YOU can buy a version of the Vantage, Aston Martin's junior sportscar, with a V12 under the bonnet and, while I've sampled it only briefly, I can tell you that 380kW in a car the size of a hatchback can be quite intimidating. It comes with a manual gearbox, which won't suit everyone, and costs more than the Virage.

It's also $104,000 more than the V8 version driven here. The Vantage S, like the Virage, sits in the happy spot between this car's two extremes. And, like the Virage, the new car is the pick of the range.

TECHNOLOGY

Compared with the standard V8, $16,000 cheaper, the S gains a host of performance additions. The engine has been tuned to deliver a bit more power and torque, lifting maximum speed to 305km/h, while the seven-speed transmission is a quicker version of Aston's robot manual self-shifter with revised ratios. It has been reprogrammed to make parking manoeuvres easier, eliminating the previous "crawl'' function.

There's also quicker steering, larger brakes with six-piston calipers at the front, a wider rear track, new springs and dampers and a recalibrated electronic stability control.

The exterior picks up mesh bonnet vents, a carbon fibre body kit (with front splitter and rear diffuser), side sills and a more pronounced tail lip.

The changes were influenced by the GT4 racing version and it adds up to a compact but purposeful package. The car I drove had lightweight seats and, against expectations, they were comfortable all day.

DRIVING

But this car isn't a grand tourer. The neat stitching and other cabin comforts are the veneer on a pocket sportscar that's as raw as anything at this level. The Vantage S never lets you forget you're driving.

The chassis is poised and alert while the steering is direct, with lots of feel. The throttle and brakes are pleasingly weighted and the car rewards precise inputs and technique, such as braking in a straight line.

As a bonus, the engine thrills the ears regardless of where it is in the rev range and whether accelerating, coasting or on over-run. It's more than a soundtrack, though. This Vantage S piles on speed, especially when rolling. The gear indicator goes red at 7500rpm to let you know to upshift. You need to keep an eye on it.

Robot manuals cannot match traditional torque converter automatics for refinement and this one is no exception. There is lumpiness to the changes and clunks from underneath. In automatic mode, you'll nod at every upshift.

Rawness is evident in the ride, too, which is just on the liveable side of sportscar brittle. But the worst aspect of the car was excessive tyre noise, which intrudes most of the time. Sound deadening isn't an after-market option, so changing the Bridgestone Potenzas would have to be.

And, unlike the Virage, the Vantage S perseveres with Aston's clunky old satnav and a control system that in the test example bordered on the recalcitrant.

So pack a street directory and plan a trip to Bob Jane's, because in other respects the Vantage S deserves to be on the shopping list of anyone pondering a Porsche 911.

ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE S

Engine: 4.7-litre V8 petrol
Outputs: 321kW at 7300rpm and 490Nm at 5000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive
Price: $275,000 plus on-road costs

Read more about prestige motoring at The Australian.