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Baby Aston as good as it gets

Auto Express
By Dan Strong

The waiting is over! Aston Martin has unleashed its V8-engined Vantage, and Auto Express was first behind the wheel. The new baby was unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in 2003, and our spies first snapped it three years ago - but now we can finally see what it's like to drive.

There's no doubt that with the new V8 Vantage's arrival alongside Jaguar's next XK, coupé fans have never had it so good. Based on Aston's novel aluminium chassis and powered by a bespoke 380bhp 4.3-litre engine, the Vantage promises all the performance and technology of the spectacular £160,000 Vanquish in a package costing half as much. Crucially, it also offers the Vanquish's stunning looks merged with more than a hint of DB9, with an aggressive outline that reflects Aston Martin's acclaimed design. Has the new 'baby' Aston got what it takes to rise to the top of the class? We've wasted no time in finding out.

Compared with its DB9 stablemate, first impressions suggest the new V8 is a more accomplished package in its sector of the market. The two-seat interior is spacious; you sit low to the floor, but there's plenty of head and legroom. Cabin quality doesn't have the measure of the beautifully constructed Porsche 911, but there's a hand-finished character to the fine leather and fabric that the German brand simply can't match.

The bespoke touch is emphasised when the V8 spins into life, because no car at this price sounds better. Throttle response is sharp and, despite the engine's size and configuration, it is as eager to rev as the Porsche's flat-six.

Selecting first gear reveals the transmission's short, precise and resistance-free action. The steering feels well weighted, but doesn't offer the 911's immediate involvement. With only two turns lock-to-lock, the arrangement is extremely direct, and the compact wheel needs only tiny inputs. Push the throttle into the deep carpet, and the nose lifts fractionally as the V8 powers the car towards the horizon. The exhaust note deepens, and you can almost feel the engine's every stroke as the noise thuds into the cabin. Aston's claim of 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds seems conservative.

Drivers lucky enough to step from the DB9 into the V8 will be impressed by the smaller model's supple suspension, which provides substantial grip and outstanding stability.
The near-50:50 weight distribution helps improve balance, and there's no hint of understeer when pushing hard through corners. In addition, the V8 feels more controllable than the likes of the wild V12 DB9, which has greater power and stiffer suspension.

The brakes are equally impressive, and can be used extremely hard without unsettling the car. While not quite as precise or immediately effective as the 911's carbon-composite stoppers, they are very powerful. Backed by ESP and ABS systems, they offer a good deal of security on rough roads.

On unfamiliar routes, in a left-hand- drive car without Porsche's latest 911 here to test as a benchmark, it would be unwise to draw a final conclusion. But it's clear Aston has punched well above its weight with the new V8.

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