More Bite (and Bark) From Astonís Pretty Baby
November 5, 2010
by Lawrence Ulrich
SO you think youíre a supercar? With a puny 400 horsepower, youíre not. Not to sound crass, but thatís stock Corvette territory. Iíve driven Mustangs with more grunt.
If you expect to lure an exotic-car lover over the six-figure fence ó where money really does grow on trees ó youíll need 500 horses, minimum. Audi got that memo with its R8, a $118,000, 420-horsepower sports car that was awfully good, until a 525-horsepower V-10 version made it seem awfully tame. The R8ís first-class upgrade also costs $33,000 extra, enough to buy one of those 412-horse Mustangs.
Aston Martin has crunched similar numbers with its two-seat V-8 Vantage. The baby Aston ó yes, itís one spoiled baby ó has been the smallest and least expensive car in the lineup, priced around $122,000 with a 420-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8. Now the V-12 Vantage adds a 510-horsepower wallop, transforming this British beauty into a supercar with a bark to match its bite.
Since the Aston Martin name carries more upper-class clout than Audiís (and because only 200 V-12 Vantages will be shipped to the United States through 2012), the company will charge $60,000 extra for its cylinder-enhanced version.
The Aston certainly has the looks, luxury and pedigree to get away with highway robbery. More surprisingly, the Vantage gains enough performance under its lovely skin to make itself a defensible alternative to supercars from Ferrari, Porsche and others.
Those defenses include a 6-speed manual transmission, the only shifter offered. Thanks to a tall center console, that royal-scepter shifter is awkwardly situated for some drivers, a point that Aston belatedly noticed: a removable pad built into the cup holder, the size of a Tiffany ring box, serves as a makeshift ottoman for the driverís elbow.
Yet the shifter feels creamy, the clutch take-up is less persnickety than with Astonís $270,000 DBS, and you canít have a manual at any price in the Ferrari 458 or Mercedes SLS. So score a point for the Vantage ó especially because the gearbox is rowing an old-school but hugely satisfying V-12.
While one might assume that Astonís traditional GTs were long powered by V-12s, it was actually the 1999 DB7 that received the first one. That 5.9-liter engine, developed with Ford and Cosworth when Aston was part of the Ford empire, has gained 90 horsepower over the years.
Stuffed into this short-wheelbase sports car like a fat kielbasa in an undersize bun, the V-12 gives the Vantage a wonderfully boisterous, tail-happy attitude; itís something of a Cobra for billionaires. Every push of the throttle summons an upper-crust rasp and roar, and owners can decide how much of the $60,000 premium is for the sound alone. Pushing a Sport button opens an exhaust bypass to announce the Astonís superiority even at low revs, while sharpening the throttle response.
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