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Aston Martin's licence to thrill


Making a Porsche 911 disappear is a trick worthy of the very best magicians: David Copperfield, Andrew Johns or even Q of James Bond fame, perhaps. But I've recently seen it done by an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

Park this beast next to a 911, or just about anything else — the QEII, Posh Spice, a defrosted John Wayne — and people's eyes will still be wrenched towards the hulking, potent shape of the James Bond-endorsed marque.

Of course, making a 911 vanish out on the road would prove a much bigger ask for this Aston, but more of that later.

Frankly, how the Vantage drives tumbles down the list of importance, next to the way it occupies space and time.

This is the sort of car that not only stops traffic, it makes it behave very strangely. Dozens of guys surged their way through the car-raff to get a better look at the Aston.

Of course, the most wondrous point of view to take in the car is from the driver's seat.

The sky above is silken suede grey, double-stitched and divine, the doors are lined with contrasting and cultured leather, the knobs and bezels are all steel and billet beauty and even the pedals are a work of art.

The accelerator seems a tiny thing to deal with such a big job, but it turns out to be perfectly designed for heel-and-toeing — something you'd be wanting to do to hear the sweet, sweet sound of the Vantage's 4.3-litre V8.

Occasionally, we make rash judgments, and recently I said Maserati made the world's most wondrous-sounding V8 and that its note was so beautiful it brought tears to your eyes.

But the Aston Martin makes you weep openly. I had to pull over several times to take on tissues, which was a shame as it took me away from my goal of hitting the 4000rpm mark as often as possible, at which point a butterfly valve in the exhaust opens and a noise not heard since the Big Bang erupts. Brimstone, hellfire and V8 Supercars all come to mind.

This rev point may seem slightly arbitrary but it's chosen partly as a challenge: you have to ballistic surge to 60km/h in second gear, 80 in third, 110 in fourth or go to jail in any other gear to hear it — and partly to prevent hearing damage.

Frighteningly, it sounds even better at 5000, 6000 or 7000rpm.

If you reach those kind of revs, however, in any gear, your senses will be too overloaded by G-forces and shaky scenery to worry about sound.

The Aston's 283kW makes it seriously quick, with a zero to 100km/h time of 5.0 seconds. But even that time says nothing of its mid-range torque, all 410Nm of it, which is so omnipotent that overtaking is done with an unavoidable air of disdain.

You need to get a long way out of town to see what the Vantage is capable of and it quickly becomes clear that it's an absolute scream on fast sweepers.

At any speed, the Aston Martin has a feeling of slab-like solidity, as if you're driving some exec's massive granite desk.

Its rigidity becomes really impressive in fast corners, made all the more joyful when the body simply refuses to roll.

A fantastically flat cornering attitude only encourages faster apexes, and more engine noise, particularly if you insist on driving a gear lower than you should, just to make it louder.

No wonder we averaged 17.5 litres per 100km during our all-too-brief test.

The Vantage is quite happy to take 35km/h-posted corners in third, but the temptation is to choose second. This means being careful with the throttle because getting all that power down can cause the tail to get happy.

And it is in these tight situations that the Aston falls down, ever so slightly. Throw in some mid-corner bumps and you could even call the Brit flustered.

While the way it stops and goes are awe-inspiring — the brakes are wondrous — that team is slightly let down by the steering, which clearly lacks the feel of a Porsche or even a BMW M3.

Over a stretch like the Bells Line of Road, the Vantage wouldn't stay in front of a determined 911 driver for long and, at the end of the day, the Porsche owner would feel more satisfied in a tactile way.

At the end of my day in the Aston, my right knee was sore, indicating some heaviness to the controls. The biggest failing is the gearbox, which is lumpen and heavy when cold — almost Commodore clunky — and not that fantastic when warm.

Yet, to its credit, Aston Martin believes enthusiasts want to change their own gears and so doesn't offer a flappy-paddle semi-auto box on the Vantage.

What you don't get for $242,850 — a goodly amount more than a 911 Carrera — is quite surprising: no auto wipers, auto headlights, separate climate control for passenger and driver or stereo controls on the steering wheel.

But then Aston would argue that what you do get is impossible to put a price on. When you fire up the V8 Vantage a few words light up on the dash that truly sum it up: "Power, Beauty, Soul".

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