The case for the V8 Vantage
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, in my review of the Aston Martin DBX, I casually disrespected the previous-generation Vantage, calling it “uncomfortably similar to a Jaguar.” One of our readers is a Vantage owner and he called me to account for that statement—quite rightly, I would add. This is his case for the car, stated in charming and heartfelt fashion. — JB
Exotic yet understated, sporting, elegant, and utterly gorgeous, Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage (VH generation) turns every outing into a special occasion. True driver’s cars, they’re plenty fast and blessed with beautifully balanced handling and tactile controls. Made largely by hand in small numbers, the build and materials quality are superb. Generally robust and reliable, they’re also seriously underrated—which means they are spectacularly good value today, especially compared to, for example, a Porsche 997 or 991, or an Audi R8.
Launched in late 2005 for the 2006 model year, the V8 Vantage was developed when Aston Martin was owned by Ford, a benevolent parent that treated Aston with respect. Ulrich Bez, formerly technical director of Porsche and “father of the 993,” was Aston’s CEO when the VH-platform cars were engineered.
That VH platform, a clean-sheet design exclusive to Aston Martin, is a major reason why these cars are so good to drive. Constructed primarily of aluminum extrusions and castings bonded together with extremely strong adhesives, it is a very strong structure that provides class-leading torsional rigidity.
The V8 Vantage handles in that beautifully balanced, exploitable manner exhibited by the best front-engine, rear-drive cars. With the engine mounted entirely behind the front axle line, it is a true front-mid-engine design. The rear-mounted transaxle further helps the balance, giving the car a superb, slightly rear-biased weight distribution of 49 percent front/51 percent rear. Driven quickly, mild understeer is easily adjusted with the throttle to neutrality or, if you wish, to gentle oversteer. The hydraulically assisted rack offers benchmark-level steering feel. The effort is on the heavier side, as are all the control weights. This consistency of weighting is a mark of a well-engineered driver’s car.
As the model name suggests, Aston Martin’s 4.3- or 4.7-liter V-8 provides the power and the sound. Loosely based on Jaguar’s 4.2-liter V-8, the Vantage’s four-cam, 32-valve engine was comprehensively re-engineered to become a bespoke Aston Martin product. It has its own block, crankshaft, bearings, con-rods, pistons, rings, heads, cams, valves, etc.—essentially everything is unique to the Aston engine. Lubrication is by a dry-sump system, and that beautifully fabricated oil tank with its knurled cap is a pleasure to view under the hood, as is the engine itself—no boring plastic cover here! Engines were built in the Aston Martin Engine Plant, located in a dedicated Aston-only building at Ford’s Cologne facility. True to tradition, each engine was hand-assembled by a single technician.
The 4.3-liter V-8 was used from introduction through the 2008 model year. Producing 380 hp at 7000 rpm and 302 lb-ft at 5000, these 3595-pound cars (add 175 pounds for the Roadster) are plenty quick, though they do need to be revved (no bad thing) to properly access the performance. For 2009 models, the 4.7-liter engine brought more power and torque; 420 hp at 7300 rpm and 346 lb-ft at 5000 (S: 430 hp/361 lb-ft). This delivers a meaningful performance increase across the rev range, though it’s most obvious at low- and mid-rpm where the extra torque is quite evident. A cross-plane-crank V-8 can produce some of the best-sounding exhaust notes in motoring, and these Aston engines sound epic. They have proven to be very reliable and durable, with no serious fundamental weaknesses (unlike some other performance cars that can suffer catastrophic engine failure from, for example, intermediate shaft bearing disasters, bore scoring, or rod-bearing failure).
At launch, the Graziano-built six-speed manual was the only available gearbox. 2007 models saw the Sportshift introduced, an electrohydraulically operated version of the same ’box. The seven-speed Sportshift II was introduced exclusively in the new-for-2012 V8 Vantage S, and it replaced the six-speed Sportshift in the standard V8 Vantage later that year. The S became available with the manual during 2013. The manual ’box is desirable, has a lovely, mechanical feel, and is a delight to use. The Sportshift ’boxes are single-clutch systems; they require driver input and using the paddles to give their best, in which case they work fairly well, and many owners love them. Of course, they can’t match the shift speed of a dual-clutch ’box or a modern torque converter automatic. Little-known fact: The torque tube houses a carbon-fiber driveshaft.
Aston Martin built these cars largely by hand, each one requiring some 200 hours to complete. The quality of build and materials is generally superb, and it really distinguishes these Aston Martins from other cars. The paint finish is outstanding—rubbed after each coat, the gloss is exceptional and there’s almost no orange peel. Bridge of Weir leather covers nearly everything that isn’t wood, metal or Alcantara. (The same is true of my Lincoln MKT — jb) Panel gaps are tight and even, and there are very few shut lines: For example, the hood extends all the way forward so there’s no nose cone, and no transverse shut line either. There is no fakery—if it looks like metal, leather, wood, or carbon-fiber then it is metal, leather, wood, or carbon-fiber. Even the grille is metal. Plastic is nearly banished. The instruments are three-dimensional works of art, machined from an aluminum plank shaped like the Aston grille in a subtle nod to classic Aston dashboards such as the DB5’s. The “swan wing” doors open upward at a 12-degree angle to clear curbs. Rather than just the usual two detents, each door uses a hydraulic strut to enable them to remain open at any position.
Then there are the looks. The V8 Vantage is utterly gorgeous. Widely considered one of the most beautiful cars of the last 50 years (or more), the taut, clean, perfectly proportioned lines are truly stunning from every angle. The AMV8 Vantage concept car debuted way back in January 2003, and the virtually identical production car was launched in 2005 for the 2006 model year. Exquisitely combining aggression and elegance, the design defines timelessness.
Perhaps as an unexpected bonus, the V8 Vantage has proven to be generally very reliable and robust. There are no major fundamental flaws. Service and parts costs are high, but reasonable for a car of this caliber. A good independent shop can reduce running costs, and there is a lot of good DIY information available. Clutch life is very dependent on the driver and the type of driving; some drivers wear them out in under 10,000 miles, while others have done more than 80K miles on the original clutch and are going strong. Some cars have developed an oil leak from the timing cover gasket (mostly early 4.3-liters, though it can happen to 4.7s too), but most affected cars will have had this addressed by now.
Rarity is another appealing feature. Very few were produced by modern standards, even though it’s the most successful model in Aston Martin’s 108-year history. Just 21,648 V8 Vantages were built through 2017 (plus 3052 V12 Vantages). To put this into perspective, Porsche’s assembly lines made more 911s each year during this period. 997 production (2004–12) totaled 213,004 and 991 production (2012–19) totaled 233,540—a massive 446,544 combined. V8 and V12 Vantage production together totaled a mere 24,700. Seeing a Vantage, or any Aston Martin, on the road remains a rare treat.
A real jewel of a car, every drive in a V8 Vantage is an event and the ownership experience is superb. It offers a truly unique combination of sportiness, elegance, performance, aesthetics, craftsmanship, build quality, and reliability. Involving, tactile, and characterful, they are great to drive fast—and to drive not-fast. A V8 Vantage looks and feels every dollar of its cost new (typically $120K–$170K). At today’s prices (which are rising), the value for money is off the charts.