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Aston Martin V8 Vantage S review (2011 onwards)
What - Aston Martin V8 Vantage S
Where - Oxfordshire, UK
Date - August 2011
Price - £102,500-£110,700
Available - Now
Key rivals - Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, Nissan GT-R, Jaguar XKR-S, Maserati GranTurismo S
Summary - Leaner, meaner and with a new seven-speed automated gearbox the Vantage S is a more hardcore take on the already lovely V8 'baby' Aston
We like - Gorgeous looks, fabulous noise, driver focused set up, wonderful interior, new Speedshift II gearbox, makes a 911 look like a mere appliance
We don't like - Not as light as it could be, possibly a bit cosy for some, clunky ergonomics
There are some sports cars that go out to impress with their technical wizardry. Think Nissan GT-R or Porsche 911 Turbo. And there are some that go straight for the heart. The Aston Martin Vantage S is one of the latter.
There are murmurs that Aston's current design language is a tad generic. Possibly so. But when it results in cars as utterly gorgeous as the Vantage who's to complain, this new S adding some of the attitude of the GT4 customer race cars and mad £135K V12 version.
So it's got a more aggressive look with a deeper intake on the front bumper and more pronounced flick to the bootlid spoiler. Additional carbonfibre trimmings together with new 19-inch wheels finish the look.
Under the skin the S gets a new seven-speed automated manual gearbox - no dual-clutch for Aston - and a 10hp power gain. This pushes the price to £102,500 for the coupé and £110,700 for the roadster - roughly £10K more than the equivalent standard Vantage.
The Vantage got a bump from the original 4.2 litres to a more powerful 4.7-litre V8 in 2008 and the new S uses a mildly uprated version of the same engine, power going from 420hp to 430hp and torque from 347lb ft to 361lb ft.
The biggest change isn't the engine though - it's the gearbox. The standard Vantage has a six-speed gearbox, mounted in the rear of the car and available as a conventional manual or in 'robotised' Speedshift form controlled by paddles on the wheel.
There's no manual option on the S, just a new seven-speed Speedshift II gearbox, again an automated manual rather than a dual-clutch like Porsche's PDK. Aston says it's 50kg lighter than a dual-clutch, closer gearing taking two tenths out of the 0-62mph time too.
It's got a pleasingly mechanical grittiness to it too. OK, a dual-clutch would be smoother but the Speedshift demands more of the driver - you have to interact with it more like a conventional manual, lifting off for upshifts and suchlike. And this suits the Aston's character.
Ride and handling
A much faster steering rack - it's now just 2.6 turns to go lock to lock rather than just over three - gives the Vantage S a noticeably more aggressive and pointy feel than the standard car, especially combined with the Sport button that sharpens the throttle and slashes shift times.
The brake discs are bigger too but mounting them on aluminium bells means they actually weigh less, reducing unsprung weight and improving response in the suspension. This has also been tweaked with new spring and damper rates.
It's a very macho car the Vantage and the tweaks to the chassis contrive to make it more so and closer in feel to the lunatic V12 version. The ride is firm but the damping and body control excellent, the compact dimensions making it feel incredibly chuckable.
The steering weighting is on the hefty side but that gives it a sense of authority and the turn-in bite is immense. A three-stage stability control means you can liberate a degree of rear-axle slip if you're feeling brave but experience shows the Vantage can be a tad twitchy at the limit.
Compared with the more suave and accomplished 911 and Audi R8 the Aston feels just a little bit wild but all the more exciting for it. It's not unstable - far from it - but it feels a lot less sanitised than its German equivalents. Which is what you'd hope.
Aston Martin is to be commended for not giving in to making the Vantage S into a track wannabe like the R8 GT too. Nor does it try to out-do the 911 GT3. No, this is a road car but with a few choice upgrades for those who like to drive and drive hard.
Aside from a few Ford-era switchgear bits and a slightly clunky interface with the stereo and navigation system the Vantage S interior is an absolute pleasure to be in, even if taller and/or larger framed folk may find it a tad cramped.
It has a sense of occasion and style no Porsche could ever hope to match, the optional carbon framed one-piece seats fitted to our test car saving an astounding 17kg and giving the S a much racier, more focused feel. Hand-stitched leather meanwhile maintains the luxurious ambience you'd hope for.
Economy and safety
Look away now if you care about economy because if you like indulging in that glorious V8 noise you'll be in at least a gear or two lower than you need to be to open the bypass valves and get the full effect. And therefore getting nowhere near the official 21.9mpg.
An extra gear does mean Aston can balance improved acceleration with a longer overdrive seventh ratio for relaxed cruising, reducing emissions over the standard Vantage. It still weighs in at 299g/km though. Safety gear meanwhile includes Hill Start Assist for the first time on an Aston Martin.
The MSN Cars verdict
Aston Martin's 'Power, beauty, soul' catchphrase is cheesy but unavoidably accurate. And the Vantage S combines all three, just slightly enhanced over the standard model but enough to give the 'baby' Aston a whole lot more attitude.
German and Japanese rivals might do it more efficiently. They might even be faster. But when it comes to that indefinable feelgood factor the Aston Martin has them licked. The 10% premium over the standard car seems relatively reasonable too, the £10K saving over a 911 Turbo a complete no-brainer.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||4.7 V8|
|Torque, lb ft||361|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.6|
|Top speed, mph||189|
|Ratings||Aston Martin V8 Vantage S|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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