2019 Aston Martin Vantage
Let's start with the obvious:
Yes, it's fast. It's got over 500 hp and tq. It does 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds. It can reach 195 mph.
Yes, it drives well. It's a Vantage that's been taught to dance by Matt Becker, the former Chief Test and Development Engineer at Lotus, and now Aston’s Chief Engineer.
Yes, the looks are very divisive. It's not pretty like the previous generation of cars and it's a considerable departure in style from the outgoing Vantage. Some like it, some don't.
This review isn't about the obvious. It's about the little details that neurotic folks like me obsess about.
I didn't set out to tear apart the New Vantage when I wrote this review. Reading back through it, I did come across pretty harsh in a few places, and maybe gave an overall impression of being very dissatisfied with so many aspects of the car. In retrospect, I wrote most strongly about the things I didn't like because of disappointment. Some things just are what they are and I can understand why the results exist. Take the exhaust note, which I didn't care for at all. Aston's engineers did improve upon the exhaust note compared to the AMG GT, which is the donor car for the engine, but it still doesn't sound that good. It's hard to fix that because of the nature of the engine - an engine will produce a given series of exhaust pulses and only so much can be done to change the way it sounds. It does sound better than the AMG GT, but still sounds much worse than the previous Vantage. It's a disappointment, but there's little to be done about that until the aftermarket has its way with the car. Other things, like the interior, are simply poor designs. Going from an elegant-yet-sporty interior to one that's amateur at best leaves little room for praise. I'm also writing this review as a current Aston Martin owner, which means I'm going to have an inherent bias based on my experience with their previous generation of cars.
Luckily for me, I'm not a paid journalist and I'm not trying to garner favor from manufacturers or pander to dealerships, so I can be as brutally honest as I like.
New Vantage First Impressions
I pulled into the parking lot of Dimmitt Automotive Group's Aston Martin dealership to find the New Vantage waiting for me. I parked along side it so I could compare my grey 2007 V8 Vantage to the new one. The first thing that came to my mind was how much more aggressive the New Vantage looks from any angle. While I love the direction Aston Martin is going with the Vantage, I'm still not sold on the front end. It just doesn't look as good as it could. I will say it looks much better in certain colors, like the White Stone of the demo car I was about to drive.
All the subtlety that made the earlier Vantage a future classic is gone. Aston Martin has their reasons for doing this, but I'm disappointed that the attention to detail in their previous designs has been tossed aside for flashy features.
For example, one of my favorite design features of the previous-generation cars was a line that ran from the nose of the car all the way to the rear and back again. The line starts off as the forward-most point of the gap between the front fender and hood (wing and bonnet for the Brits). The line continues toward the rear of the car as the gap between the fender and hood. The top of the rear edge of the fender rises up to meet the A-pillar, giving the line a graceful transition so it can travel unbroken along the side of the windshield. It then continues along the roof, then down along the side of the rear window. At the base of the rear window, it curves to follow the glass and then flows back to the front of the car along the other side.
The picture below shows that key transition point from hood to A-pillar, which makes the whole line possible. Notice the gentle flare up of the fender to meet the A-pillar for a smooth transition:
That line and the design cues that make it possible exemplifies the attention to detail that has made the Vantage one of the most beautiful cars on the road. It's details like this that draw people in - whether they realize it or not - and make people love the design of a car. It's a tiny thing, but I find it achingly beautiful.
Now look at that line on the New Vantage. It's all wrong. The giant new hood doesn't have lines running along its sides. That is sometimes done on concept cars to reduce body gaps in an attempt to add a touch of grace to them, and it was done very well on the DB10 used in Spectre. But it doesn't work here. While it doesn't have the lines between the hood and fenders, it does have a garrish line in front of the hood. That amazing line from the previous Vantage simply can't exist on the New Vantage because of the massive hood. Obviously the lines can't start at the front of the hood and run between the hood and fenders because that's all one panel now, precluding any existence of the line to begin with. And because of how the hood opens, there's no transition curve between the fender and A-pillar. Rather, the A-pillar just dives down below the rear edge of the hood where the hood terminates at the windshield. The result is that one of the most beautiful, well thought out and perfectly implemented lines I've ever seen in automotive design has been unceremoniously murdered.
