2016 Aston Martin Vantage GT Review

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There are two ways to think of an Aston Martin Vantage, be it the V8 or V12. The first is to cynically assume its age and relatively old-school technology make it a has-been, and the second is to appreciate it for what it truly is, a beautifully designed and built vehicle that, despite being almost a decade old, still turns heads wherever it goes, and for all the right reasons. There are a lot of negatives with buying any current Aston Martin. The brand has been using the same engines, both the 6.0-litre V12 (which is the marriage of two 3.0-litre Ford engines) and the 4.7-litre V8 (derived from the 4.3-litre used from 2006-2009) for a rather long time. The interiors feel dated, the infotainment system is astonishingly annoying to use and remains buggy, despite ditching the old Volvo system some years ago. The manual gearbox, while arguably excellent in its own way, has nothing on the latest systems from the likes of Porsche, while the single-clutch automated manual transmission remains the Achilles’ heel of what is otherwise one of our favourite luxury sports cars in the world. Indeed, we could write thousands of words as to why you shouldn’t buy this new Aston Martin Vantage GT (priced from $219,895 – $270,000+ driveaway as auto and with options fitted here), because realistically, both the current naturally-aspirated 991 Series 1 and the upcoming turbo-only Series 2 Porsche 911 Carrera S are better cars in every tangible way. As is the 2016 Audi R8 and Mercedes-AMG GT S. Thankfully then, the Vantage doesn’t live in a world of tangibles. It lives on posters and in the hearts of those that appreciate beauty and tradition in its purest sense. The Vantage is the timeless classic watch that is utterly outgunned against a new-age of smart watches, but yet its appeal is everlasting and transcending of most quantifiable standards of measure. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s not. Over the last few months we’ve come across a variety of Vantage owners aged from mid to late 30s to those in their 70s and not one of them has shown any dissatisfaction with the car, nor do they have any interest in competitor’s high-tech and higher-performance offerings. Perhaps it’s the looks. That enduring shape that is as much Aston Martin as anything could be. The smooth flowing lines over the bonnet and roof to a well-proportioned rear have given the Vantage universally appealing aesthetics that have stood the test of time. We would, in this case, ditch the GT stripes (an option) and those AMG-lookalike wheels (also an option) for the more traditional look. Ford has copied Aston’s grille for the Mondeo, and Jaguar (whose chief designer, Ian Callum, is self-credited with designing the current Aston Martin design language) arguably lives in the shadows of its British compatriot when it comes to design. While the interior is showing its age in terms of layout and design (nowhere to fit a large modern smartphone, not much usable cabin storage), it is hand-built to a level expected from the likes of Bentley and Rolls Royce. It’s fair to summarise that it’s not one thing. The Aston Martin Vantage appeals to many on a wide variety of levels, which is why it has been a continued success since its launch in 2006. The GT version we are testing here is a stripped version of the Vantage S, utilising the brand’s well-known 4.7-litre V8 with 321kW of power and 490Nm of torque. It will go from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds. That makes it slower than significantly cheaper performance coupes such as the BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C 63 coupe and – to rub salt on a wound – even a $90,000 Audi RS3 hatch. But again, to think of the Vantage in terms of raw numbers is oh-so very German, when the Vantage very much encapsulates the British spirit – ironic considering the actual V8 engine is hand built in Cologne, Germany. Equipped with a seven-speed Graziano SportShift II gearbox, the V8 Vantage GT is not always a pleasant car to drive around town. It requires a big initial push of the accelerator pedal to get it going and while you can indeed drive it smoothly and without constant jerks if you’re willing to live and breathe the gearbox to understand its needs (lift off the accelerator on upshifts, unless going flat out), as a 2016 car there really is no longer an excuse for such an out-dated transmission. The issue has always been the car’s packaging. The lack of mechanical space with such a big engine upfront and little room elsewhere has borne the rear transaxle gearbox. This has been compromised with an arguably smaller than required clutch (and not a dual-clutch system either). Similar single-clutch gearboxes (SSG) from Graziano have been used in Ferraris of old, as well as the current Lamborghini Aventador and McLaren 650S. While still no match for current systems in modern supercars such as the Ferrari 458, 488 and Huracán (or even the similarly priced Porsche 911 with PDK), its implementation in the Vantage is perhaps the least desirable in comparison to other cars with SSGs. So, we would highly recommend getting the Vantage as a manual because not only does it keep some more purity, it also removes one of the car’s biggest complaints (it’s also $17,900 cheaper!). Transmission aside, the Vantage is a quick and rather dramatic car. With the sports exhaust standard, the Vantage GT properly opens up around 4,000 RPM and screams a menacing sound unmatched by any of its turbocharged rivals. It’s no Supercharged Jaguar F-Type R (which is the ideal weapon of choice if noise-pollution is high on the agenda), but it’s a more pronounced and mechanical V8 note that – given the current state of emission laws – will soon be a thing of the past. In fact, this brings up the point of why the Vantage GT is such a desirable car, for it’s the last of these cars to ever exist. All its competitors are moving or have already moved to full-turbocharged or other emission-friendly technologies. Aston Martin will also move this way with the new DB11 coming by mid-2016 and the Vantage replacement (we suspect in late 2017) both expected to use Mercedes-AMG turbocharged engines. This is not a bad thing, as it forces manufacturers to think of producing more power with less fuel consumption. The downside though, is always sound and character, two categories in which the current Vantage rates at the vey top. That’s not to say it’s all about theatrics, because the Vantage is a great driver’s car. The steering is potent and sharp with excellent feedback. It’s a superior system to that found in a base model 911 Carrera or Carrera S, and you’ll have to step up to a 911 GT3 before you can truly compare the two brands together. It has enormous mechanical grip as well, with the Vantage capable of holding a line in a fast corner without too much movement. Its neutral handling is conceivably the Vantage’s best characteristic, as its predictable at the worst of times and inspiring at the best. After just a few hours behind the wheel it invites you to push it further and faster. It’s not a car we would recommend tracking all that often, for it’s best suited for spirited driving around a twisty mountainous road than setting the fastest lap time. It also has an insatiable appetitive for brake discs and pads. The 2016 model gains some new features, highlights include the carbon-fibre gearshift surround for the manual box or black magnesium paddleshifts for the auto. There’s also the fully catalysed stainless steel Sports exhaust system with active bypass valves (from the N430). The Aston Martin Vantage is a hard car to not love. It’s naturally compromised by its ageing technology and automatic transmission, while its asking price requires your rational brain to take a nap while your heart quickly signs the paperwork. Ultimately, in the nanny-state that is Australia, a beautiful work of art that also has more than adequate performance credentials may be a more logical choice than the more advanced options out there… well, at least that’s what you can tell yourself to justify the purchase, because it’s worth it. Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT Coupe (16MY) Exterior Colour: Jet Black Interior Colour: Obsidian Black Interior Trim: Spicy Red Major options: Reversing camera Bang & Olufsen Beosound Audio GT Graphics package Piano Black Interior Trim Pack 5 spoke Gloss Black Diamond Turned alloys Click on the Photos tab for more photography by Mitchell Oke.