2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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The man who runs Aston Martin, Dr. Ulrich Bez, might be described as a bit of a fanatic. He’s hop-scotched all over the auto industry, and has held positions at BMW, Porsche, and Daewoo, among other companies. Rumour has it that his house in Germany – he also has a home in England – has a BMW Z1 and Porsche 911 parked in the middle of the living room. Bez, after all, was the man who was largely behind the engineering of both these vehicles.

You can sense, then, that the new V8 Vantage is the car Bez has been waiting to build since he started running Aston a few years ago. The company makes no pretence of suggesting that it’s anything but a direct competitor to the 911. In terms of price – its $135,000 Canadian list is just a few thousand more than a Porsche Carrera S, but with more standard equipment and packaging – it’s right in the same ballpark. The Vantage is actually a few centimetres shorter than the Porsche, but has a wider stance; its tightly-wrapped body is pulled over a longer wheelbase but it only has two seats.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

For roughly the same price as the Porsche, the Aston certainly feels a lot more special. The interior is just magnificent. Aston offers a huge range of colour and trim options, and my tester was done up in a super-tasty combination of black and saddle-coloured leather accented with red stitching. Almost every surface you touch is covered in leather or bamboo or raw aluminum. The gauges are beautifully lit at night and the speedometer and tachometer rotate toward each other as you accelerate (the “Power Beauty and Soul” message you get on startup in the DB9 is gone, however). The console is a waterfall of aluminum with tiny black-on white displays, and the seats – well, they may just be the best-looking seats ever.

Unlike the Porsche, you don’t need to pay extra for the leather dash or the excellent stereo (try cranking up the subwoofer when you’re in traffic) or power seats with the Aston. But the company’s vast range of personalization options – the matching of colours to samples you provide; custom-fitted luggage; or whatever else you please – gives you ample opportunity to inflate the base price.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

If the Aston’s cabin is sexier than a 911’s, it’s about equally roomy, but there are parts of it that don’t work quite as well as they should. The stereo and navigation controls look great, but they’re tiny and hard to use while driving; the navigation system, derived from the one Volvo uses, is reasonably easy to use, but you can’t adjust the angle of the screen. The seats are not actually that comfortable over long drives, though they have excellent bolstering for corners. And the controls for the trip computer are scattered between the column stalks and the console. The handbrake is a fly-away type, located between the driver’s seat and the door; the seat controls are located on the side of the console.

For sporty driving, though, the Vantage’s biggest issue is its sightlines: this is a difficult car to see out of. The roof is low, the windshield is aggressively raked, and the pillars are very thick. Seeing around corners often requires you to crane your neck, there are big blind spots, and the mirrors are tiny. Despite being about the same size, a 911’s upright greenhouse and thin pillars make it feel like a significantly smaller car on a winding road, and its peaky fenders make it easier to place the front wheels accurately.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

You do, of course, get used to it. And the compensation for the poor sightlines is a simply gorgeous body. Even though my tester was done up in pretty innocuous black, it drew stares like few other cars I’ve ever driven. Whether it’s the clean, taut lines, the simply-executed but beautiful wheels, the neat details like the air vents that form “spines” along each side of the car, the boomerang tail lamps, the side-view mirrors that almost float on metal spars, or the real-aluminum grille, there’s just so much more to drink in here than just the shape. Check out the exhaust pipes, flanking a mesh-covered diffuser with integrated reversing sensors; the little eyebrows where the headlamp washers hide; the tiny door handles that spring open with a touch of your finger.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

Given all of the stares, it’s tough not to be a little self-conscious driving this car. Find a deserted stretch of road away from the adoring public and you discover that the Aston is way more than just a great car to pose in. Its super-stiff aluminum structure has allowed the company’s engineers to tune the suspension for excellent cornering grip and stability while maintaining fine ride quality. There’s more body roll than you might expect in corners, but once it takes a set, the Vantage feels really stuck in, like nothing’s going to make it deviate from its path. Partly, that’s because the steering and chassis are so communicative: you really get a sense of what’s going on at the road surface, and thus are aware just how much more the car has left to give. Even on wet roads, it’s confidence-inspiring and easy to drive fast.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

More importantly, it sounds fast. While the Vantage’s 4.3-litre V8 is plenty powerful for its weight – 380 horses motivate 1,570 kg – its 302 lb-ft of torque live mostly up high in the rev range, and its six gears are fairly long. The dash from 0-100 km/h takes 5 seconds flat, a few ticks off the Porsche, but the noises coming from the twin tailpipes make the Aston sound easily twice as fast as it is. While the V8 is actually fairly muted while cruising (windows up and in the super-tall sixth gear, this is an easy and comfortable highway mile-eater), even gentle pressure on the gas pedal unleashes an aural assault the likes of which it must be heard to be believed. At full throttle, the Vantage sounds like it has a barely-restrained stock car engine under the hood, and no mufflers at all; it’s one of the sexiest noises in the world if you like cars.

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Click image to enlarge

Despite some shortcomings – in addition to the ergonomic glitches I’ve noted above, my tester’s electric fuel filler release didn’t work and its stability-control system decided not to activate on startup a couple of times – there’s no way this car isn’t going to be a major success for Aston. It may not be quite as focused a driving tool as a 911, but its newness and rarity are going to be a huge attraction for people who already own a – or have already owned more than one – Porsche or Corvette or Mercedes coupe. Hell, given the reaction it got, the thing will sell on looks alone, never mind the fine dynamics or the standard feature content or hatchback practicality.

There’s one other, and very important, thing worth mentioning. Everyone who yelled at me from their passing cars, from bus shelters, or in parking lots with the inevitable “what is it/how fast/how much” was shocked at the car’s price. They all figured it would be twice as expensive as it actually is.

“Heck,” said one guy at McDonalds. “That’s less than my condo cost; what a deal!”


Specifications

  • 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage


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  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Porsche 911 Carrera S
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Chevrolet Corvette
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 BMW 650Ci


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