Yes, murdered. Can you tell I'm a bit upset about this little design element? Compare the picture above to this one:
There's no cohesion to the design. My once-favorite element of design has been replaced by thoughtlessness, all for the sake of a giant hood that adds terrible lines at the front of the car. It's a shame, and I hate it so much.
I'm mostly a fan of the rest of the exterior. I adore the profile view of the car, and love how aggressive the rear is, though the rear valance is a bit over-done above the tail pipes, and the tail pipes themselves look small and unfinished. There's an quad-tip option available on Aston Martin's online configurator, but it still doesn't complete the rear end. A pair of rolled exhaust tips would go a long way to improving the way the rear of the car looks.
I love the tail lights, too - the end-to-end arching shape reminds me of an FD3S RX7. I used to have one of those and still have a soft spot for them. The rear diffuser looks menacing, and the body-matching paint is a great touch.
Like the DB9 and now DB11, the New Vantage has those awful bumperettes sticking out on either side of the license plate on the rear bumper. I'm fairly certain they're there due to Federal low-speed impact regulations. The previous vantage had far-better integrated bumperettes, and it's unfortunate that those couldn't carry over.
The wing badges on the hood and trunk are larger than the ones used on the outgoing Vantage. If the larger badges aren't prominent enough for all to know the car is an Aston Martin, there's now "ASTON MARTIN" lettering below the badge on the rear bumper cover. I'm assuming the lettering can be skipped as a no-cost option, and I hope my assumption rings true.
Get Up In That
Opening the door is familiar as the flush-mounted handles are carry-over items from the rest of Aston's range. Later in the evening, Clare said that she thought the car would have had soft-close doors, but I suspect one of the reasons it doesn't is because the Aston Martin door handles aren't compatible with those mechanisms.
Stepping over the door sill to get into the car took a conscious effort. The sill is rather large. Not quite McLaren large, but pretty large nonetheless. It's taller and wider than the outgoing Vantage, showing how much focus has been put on chassis rigidity. What stood out to me was the prevalence of the carpeting. It's no more carpeting that you'd see on any other car, but it's more noticeable here. The sill plate in the outgoing Vantage pretty much covered the length of the door sill. On the New Vantage, it's comparably very small. That leaves a lot of exposed carpet. That the rest of the interior is covered in leather makes the different material all the more obvious.
I loved the styling of the seats in '07 and newer Astons. The '06 and prior ones weren't bad by any means, but the sleek, sporty look of the '07+ seats, especially with a nice contrast stitching, really just did it for me. They weren't always the most comfortable, and it could take a while to find that perfect seat position that kept your lower back from aching, but they worked well once you found that magic spot. These new seats seemed comfortable straight away, which is a welcome improvement, but they look like a generic children's tennis shoe.
It does look like there was extra leather added to places that were typical high-wear spots in the previous Vantage. The most common place to see leather wear in an Aston is in the side bolsters on the outer side of each seat. It looks like extra leather was added to those spots to reinforce them. Thoughtful, but in the end the seats come across as cheap and poorly styled.
Likewise, the door panels are a bit of an excited mess, too. They're a very different design than previously, with the most obvious change being the lack of door bar running the length of the panel. The door bar was the spine of the earlier doors - the arm rest and door handle were incorporated into it, and the window and mirror controls in contact with it. The mesh of the door speaker was blended into the sleek line of the door cap panel, giving a thoughtful and slick presentation. None of this carries over. None of it is incorporated into anything else. Any thought of cohesive design is gone. The new door panels are now a haphazard arrangement of functional items with none of the aesthetics of the once-refined Vantage. The door handles have been moved to the top of the door panel. The door bars have been shortened into an elbow perch. Where the backside of the door bar used to be for pulling the door closed is now a leather strap. The window and mirror controls are in a similar position, but slightly lower. Most egregious of all, the speaker mesh is a generic round screen stuck in the only open space large enough to hold it. All in all, the door layout reminds me of a cheap early-90s Japanese economy car.
