GMR 600 Supercharged Vantage, Part 2

The Drive

At this point, I need to make a confession. I've only driven a couple right hand drive (RHD) cars in my life, and they weren't recent whatsoever. And up until this, I'd never driven on the left-hand side of the road. Now add in a 583-hp supercharged Aston Martin. Okay... I drive Astons almost every day, I can handle that. Maybe. But wait... the roads are narrow as fuck. The passenger door mirror is mere inches from the roadside hedge and in town there's only room for one car to pass - if another car comes along, one will have to pull aside to give way to the other to fit.

The drive did not go well.

More specifically, I didn't drive well. Nor did I handle it well. As far as test drives go, it was bad. Graham, in the passenger seat, made quite a few exasperated noises of concern when we first set off. I don't blame him, there were a few close calls from the outset.

We rarely get to see the close calls or blatant mistakes when we watch videos of car reviews, nor do we read about the off-road incidents or near-miss would-be accidents of automotive journalists in articles. They do spin out. They go off the track. Things don't always go well but, for the sake of sounding professional, it all gets swept under the rug and just the basics are conveyed. I'm saying I was terrible at driving this car on those roads, and that's incredibly important.

I have a method for test driving cars. Put simply, I drive it normally at first and I don't think about the car. If something demands my attention, it's generally a bad thing. I want to drive and enjoy the drive. I don't want to have to manage a contraption or fight a machine to get down the road. As I get accustomed to the vehicle, I increase speeds and progressively push the car, still paying attention to not paying attention unless something demands my attention. Re-reading that, it makes perfect sense thanks to a couple bottles of wine. Bear with me.

Imagine you're in a foreign country. You're driving a special car with a lot of power. You're driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road and that road is far more narrow than it should be. You press down on the gas pedal and the car surges forward. Redline approaches and you reach your right hand out to shift.

You slap the door.

The muscle memory you've had for so long just failed you as you try to shift with the wrong hand. You look down at the shift knob to reorient yourself. Your eyes are only off the road for a couple brief seconds, but you look up again and there's a lorry barreling down on you on the too-narrow road. Your eyes dart between the lorry, the road, and the visual overlap of your driver-side fender and oft-missing dividing line between your lane and the other. Move too far left and you put the car in the hedges. Don't move left enough and you clip oncoming traffic. While you weight the odds, you ease onto the brakes and your left hand shifts into a lower gear. You don't realize it at first but you've just skipped from 5th to 2nd gear as the lorry skims by. You don't close your eyes but that split second doesn't register in your memory. Were your eyes actually closed? The road is clear as you lay into the throttle again. You hit a somewhat-casual 6500 RPM and shift up. The car's speed and gearing seem well-matched, but your passenger looks at you with a curiously concerned expression and tells you that you just went from 2nd to 5th gear.

Any other car would have stammered, but this one didn't. In fact, it never stammered or hesitated a single time through my drive. That racing clutch I was so worried about? Somehow it felt just as easy to drive as the factory clutch, if not easier. Gear changes, regardless of whether or not I skipped gears with my floppy left hand, were smooth and sure. I never noticed the clutch being anything other than just a clutch. It wasn't a hassle or an obstacle. It just worked, and worked seamlessly with the rest of the car.

That feeling of natural integration with the rest of the car continued with almost every other component of the car as well. The brakes were balanced with a strong initial bite that didn't make the pedal feel binary. On-off brakes can be incredibly difficult to modulate, especially in an emergency situation, and these didn't give me that impression at all. The rotors on the GMR 600 are made of carbon, sourced from their own supplier. The weight and performance benefits of carbon rotors are well-known but the costs can vary widely. We didn't go into pricing as our focus was on the supercharger kit and those details would have diverted the already-rushed conversation. 

I didn't hear any brake squeal during my drive nor when others brought the car back into the garage after their drives. Given how brief our time with the car was, I couldn't tell how bad brake dust would be so I can't comment on that.

Earlier I said almost every component was well integrated. There were two things that stood out to me that weren't quite right to me. One was the exhaust, which was far too quiet for my taste. The GMR 600 has the company's headers and cats, an X-pipe, and GT4 muffler. The package performs very well and makes a beautiful noise, I just wish I could hear it more. At one point we passed under an A-road which gave us a very brief tunnel. I made the most of it and laid into the throttle as we passed through. It was one second of beautiful song that ended so abruptly that for a moment I considered finding a place to turn around to experience it again.

There's a practical reason for the tame exhaust volume, as it allows them to stay safely within the noise restrictions of any area, track, or event. It also helps keep things quiet when they need to road test the car. Avoiding noise complaints from neighbors and the local town has its benefits, and a louder-than-necessary exhaust is a painless sacrifice to accomplish that. So the exhaust wasn't so much something that I didn't like, as it did sound fantastic, as much as it was something I'd have done differently.

What I didn't like at all was the suspension. It was the one thing that stood out as needing a major change. The coilovers on the car were custom made by Nitron. Paul explained they had tested and tuned them at the Nurburgring. That's a lovely credential to have, but I found they were completely mismatched for bumpy British B-roads.

I hesitated to say anything in this review about it due to perceived bias - I sell alternatives to Nitron's products on my Redpants website, and I don't want people thinking I'm intentionally trying to divert sales away from Nitron so I could get those sales for myself. But this was the one thing that really and truly bothered me about the car, so I needed to say it. I asked James what he thought after his drive, and his opinion mirrored my own.

The Nitron coilovers were too bouncy. They weren't so firm as to be uncomfortable, which is an easy mistake to make in the pursuit of handling performance. But they weren't compliant over rough roads and I didn't find myself trusting them through corners because of it. At full throttle, the car felt like it was floating. That's a combination of engine power and suspension tuning, but I haven't felt that float effect in the V12-powered Astons I've driven. Perhaps the coilovers would do better on a smooth track, but they weren't well-matched to the roads we drove on. James agreed with this, and said my grey V8 Vantage was more sure-footed over rough roads. That car has H&R springs on standard factory struts, and he drove it over similarly rough roads during his visit to Florida for our Tech Day.

But that's just a side note compared to what really mattered about this drive: the supercharged engine. Without reservation, I'll say I was very impressed. The easiest way to sum up my opinion about the GMR 600 was that it felt completely natural. While that may seem noncommittal and uninspiring, it's actually very high praise.

Aston Martins have a distinct feel to them. That feel is summarized in the splash screen at startup: Power, Beauty, Soul. Modifying an Aston Martin properly requires an understanding of the cars and their culture. There are unspoken rules in the Aston community that shouldn't be broken, as doing so can lead to a vocal backlash from the critical peanut gallery.

GMR got it right. Their supercharged V8 Vantage feels like it should. The engine feels the same, but there's so much more of it. At normal speeds, there's nothing to distinguish it from any other V8 Vantage. It drives the same, sounds the same, and looks the same. But when you push it, the thing flies. The power delivery is relentless but still solid and predictable. I never had to worry about the car getting away from me. Despite the huge increase in power output over a standard V8 Vantage, I was the one in control, not the other way around.

Click the button below for Part 3 of this review, which has my final thoughts on the GMR 600 as well as some things to consider if you're interested in having one of their superchargers on your own V8 Vantage.