2006 Aston Martin V-8 Vantage
Accessible if you can access 120 grand.
BY RAY HUTTON/Car&Driver
Aston Martin for the price of a Porsche 911? That has been a tantalizing prospect for driving enthusiasts ever since a prototype of the V-8 Vantage you see here was presented at the 2003 Detroit auto show. And toward the end of this year it will arrive in the U.S., the smallest and least expensive Aston of modern times.
It is not, however, quite the Carrera challenger promised by Aston CEO Ulrich Bez. Oh, the specification is appropriate and the performance claims are more or less in the ballpark-it's just that the price is nearer a 911 Turbo's. Aston is talking about $120,000.
Blame the hike on the weak exchange rate of the dollar. Aston doesn't talk about that but rather emphasizes the exclusivity of the marque and the small number of V-8 Vantages that will be produced.
So instead of wondering whether this would be the way out of a repetitive run of Porsches, consider the V-8 Vantage as what it is: a scaled-down Aston Martin DB9 discounted by $40,000.
When it was still a twinkle in the eye of parent company Ford, and before Bez arrived in 2000 to run the boutique brand, the entry-level Aston was to be mid-engined, the British equivalent of a small Ferrari. But the economics of that didn't look good, and Bez concluded that the only way a company of Aston's size could have three models all its own would be for them to share a common structure. Hence "VH," for what Aston calls a "vertical platform," made in bonded aluminum, which can be produced in a variety of sizes and still use the same suspension and chassis systems. Development of the DB9 and V-8 Vantage started at the same time in 2001. When Aston's flagship, the Vanquish, is replaced, it, too, will be reborn on that common VH structure.
Compared with the DB9, the V-8 Vantage is 12.3 inches shorter and has 5.5 inches cut from the wheelbase. It is strictly a two-seater, rather than a two-plus-two, but up to the door pillar, the cockpit has the same layout and dimensions. Construction is much the same except the side pieces of the underbody are steel rather than aluminum and are bonded to the rest of the aluminum structure. Unlike the DB9 chassis, which comes from supplier Hydro Automotive (that company also makes the Lotus Elise chassis), the V-8 Vantage hull is being made at Aston's palatial headquarters in Gaydon.
The big difference is under the hood, where instead of a 5.9-liter V-12 filling every nook and cranny, there is a compact 4.3-liter V-8 tucked way back, its rearmost cylinders under the windshield rail.
The V-8 started life as the Jaguar AJV8 but is different in almost every part and detail. Aston now has its own engine machining and assembly operation at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany. The V-8 develops 380 horsepower and revs to 7500 rpm. Jeremy Main, director of product development, admits it could have more power, but the emphasis was on achieving a fat torque curve: 85 percent of its maximum 308 pound-feet is delivered at 1500 rpm.
Because this V-8 Vantage is some 400 pounds lighter than the 444-hp DB9, the performance of the two cars is close. Aston says the V-8 can go 175 mph (it claims 186 for the DB9), does 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds (versus 4.5), and runs 0 to 100 in 10.5 (versus 10.3). Ah, says Main, but the difference is in the character of the cars, how that performance is delivered. Although Bez insists the DB9 is a sports car rather than a GT, Main describes it as primarily a high-speed touring car and says the V-8 Vantage is a genuine two-seat sports model, a dedicated driver's car that steers and handles with even more precision.
Keys to that are optimal weight distribution (49/51 front to rear) and center of gravity. The engine is mounted not only far back but also as low as possible, with the lowest point being the flywheel. That dictated a dry-sump lubrication system, with the oil tank and pumps located in front of the engine, above the steering rack.
The transmission is at the rear with the differential, a six-speed manual gearbox specially made in Italy by Graziano (a Ferrari supplier). It will appear in the DB9 as an alternative to the ZF six-speed automatic before the V-8 Vantage is available.
Main is sure the six-speed manual is the most appropriate for the V-8 Vantage. We went out on the road in the final "confirmation prototype." Its poise over bumpy English lanes was evident, the ride surprisingly comfortable for a firmly sprung sports car wearing ultra-low-profile tires on 19-inch wheels. Aston's baby is eager and makes a pleasingly angry noise at the top end of its rev range (there are flap valves in the exhaust to quiet it at the speeds prescribed by noise regulations).
The V-8 Vantage may be the size of a Porsche 911, but inside it is a typical 21st-century Aston. The instruments, the engine start button, and other controls are familiar from the DB9, but the standard specification does not include wood on the center console and uses a "technical" fabric for seat inserts and other soft trim parts in place of leather. A hatch allows easy access to the luggage space, which is limited to a total of 11 cubic feet by the fuel tank and roof-bracing struts that separate the trunk and the platform behind the seats.
And, oh, the styling: gorgeous, to our eyes. The shorter car is less sleek but more muscular than the sublime DB9, which won us over even though we had reason to question its reliability. We reckon Aston's problem with the V-8 Vantage will be satisfying demand. It plans to make a maximum of 3000 V-8s a year (along with 2000 DB9s and 300 Vanquishes).
In Britain, before the order books opened officially, a two-or-three-year wait list was predicted. It is easy to see why: The price may be way higher than the competition's, but this is the most accessible Aston Martin ever.
2006 Aston Martin V-8 Vantage
Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 3-door coupe
Estimated base price: $120,000
Engine type: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 261 cu in, 4280cc
Power (SAE net): 380 bhp @ 7300 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 308 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 102.4 in
Length/width/height: 172.6/73.5/49.4 in
Curb weight: 3600 lb
Performance ratings (mfr's est):
Zero to 60 mph: 4.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 10.5 sec
Top speed (drag limited): 175 mph
Projected fuel economy (C/D est):
EPA city driving: 14 mpg
EPA highway driving: 20 mpg