While I think I'll get used to the New Vantage's front end (much in the way I've gotten used to having bad knees), the interior is just awful. The more I see it, the more I dislike it. The last generation of Aston Martin interiors was wonderful. Each car had practically the same interior, sure, but that wasn't a bad thing. Colors could be chosen to give each owner a more racy or more classy design, depending on their tastes. The new DB11 interior, especially with the brogue seats, is very old-hat. While the New Vantage interior is simply childish. Choosing a single color, or at least conservative colors, can help hide the sloppiness of the interior's design. The trim around the Mercedes COMAND controller and the trim around the elbow pads of the door panels were light grey, which cheapened the look of everything. I've seen these pieces done in carbon fiber in another car and they looked far better that way.
I got settled into the sneaker seat and pulled down the sun visor. The sun visors of the previous Vantage were comically useless; a true representation of form over function. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the sun visors in the New Vantage actually do their job. It was an unpleasant surprise to feel the crimped leather at the edges of the sun visor. This technique is found throughout the interior. At the edges of some of the leather panels, the leather is pressed and crimped flat, and it's at that pressed-flat lip of leather where the stitching is. You can see it on the sides of the gauge cluster cover in the interior pictures above and below. It can give a more modern look to the leather paneling, and I think it accomplishes that in general. But it didn't feel right in my fingers when I was handling the sun visor, nor did it look that great there. I think sticking with the Alcantara used on the previous Vantage (and still used in some places as an option in the New Vantage) would have been a better choice of materials.
Does it push your buttons?
It could, as there's plenty of them. There's a button for just about every function in the interior. I have to say I'm a big fan of that - I hate the trend of using all-inclusive touch screens to replace physical buttons and knobs. But holy moly there are so. many. buttons.
There should be at least a few less buttons in the manual version of the car once it's available in two years. The obvious reduction will come from the gearbox buttons use for the automatic transmission. The drive selection buttons in the car I drove were glass buttons. The glass buttons are included in an optional package on Aston Martin's online configurator, so it's safe to say the previously-used plastic buttons will be standard and the glass buttons will be an optional extra. I'm guessing the Mercedes-sourced COMAND controller will be relocated rearward to make room for the stick shift, or removed entirely. Along with that we may see some features removed from the manual version of the New Vantage, which is already slated to have a few changes compared to the launch version with the automatic gearbox, like a mechanical rear differential in lieu of Aston's new e-Diff.
It's an odd thing for me to complain about the vast array of buttons in the New Vantage. I should love that they went with traditional switch gear, but I think it's a case of getting too much of a good thing. It's hard to make people happy these days, myself included...
"Don't use touch screens. Bring back buttons."
"Woah, woah, woah... too many buttons."
With enough seat time, everything should make sense. It was just a bit of an overload for me when I went from my '07 V8 Vantage into the New Vantage. The substantial increase in buttons is due to a substantial increase in functionality. The previous Vantage, especially the early ones, came with scarce few amenities and functions. Even some basics were missing from the standard spec sheet and had to be added on as costly extra options. Memory seats, cruise control, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror were standard features on all but the cheapest economy cars - but not included in a base Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Over the course of its life, the previous Vantage did add optional extras like rear-view cameras, but even these lagged behind other cars on the market. The New Vantage appears to have caught up. There are buttons for things like driving modes (both suspension settings and engine/transmission settings), 360-degree cameras, and the infotainment system. I'm willing to bet at least some of this is optional, so I'm wondering what will become of unused buttons, and there were plenty of buttons I didn't even get a chance to ask about.
But I didn't mess with any of them. I just wanted to drive it.
