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Aston Martin has three very distinct versions of its Vantage supercar. There's the standard V8 Vantage, designed to provide acceptable levels of lunacy, the V8 Vantage N420 special edition, and the more extreme , which is fast enough to rip your heart out if you don't treat the go pedal with the respect it deserves.
It's a line-up that seems relatively straightforward to us, but Aston Martin clearly doesn't agree. The company's decided the time has come to wedge a fourth car, the V8 Vantage S, between the V8 and V12 models, offering customers a more fiery, track-focused driving experience, without the savagery and running costs of a V12 engine.
The V8 Vantage S uses the same engine as the entry-level V8, but offers additional power, sportier suspension and better brakes. Our test car is the £102,500 roadster edition.
Devil in an old dress
When producing souped-up versions of existing cars, many manufacturers routinely opt for ostentatious body kits, enormous wings and gaudy paint jobs, but Aston Martin has resisted this temptation when crafting the Vantage S.
Instead, Aston Martin's chosen to make a host of very subtle tweaks. The lower front air intake, for example, is wider and more aggressive-looking, and styled to resemble that of the. The car also has new side sills, a more pronounced boot-lid 'flip' spoiler for increased downforce, new 19-inch V-spoke alloy wheels that are half an inch wider at the rear, and a more aggressive rear bumper, borrowed from the V12 Vantage.
Nips and tucks
Beneath its skin, the V8 Vantage S sports a wealth of more noticeable upgrades. Firstly, there's the engine, which, although virtually identical to the one in the standard V8 Vantage, has been tuned to provide more power. The 4.7-litre unit develops 430bhp and 490Nm of torque -- 10bhp and 20Nm more than the standard car.
The V8 Vantage S also trades the six-speed manual transmission and Sportshift paddle-shifting systems seen in previous Vantage cars for an all-new, custom-built, automatic Sportshift II transmission. Aston Martin says this unit not only weighs less than the original Sportshift transmission, but also changes gear 20 per cent faster, making it better-suited for a track-orientated car such as the V8 Vantage S.
Aston Martin's also revised the V8 Vantage S' suspension and dynamic stability-control system, so it's more comfortable over rough surfaces, yet more focused on the track. It also features a faster steering rack ratio of 15:1 -- compared with 17:1 on the standard car -- plus a new electronic brake module that features hydraulic brake assist. Usefully, this applies the brakes when ascending hills, preventing the car rolling backwards before you apply the throttle -- a problem that's common in Vantage cars that use a manual transmission.
Aston Martin would be first to admit the tweaks to the V8 Vantage S are minuscule on paper, but, together, they help make the car a keener, more focused weapon on the track. The faster steering in particular is extremely direct and almost go-cart-like in its responsiveness, with the slightest of turning inputs causing the car to point its nose more keenly in whichever direction you desire.
Straight-line performance is something of a disappointment -- at least initially. Despite the upgrades, the Vantage S doesn't feel any faster than the standard car. The engine is a peach and a new exhaust muffler makes all the right noises, but the throttle response isn't as keen as one might expect and gear shifts feel slow and laboured in comparison to the clutch transmissions of cars such as the.