In the series of enticing cars, Aston Martin last year reached the facelift of the Vantage, and there was no shortage of curves or sportiness. However, did they go one too far on that iconic grille shape? Go big or go home, the Americans say, but could this work in the English tradition? The answer is to be found, as so many times before, in the right half of the brain of the beholder. I was genuinely looking forward to trying out the new Vantage, although I wasn’t convinced that the design was my cup of tea, as I arrived in Geneva to borrow the keys to a deep red specimen for a week.
Although my previous experience with Aston Martin was limited, I wasn’t expecting to find plenty of room for just over 190 cm of driver. The process of starting up and driving the Vantage is remarkably easy, and I’m almost sorry to say that it’s not more of an undertaking. A reassuring rumble from the 4-litre AMG V8, evolved by a multitude of pleasant frequencies by the exhaust, surrounded me inside the coupe. I steered undramatically along towards Milan, the Vantage not even worried by Geneva city traffic. Stay calm and carry on.
Admittedly, I held Milan to be more of a dread with regards to transport matters, and I soon found myself with more than enough to consider in the traffic; pedestrians, cyclists, scooters and delivery vans – and a general approach to traffic that can be summed up as «fortune favours the bold». Granted, it usually goes well, but Milan is a strong contender in the amount of fender benders and lack of blinker fluid… You might think it foolhardy to add a sports car to this motoring mayhem, but here is where another peculiar Italian phenomenon pops up: Most Italians have a concious relationship to cars, and especially sports cars, and I got the feeling more than once of being granted free passage through the ordeals. Thumbs up, big smiles and turned heads followed me on my path, and thanks to the overview of the satellites, I reached my destination unscathed.
As I left Milan for Turin, it dawned on me that the Vantage offers impressively good views of the outside world, not least through the rear window, a thing almost unheard of in sports car terms. Unfortunately, I was reminded time and time again of the excessive wind noise coming from the top of the doors. The Vantage has no window frames on the doors, like most modern premium cars, but in this case it led to unwanted eardrum turmoil at autostrada speed. I battled off some of it by means of the capable stereo, serving me lavishly refined music I had brought along. Both Gustav Holst and Depeche Mode sounded at home in the lush leather interior.
Lo and behold – Turin offered ample amounts of city driving as well! I learnt more and more to appreciate the jovial response to accelerator inputs, be it in gentle traffic light intersections or in steering-wheel-wielding overtakes. Ascending from my hotel’s underground parking, I experienced the slowest steep uphill curve act ever, leaving me very impressed. Somewhat unfortunately, I didn’t know if it was Aston Martin or AMG that deserved the kudos. Quite by chance, I found myself traversing more uphill curves, and climbed them all to reach the legendary Lingotto roof top test track. Numerous Fiats were put to the test here, and it has in recent years been used as a venue for special events, such as that time Lamborghini had the Reventon flown in by helicopter. Intrusive snowy weather didn’t curb my enthusiasm, and my smile was impeccable as the Vantage made the acquaintance of Signora Curva.
If you’re driving in northern Italy in winter, you’d might as well just be prepared for the fog. The occasional glimpse of blue sky and white fields gave me hope that the fog would eventually surrender to the sun, but it wasn’t until I accidentally left the autostrada that I got to see the winter wonderland this day offered. Why, yes, the car got both snow-clad and dirty, but my, what a great navigation error! The snow and the fog ebbed out as I approached Modena, and the roads were just about dry as I parked for the evening. The road dust clung to the red aluminium, accentuating the car’s aerodynamic characteristics. It received a well deserved wash the following day, and was basking in the sun along the Modenese roads. It warms a petrolhead’s heart to witness a young father pointing out the Vantage to his pre-school son, teaching him how to wave at a nice car and to see that the driver waves back. I’m at risk of repeating myself by saying that cars are so much more than horsepower, prices and exclusivity – it’s just as much design, sound, history and shared experiences.
The route back to Geneva took me via Milan, Lucerne and Berne, and the occasion of driving the Vantage over Swiss lowland passes with green hillsides and mountains with white icing on top as backdrop made me want to do go back and have a second go. I deliberately chose the smaller and twistier roads to be reminded over and over that the Vantage really is at home in such conditions. A 50-50 weight distribution, a benevolent 8-speed gearbox and the more hardcore driving modes available made sure I didn’t get bored in any way. The seat held me in an appreciated hold, and the steering wheel felt just right.
The contemplations at journey’s end usually revolve around the highlights and letdowns, and I found myself counting more of the former: Pleasant driving environment (featuring several knows bits from Mercedes-AMG), solid execution of speed modifications, lovely sound, spacious luggage compartment and useful parking sensors, to name a few. I found it sensible to compare the Vantage to the Mercedes-AMG GT S, which I had a similar outing in two years ago, and although I was very pleased with the GT S, I have to say that Aston Martin have done many things right in the new Vantage, so much so that it eclipses the GT S for sheer driving pleasure.
How about that grille design? The Vantage doesn’t care whether it’s too much of a good thing, and proudly sticks its nose out for all to see. And rightfully so, judging by the responses it got from the many onlookers it met along its way. And as for me? It turns out I rather quite like it.
A big thank you to Aston Martin Geneva for providing the test car.