Light It Up
Basic controls needed to start driving are laid out in front out you and everything is within easy reach. The ergonomics are really good in that regard. It's the sensory overload you get from looking at so many buttons and switches that makes things difficult when you aren't used to being in this car. Keyless-go (an optional extra) cuts down on start-up time. You only need to hold down the brake pedal and Start button to turn on the engine. It's the same Start button as used throughout the Aston range, albeit positioned at the bottom of the center stack rather than the top of it. The familiar drive selection buttons are on either side of the Start button.
Putting the car in sport mode changes the exhaust note, among other things. I pressed it while the car idled in the parking spot. It didn't get louder, as I expected. Rather, it got deeper. I'm not sure how I felt about the change. It didn't really improve the exhaust note like I feel it should have done. It was deeper, but not better.
Backing out of the parking spot was stress-free despite a Bentley Mulsanne being parked just behind me. The propped-up infotainment screen, though heinous, is at least functional. It displays a split view when the car is put in reverse gear. On one side is the backup camera with steering lines, on the other side is the top-down view projected by its 360-degree cameras. Both were entirely useful and made backing up far, far easier than I thought possible in an Aston Martin.
There's no denying the AMG-sourced 4.0L twin-turbo V8 has loads of power on tap. The use of twin-turbos has been derided by many traditionalists that prefer naturally-aspirated engines, and quite vocally so online. Turbocharged engines typically have turbo lag, so downsizing the engine and adding turbos will usually result in a laggy throttle response. Aston's engineers were apparently well aware of this concern and tuned the throttle body response accordingly. I found the throttle (the gas pedal) to be really twitchy when giving it short, quick inputs, like those used to maintain an OCD-measured distance between yourself and the car in front of you during heavy stop-and-go traffic. In normal driving, turbo lag wasn't an issue at all, and the twitchy throttle was smooth and easy to control.
The New Vantage has as much power as the V12 Vantage and nearly as much as the V12 Vantage S, but without the weight or fuel efficiency penalties that came with that engine. It also has far more potential for tuning, so those of us that are already looking for more power before the car is even released to customers are going to have a jolly good time with modifying these cars. I've noticed quite a few people wondering about the V12 being put into the New Vantage. I'd thought it absurd given the potential of the twin-turbo V8, but I keep hearing hints from people affiliated with Aston Martin that leads me to believe it's on its way.
Because of that, and picking up the unspoken indicators of Aston Martin's behavior, I think the Vantage AMR will have the 5.2L twin-turbo V12 engine that debuted in the DB11. Just as the DB11 AMR is now the V12-based DB11, so too will the Vantage AMR be the V12-based New Vantage. I have no idea how soon it'll debut - first we have to wait for the Roadster and manual versions of the New Vantage - but I'm guessing 3-4 years.
The 503 horsepower and slightly more torque never felt uncontrollable. In fact, the power suited the car very well and I didn't feel like it was lacking, nor was it overbearing. In normal driving it was a perfectly tame car that was easy to drive and didn't give me any reason to be concerned or wary about it being an exotic vehicle. When I laid into the throttle, though, things changed. Power comes on so smoothly that it doesn't feel as fast as it is. Part of this is due to the AMG engine's unpleasant exhaust note. Though improved by Aston Martin, it's still a flatulent burble compared to the glorious symphony played for the heavens by the previous cars. The exhaust note never really conveys what's happening when the engine should be screaming. That lack of aural feedback can make it difficult to feel fast.
Steering the New Vantage felt natural. The lightness of it was welcome in traffic, but I'm curious how it'll feel when the car is pushed hard. It wasn't effortless, so I'm not too worried about it being too light. The downside of a chaperoned test drive on public roads is you can only do so much behind the wheel, and that restricts how much can be learned about the suspension and brakes at a quicker-than-spirited pace. Plus having to be wary of traffic and other obstacles... This is especially true of testing the brakes. The good news is that the brakes seemed great. They weren't grabby, they didn't demand any attention - an important thing to me ever since I nearly rear-ended a car while test driving a Ferrari 430 with cold carbon-ceramic brakes that did nothing to stop me when I stood on them.
