hang of the ECU used to start the car. Sure, I don’t miss the Volvo key, but this might be a step too far.
Some six hours later, we finally we reach Gaydon, the home of Aston Martin. There are still a lot of questions in my mind and I’m not much closer to knowing the answers. I am certain that I love the look of the car. It’s a cliché as old as the hills, but I really can’t stop looking at it when I walk away from it, and parked as I am in a very fancy hotel car park, the 911 two spaces down doesn’t look as well thought-out. For Irish buyers who might have become over-saturated with German performance cars thanks to the Celtic Tiger, the Aston provides a little more mystery and the feeling of a Saville Row suit. It just feels special, in a way that is very hard to put into any more words.
Sadly, this dilemma isn’t mine to worry about too much. The ECU gets handed back to the sharp suited Aston Martin PR man, and it’s into the back of an ’02 Primera for the jaunt to Birmingham Airport. Back to George Lee, Aldi orange juice and more credit crunch. Reality bites, eh?
Interior image caption: Inside, significant improvements over the previous model include a new centre console
Aston Martin V8 Vantage SportShift
Engine: 4.7-litre V8
Output: 420hp, 470Nm torque
Transmission: 6-speed SportShift
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 288km/h
Fuel economy: 13.2 litres/100km
CO2 emissions: 312g/km
CO2 Tax Band: G (€2,000pa)
Boot capacity: 300 litres
Base Price: €180,000
For: Stunning good looks, kudos, great V8
Against: Not great on poor surfaces