Aston Martin uses lightweight architecture and Mercedes-AMG power to create its most playful sports coupe yet.
Though the 2019 Aston Martin Vantage is a brand-new car with seriously spankin' bodywork, the truth is, much of the hardware underneath has been around for years. The chassis is a reworked version of the aluminum-intensive structure that underpins the DB11 grand tourer. The 4.0-liter V8 engine comes from Mercedes-AMG. For these reasons, you could assume the Vantage might feel a little... derivative, largely embodying traits of one or both of these donors. But as it turns out, you'd be wrong.
Forget what lies under the Vantage's skin for a moment -- let's take some time to ogle those curves. I dig the squat, wide proportions. I love the juxtaposition of the aggressively shaped grille against the smooth, elegant body surfacing. I even get a kick out of the 20-inch wheels that look both comically large yet totally appropriate at the same time. I could pore over the Vantage's finer details all day long, but I'll instead highly suggest you let reviews editor Jake Holmes walk you through some of the coupe's highlights in the video above. (Also, Jake, buddy, if you ever get tired of this car reviewing thing, I think you've got a future career as a hand model.)
The drama extends inside, where you'll find beautifully sculpted leather seats with what appears to be miles of contrast stitching, perfectly complementing my test car's Hyper Red exterior. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is almost hexagonal in shape, and thick in all the right places. Behind that you'll find a fully digital, three-screen gauge cluster, with bright, crisp graphics, though I find the shape of the IP housing itself to be horribly overstyled.
The center stack is another exercise in overwrought design. The infotainment screen looks like an iPad leaned against the leather dash, with two bulging air vents below. Further down, there's a mess of hard, plastic buttons, arranged somewhat illogically (why are the vehicle lock/unlock buttons positioned on either side of the fan speed dial?). Move to the console, and you'll see a pyramid of large gear selectors with the red-glowing engine start button positioned at the top. More buttons flank either side of the useless space in the middle of the console, inside which you'll find a tiny scroll wheel for audio volume, as well as the ripped-right-from-a-Mercedes rotary infotainment control dial and touchpad. Considering how beautiful the rest of the cabin is, this chunky-dumpy central area is a real disappointment.
Two cup holders are large enough to hold 20-ounce beverage bottles, though they'll tip over every time you make a hard turn. A small console resides between the front seats, too, but it's only big enough to hold your smartphone or keys and not much else. Frankly, there isn't much storage space to be found anywhere inside the cabin. Thankfully, the hatchback lifts to reveal a cargo compartment that's spacious enough to hold a decent-size suitcase or a couple of small duffel bags.
While I'm discussing weak spots, let's talk about the infotainment tech. The Vantage runs Mercedes' COMAND system on an 8-inch display, albeit with slightly different graphics and fonts that actually look a little more low-rent than what you'll find in the Benz-skinned version. This isn't the latest COMAND software, either, and while it does offer Apple CarPlay, it lacks Android Auto support. Thankfully, the interface works just as well as here as it does in a 5-year-old Mercedes, with quick responses to inputs via the rotary dial or touchpad, and a relatively straightforward menu structure.
There's a good amount of driver assistance tech, even though most of the features are optional extras. Still, parking sensors, an autopark function, blind-spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera on a performance car like this are all nice touches. None of this technology is revolutionary, but it keeps the Vantage competitive within the sports car space.
After an hour behind the wheel, I can forgive just about all of the Vantage's shortcomings. This is one of the most energetic Astons I've ever sampled -- a car that is absolutely brilliant to drive.
Yes, the 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 comes from Mercedes-AMG, but the Vantage doesn't just drive like a Brit speaking in its best German accent. Aston Martin engineers tuned the engine and exhaust, and the result is 503 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque. Sure, a Mercedes-AMG GT C makes 550 horsepower with this same engine, but at 3,373 pounds, the Aston is some 375 pounds lighter than its German equivalent. Both cars will sprint to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds, for what it's worth.
The Vantage is incredibly quick, with a punch of turbocharged torque arriving just off idle. The Aston's eight-speed transmission comes from the folks at ZF, and it can be as smooth as silk while swapping cogs around town, or rapid-fire in its nature when provoked by a flap of the steering column-mounted paddle shifters. Go easy on the throttle and you might achieve the EPA-estimated highway fuel economy figure of 25 miles per gallon. But drive it like you mean it and you'll likely observe an average closer to the EPA's 18-mpg city rating.
What I love about the Vantage is how great it feels on a winding canyon road. This thing changes direction instantly -- there's immediate response from the steering, and the car seems to just rotate around you. Active torque vectoring and an electronic rear differential -- the latter of which is an Aston Martin first -- help with this playful nature, as does the Vantage's perfect 50:50 weight balance. And while the staggered 255/45-series front and 295/35-series rear Pirelli P-Zero tires offer tremendous grip, the Aston's no stranger to blips of controlled oversteer coming out of tight bends.
You can move through Sport, Sport+ and Track settings for the engine and adaptive dampers, and I find it best to use separate profiles for each. The suspension is really quite stiff even in its most docile Sport mode. Unless you're really pushing hard along perfectly smooth surfaces, you'll want to keep the suspension dialed back so as to not jostle the car too much over road imperfections.
The engine, meanwhile, really livens up when you switch it to Track -- throttle response is immediate and the exhaust really comes alive, popping and crackling and burbling as you change gears or lift off the throttle. I just wish that ferocity were an all-the-time thing. Below about 3,500 rpm, the whole Track mode experience is a bit too quiet.
If I'm to register any other complaint about the drive experience, it's that I wish the steering were a bit more talkative in my hands. Don't get me wrong, it's quick to respond to inputs, the Vantage's nose immediately darting wherever I point it. But without any sort of road-level feedback, or any loading or unloading of weight as I turn the wheel in either direction, it just kind of feels like a video game. Instantly responsive, sure, but without any sense of connection to what my tires are actually doing.
Unfortunately, it all comes at quite a cost: $149,995 -- before options, natch. At that price point, the Vantage is competing with immensely capable sports cars like the Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG GT R and Porsche 911 GT3. Heck, even the lower-spec versions of the AMG GT and 911 give the Vantage a real run for its money, with better sorted cabins, stronger onboard tech and a bit more involvement from behind the wheel. Honestly, I'd just buy a 911 GT3 Touring and call it a day.
Still, I keep coming back to how much I enjoyed the overall experience of driving the Vantage. The sound, the fury -- the fact that I know just how awesome it looks as it roars by. It's hard to put a price on that sort of emotion. And I'll never fault anyone who feels the same.