The 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox shifts were smooth and often imperceptible in Auto mode. As with the rest of the casual driving experience, it was completely uneventful - something I consider to be high praise. If that seems like an odd thing to say, think about how terrible the Sportshift gearbox was in Auto mode, and how much involvement it took to drive it smoothly in Manual mode. Given the shortcomings of the previous Vantage's paddle-shifted options, "uneventful" is a stellar review for normal driving. It wasn't until I floored the gas pedal that I noticed any hesitation in transmission. Dropping a couple gears took about a full second, resulting in a noticeable delay before the floored pedal became forward thrust.
For street driving, the sometimes-twitchy throttle and that gear-dropping delay were the only things that stood out. Otherwise the car drove great and felt... normal.
Here's where things can be a little dangerous for a review. Some people may argue that an Aston Martin shouldn't feel normal. Personally, I think it depends on the situation. I don't want to have to work to drive a car when putting around town. I want to relax and enjoy the drive. It's when I push the car that I want it to come alive. That was easy to do with the previous Vantage because its V8 engine couldn't overpower the chassis. Sure, it could make the rear end kick out, but it wasn't unruly. It wasn't dangerous. That made the car easy to enjoy at any time. Tossing it around and getting on the gas never resulted in break-neck speeds unless you stayed on the gas. Spirited driving could be done on just about any road.
Not so with the New Vantage. It has way too much power for that. I don't say that as a bad thing. I say it to frame how I look at cars and how special (or normal) they feel. The outgoing Vantage felt special all the time because it took effort to keep a quick pace. The New Vantage feels normal because it's effortlessly fast. The deep, thumpy exhaust note does nothing to remind you of your speed, either.
...and then Clare drove it. She came back smiling, which is a bad thing for me. Turns out she was laughing about how much she had to move the seat back for the next person driving the car. She liked the car before, and wanted one based on the looks and specs. Driving it reinforced that desire, which again is a bad thing for me.
But in all seriousness, a decision has to be made. The car is what it is, like it or leave it. So what do I think? Would I take it or leave it?
Right now, I'd leave it. The $150K starting price is a large ask compared to other cars on the market, and there's no way I'd get everything I want at that base price. To me, the price is an important factor. I don't make nearly enough money to buy a car well into the six-figure price range when there are so many things about that car that I don't like. Among other things, the interior isn't worth $150+ grand. A monochrome interior can help hide the garish design. A reduced-button layout with a manual gear change may help reduce clutter. Time could help soothe the stinging of my eyes when I compare the classy previous interior to the silly new interior.
Aston Martin has made a clear effort to differentiate the models in their lineup. The DB11 has been positioned as a more grown-up grand tourer. With the brogue interior, it's a bit too gramps for my taste. Mission accomplished there. The Vantage has been positioned as a younger, sharper, racier, sports car. They've accomplished that as well, but I think they took the "younger" bit a bit too far with - you guessed it - the interior.
Competition is fierce in this segment. The New Vantage's obvious rival is the AMG GT, given the fact that it's the donor car for the engine. Long standing competition brings in the 911 Turbo. Probably on the softer side but still relevant is the Bentley Continental GT. Once you add in options, the New Vantage starts to press into Lamborgini Huracán and McLaren 570S territory. Herein lies the problem with the New Vantage. What does it have over any of these other cars? It's not as pretty as it used to be. It's not as fast as some of its competition. It's not the best value for money compared to one or two.
So why choose the New Vantage?
I can't answer that, because I wouldn't choose it. When the manual comes out, however, that should change. There's no denying it's a fantastic car. It's effortlessly fast, it's plenty comfortable, it finally has technology and amenities. The clunky Sportshift transmission has been replaced with a far-smoother automatic, which is sure to make most paddle-flappers happy. But I want a manual roadster, not an automatic coupe. And I do intend to buy a manual roadster when the time comes. I'm just hoping there are some cosmetic changes or at least options for changes by then to fix up that front end and interior.