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What is Aston Martin? It’s a brand of undeniable pedigree, built over a comparable number of decades to other exotic marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini, but best known for grand tourer road cars rather than the mid-engined supercars of its Italian compatriots.
The new millennium has seen the British brand at its very best, save for the too-long model lives of the previous DB and Vantage model families.
These were still achingly gorgeous when they were retired at more than a decade old a piece, but their mechanicals and electrical components were well past their use-by dates, particularly at this exotic end of the price scale.
Enter the new technical partnership with Mercedes-AMG, which has seen the new DB11 and Vantage models’ technological platform march right up to the minute, matching their new styling direction that’s bolder than before but unmistakably Aston.
So they look like an Aston, but do they feel like just another AMG? I sincerely hope not, as a brand with the strength and heritage of Aston needs to retain its own identity.
A full three years into this relationship’s production reality, this was my first chance to find out via living with the new Vantage over a weekend.
Our Vantage turned out to be the now-sold out Lunar Eclipse Designer Spec version, with a host of options that drive its list price up to $367,579, up from the Vantage’s base list price of $299,950.
The package includes 13 specific exterior details and 15 on the inside, proving that Aston has mastered the art of personalisation as much as the rest of the exotic car world.
Essentially, Lunar Eclipse Designer Spec means the darkest blue metallic paint in living memory, with the side gills, door handles, wing mirrors, and roof all colour coded. Gloss black also replaces any chrome aside from the exhaust tips and badging, and is also applied to the brake calipers and is also applied to the 20-inch forged 10-spoke alloys.
On the inside, the package includes upgraded seats with heating and ventilation (yep, in a $300k car), a Sport Plus steering wheel, corresponding black and blue leather trim with partial perforation, contrast colour coded stitching, carbon fibre surround for the centre console controls and door inserts, and splashes of satin silver.
It also brings the Tech Pack, which brings conventional cruise control, keyless entry and blind-spot monitoring (yep, for $300k-plus again), along with auto parking and a Mercedes-based touchpad controller for the multimedia system.
So it’s a tough argument from a conventional value standpoint, but that’s not likely to deter many in this world, and in fairness to the average Vantage buyer this one is wearing about $40k more worth of options than the norm.
Surprised by the upward reach of the swan doors that have adorned every road-going Aston since the DB9, I was next reminded of the unconventional, almost square shape of the new Vantage’s steering wheel.
I’m yet to wrap my head around the current trend toward squarish steering wheels in high performance cars. I’m not even a fan of flat-bottomed wheels unless they’re in an open-wheel race car with less than a turn of steering from lock to lock. Could this weekend open my eyes?
The Start button and transmission controls are also unconventional, but really quite logical, with the Start button located smack in the middle of Ferrari-style selector buttons for P, R, N and D.
Hitting the button in the middle, the AMG-sourced 4.0 twin-turbo V8 fires into life before settling at a faster-than-necessary warmup idle that’s used to define modern supercars. But who cares, a Yaris this ain’t.
My Friday evening trudge out of the city along Parramatta Road and a roadworks infested M4 en route to the Blue Mountains was never going to enable more than a fraction of the Vantage’s 375kW/685Nm, 314km/h top speed claim or even 3.6s 0-100 boast, but it was still a satisfying way to end the working week.
Sitting among an interior where the only non-leather surfaces seem to be the glass, indicator stalk, buttons and carbon fibre and aluminium inlays may sound like an expensive evening with Max Mosley, but it’s a different indulgence. One with a Mercedes-based multimedia interface that’s the opposite of a secret shame.
The ride quality is firm but not crashy, the exhaust note is distinctly V8 but not raucous like the same engine in C63 guise, and despite using a race-car like transaxle layout, the ZF eight-speed torque converter auto is as seamless in stop-start city traffic as we’ve come to expect it in almost every rear-drive performance car these days.
The only thing that could be described as an NVH compromise is the occasional creaking of leather surfaces interacting like when your buns meet a Chesterfield lounge. Tick number one for retaining a unique character.
Saturday morning was met with a demand to head to the local shops for some non-essential items.
Fortunately I live between the two most interesting routes up and down the western edge of the Blue Mountains, and so does my local shops.
So as logic would dictate I went down before back up and had an absolute blast while doing it.
It’s clear that the Vantage development team spent serious time with the 991 911, as it does a very similar job of balancing the comfort of a grand tourer with the sharpness of a proper sports machine.
Except this one is rear-drive with a V8 under the nose and 50:50 weight distribution. If Porsche built a new 928 it might feel like this, but that doesn’t seem to be on the cards and it certainly wouldn’t look like this Aston.
It would hopefully have a round steering wheel though, as the GT3 racer-referencing Vantage wheel makes even less sense to me when used briskly than in traffic. I’ve used the ‘like twirling a 50 cent piece’ analogy several times before, and it’s never been more applicable.
Speaking of coins, my non-essential shopping spree did nothing to demonstrate the storage capacity of the Vantage, but my still-packed overhead bag proved there is more than enough room for two of them side by side, with your chosen combination of tux/evening gown stacked gently above them.
The final day of the weekend kicked off with the best excuse I know of for getting out of bed at 6:30 on a Sunday, beating even my two toddlers out of the sack: Mountains Cars & Coffee at Medlow Bath.
Far from the exotic-heavy C&C events that surround the city, the third-Sunday each month Blue Mountains event is always a bastion of the ‘come one, come all’ philosophy that makes a good cars and coffee gathering. Have a gander at my Instagram for ample evidence.
So why rock up in a new Aston Martin that belongs to someone else? Because it’s certainly covered by the ‘come all’ part of the equation, and every now and then there’s something much more special in attendance.
To be honest a Mazda 1300 wagon fits that bill in my eyes, but I mean Italian V12-flavoured special.
For obvious reasons, the start of my trek up the hills was the first time I’d noticed the two cupholders in the centre console. Not everything in the Aston’s orbit considers such important details, but I should still call out the door pockets that would struggle to fit the narrowest bottles.
Following the path thousands of Sydneysiders take for a Sunday drive every week, it was a giant pain restraining the Vantage to the almost constant 80-60-80km/h zones, but this was no fault of the car’s. It cruised along with comfort and ease, but the day prior had hinted that it would swallow the journey like an early ‘90s video game at perhaps double the legal rate. Oh to live in an early ‘90s video game...
If heading home on a Friday is a joy in the new Aston Vantage, the dread of Monday in the office is mitigated even more, even if the morning commute is interrupted by a trip to the servo to refueI.
It wears a 10.3L/100km official combined figure, but even though we squeezed a decent stint of performance out of our weekend, we used just 12.1L/100km of 95RON over 400km.
It’s as cool as Idris Elba wearing a Savile Row suit that somehow lets him outperform his opponents clad in lycra.
If only Aston would build one with a round steering wheel.
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