When the Vantage was introduced in 2005 it had a 4.3-litre V8 engine and just 380 bhp. It seemed fine for a GT but Aston Martin was hell bent on presenting a real challenge to Porsche's 911. However the target had been upgraded from 996 to 997 status and as we all know is a substantial jump in performance and handling prowess. The Vantage had to up its game substantially.
The next iteration came in the form of the 4.7-litre V8 Vantage with 420 bhp. Now this was quite a lot better resolved than the 4.3-litre Vantage and possessed the wonderful steering tactility we thought only Lotus had.
Handling balance was pretty much in the zone but one couldn't help wondering about having more power. Aston was obviously wondering too and they promptly stuffed their powerful V12 under the hood of the Vantage and produced quite a monster, the V12 Vantage.
Somehow 510 bhp and the extra weight of a 6.0-litre V12 over the front axle produced a rather dramatic albeit frightening car. It was a car Aston Martin really wanted to make just because they had the ingredients lying around.
While it thrilled it also was obvious it was sort of a shotgun-like street weapon, deadly but not particularly surgical in its approach. Aston must have also figured the V12 was just a step too far and the best thing to do was to go back to the unpolished gem called the V8 Vantage and hone it a bit more to make a proper Vantage S but keep the screaming V12 bodywork.
They knew for certain the recipe for a Vantage S was not with the monster V12 but the uprated V8 as the handling balance was right on the nose. It just needed more attitude and some sharpening up. After having developed the awesome V12 Vantage and the successful Vantage GT4 race car, Aston Martin decided to develop a car that not only commemorates its racing pedigree but hone the VH chassis further toward perfection.
We definitely prefer the standard 4.7-litre V8 Vantage for its fine poise and balance with the lighter V8 engine under its hood because the Vantage chassis was designed for the V8 not the V12 and it is obvious on roads that matter. However its 420 bhp really pales in comparison with the 510 bhp V12 and could obviously use a bit of beefing up.
Aston Martin engineers massaged another 10 bhp out of the V8 bringing the total to 430 bhp at 7300 rpm with 490 Nm of torque accompanied by an exhaust bark that is bordering on illegal. Coupled to a newly developed 7-Speed Sportshift II automated manual gearbox with rapid shift times and a weight savings of about 24 kg allows the driver to make the most of the V8's modest power thanks to the closer gear ratios and shorter (4.182) final drive to try and close the gap to the mighty V12.
Sportshift II is one of the new generation Graziano single clutch automated manual gearboxes. It
now offers 7-speeds instead of the previous six. Shift times have dropped by 20 per cent and the gearbox is sturdier despite the addition of another gear ratio.
Aston Martin found that it does not warrant a complex DCT with the added cost and weight. Perhaps not quite as silky smooth on 1st gear take up as the traditional auto it is no worse than a DCT type and is entirely in keeping with the “S” character.
Though lighter than the standard 4.7-litre V8 Vantage by only 20 kg the Vantage S accelerates with more determination and rifles through the seven available ratios in quick succession as if it were significantly lightened. More weight can be shaved off but one must check the options box which lists the lightweight carbonfibre sport seats that cut a further 17 kg per seat.
Aston Martin used the chassis engineering from their GT4 race car experience and developed a lower, firmer and more finely damped single rate suspension system for the Vantage S to replace the electronically controlled unit.
Bridgestone worked hard with Aston Martin engineers to develop a special Potenza RE 050A for the Vantage S project. They were less concerned with ride and more keen to maximize grip and wear rate for track use but this is no quasi-race tyre as Aston Martin engineers insisted on fitting a full tread depth road-legal street tyre.
The ride though decidedly firm is perfectly acceptable in a sports car. Finally to really sharpen things even more, a quick 2.6 turns lock to lock steering rack replaces the standard one which requires 3.0 turns.
Amazingly the Vantage S seems happier to be on a track than on the open road. It is not that it does not acquit itself well enough on the road because all told it does a pretty good job of it. There is the delicious if loud exhaust accompaniment, a naughty inclusion to loosen up the stiff upper lip.
The suspension is definitely firmer and is a fixed rate set up so there is no comfort mode to switch to but is judged well for a compromise between track stability and ride comfort.
Initially with the quick ratio rack one seems to be turning in for the corners just a little too early but after a few km one learns to be a tad less eager with the steering and the car seems to turn in just at the right moment.
Somehow there is a slight steer-by-vision rather than by feel as one hardly reaches the point where the suspension rolls or slip angles become progressively greater. So at slowish speeds it doesn't seem as rewarding to drive.
To push the Vantage S hard we had to use the race track which happens to be the privately owned 5.49km Ascari Circuit in the south of Spain. So confident was Aston Martin that they did not limit us to the usual four or five laps nor did they restrict us to partial laps.
We basically had a trackday and could really do half hour stints at a time which works out to be about ten non-stop hot abusive full-course laps. The Vantage S is not really given much rest even as we come back to the pits as we hand it over to the next batch of impatient drivers. We go back and wait our turn for a go in the Vantage S Roadster.
To their credit the Roadster is as hardcore as its coupe twin but its full blooded soundtrack replete with wind buffeting is another experience altogether. On the road the Roadster is set up just right with measured progression that seems better than the coupe if that is possible. The engine noise is perfect as you can control just the amount you need with one's right foot.
However on the track its just a little too much with the volume set to +100 per cent and all sorts of extraneous wind noise with the car blasting from corner to corner. Since there is no other way to drive a proper sports car on a track and with anything less than 100 per cent throttle you look like a wimp.
The sharp steering is a delight on the track as it gives the Vantage S a sense of added agility befitting its track car status. With the firm suspension the Vantage S takes the corners remarkably flat and the high grip Bridgestones now have a chance to induce body roll. It takes a few laps but we see the point of the whole exercise now.
This Vantage S is a proper trackday Aston Martin. The road-going Bridgestones stood up amazingly to the abuse of late braking and full lean cornering all day long. Even the steel brakes held up remarkably well and only during some heroic late braking stunts did they get a little long in travel.
Thanks to the Sport settings on the DSC the Vantage S exhibited minimal understeer and refrained from reining in the fun when things go out of shape. Again the balance of the Vantage S is such that it doesn't scare you when arriving at a corner with a good head of speed. The Sport setting allows for some safe fun even around Ascari thanks to the properly sorted chassis.
FAST FACTS : ASTON MARTIN V8 VANTAGE S
CAPACITY : 4735cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8, DOHC, Variable camshaft timing
VALVES : 4-valve heads, 32 total
BORE X STROKE :
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.3:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 430 bhp at 7300 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 490 Nm at 5000 rpm
TYPE : 7-speed Sportshift II robotized system
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear
TOP SPEED : 305 km/h
0-100KM/H : 4.5 seconds
FRONT : Double wishbones, anti-roll bar
REAR : Double wishbones, anti-roll bar
FRONT : 390mm Ventilated and grooved discs
REAR : 360mm Ventilated and grooved discs