Text: Inigo S. Roces / Photos: Jet Rabe | posted September 30, 2016 15:23
The Brute Bond
No story about an Aston Martin can ever find itself free of any James Bond references. Like Vermouth to a Vodka Martini, Bond is an essential element of Aston Martin mythos. The vehicles have undergone a number of iterations, reincarnations and reboots. Bond himself has gone from smooth operator (Connery), to whimsical (Moore), to introspective (Dalton), to smart Alec (Brosnan). Perhaps it’s safe to say that his latest chapter (Craig), is the best so far, being an enviable mix of calm, cold and calculating. And like the current Bond, so too do we find ourselves in the seat of one of the best Aston Martin Vantages thus far.
A look into the model line’s history shows that, like Bond, there was just as much confusion over what it should be. In the 70s and 80s, it found itself positioned as the more sporting version, sometimes slated above the DB and DBS models. It was typically the recipient of the smallest Aston Martin engine, a V6. By the 2000s, it found itself in the middle of the pack, blessed with a V8, but usurped by the new Vanquish. Today, the Vantage is positioned as the more accessible coupe of the Aston Martin lineup, yet this no less diminishes its allure.
Like the forgettable Brosnan era of Bond, it might have been necessary to endure the missteps in order to truly enjoy the more brutal and focused Daniel Craig after. And like Craig, the Vantage has evolved to be the more precise, single-minded weapon it is today, perhaps bereft of some charms, but also far less distracted from the mission at hand.
The result is a truly intimidating vehicle. It makes no apologies for the bold slatted hood, carbon fibre grille, flat front splitter and steeply angled rear ducktail. Massive matte 19 inch wheels hide carbon ceramic brake discs behind them. The simple yet iconic shape is hardly spoiled by any bodykits or wings – just the trademark silhouette and low ground clearance account for show-stopping presence. Behind, the entire rear diffuser is made of carbon fiber, housing just two massive exhaust tips – all the better to appreciate the broad 295mm rear tires.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper British sports car without some sophisticated accoutrements. Inside, the cabin is swathed in soft leather and alcantara. Carbon fiber trim is generous but not over the top. In fact, it’s the alcantara that’s in abundance, lining the door cards, seat inserts and the entire steering wheel. Entertainment is care of a Bang and Olufsen entertainment system with tweeters that rise up from the corners of the dashboard. The fob is a crystal key that slots neatly into the very center of the dash to start it up.
The instrument cluster is clear and simple. The larger speedo and tach sit toward the center, flanked by the smaller fuel and temp dials. Inside the two large dials are multi-info displays for the speed and trip info. A gear indicator sits at the very top. The wheel itself is rather plain, taking pains to hide the remote stereo controls. All the better to turn your focus to the supple feel of the alcantara rim.
The center stack, covered in carbon fiber and piano gloss, puts the gear selector buttons at the very top. A large screen rises from the top for navigation and entertainment options. The analog clock is positioned at its very center, while the stereo and climate controls cascade down. At the very bottom are controls for the adjustable damping and driving modes.
Getting comfortable is a bit of a challenge as the seat adjustment buttons are at the central mound. Side mirror adjustment is positioned inside the door card. And finally, the handbrake is on the driver’s side, just between the seat and the door. It uses a traditional stick but is electronic in operation, taking a few tries to figure it out.
Nonetheless, all these are mere trivia to ceremony of starting the vehicle up. Push the crystal key in, with foot firmly on the brake, and the V12 power plant starts up with a menacing roar. The tachometer twists in a counter-clockwise fashion – strange at first yet makes for beautiful symmetry when paired with a winding speedometer.
Putting it into gear requires merely a press of the gear selector on the dash, or a pull on the carbon fiber paddle shifter. There’s no subtlety in the way it engages, with a firm jerk that lets you feel the torque. That’s 619 Nm to be exact, 510 of which are available as early as 1,000 rpm. There’s also 565 bhp of horsepower from the 5.9-liter V12, which sends enough tractive force to the rear wheels to rocket you to 100 km/h in just under 4 seconds.
We didn’t want to use up all that Pirelli P Zero rubber on the driveway. In fact, pulling away smoothly is a challenge in itself. The power runs through an automated manual 7-speed gearbox. As such, it is essentially a manual with clutch operation regulated by a computer. Some deep throttle input is required to get it going initially and much less as you’re already moving. I couldn’t help flooring it, the engine and transmission gladly obliging, lighting up the rear wheels, twitching the tail slightly, and overcoming the rather lenient traction control just a tad.
The shocking but delightful inadequacy of traction control forced me to behave while in city confines, gingerly applying throttle to cruise through traffic. Being a track monster first and foremost, the ride is understandably stiff at the lightest setting, the transmission shifts sooner but is eager to downshift gears as you slow down. The steering is still hydraulic assisted, and while it thankfully insulates from many of Manila’s bumps and imperfections, is incredibly precise.
Of all the Vantage’s quirks, it’s the transmission that takes the most time to get used to. Like the automated manual of a Peugeot, when left in automatic, it’s much smoother if you release the throttle as it shifts gears. Keeping the throttle on while it shifts returns a sharp thrust as the gear is engaged. It does the same when downshifting at a leisurely pace and is best to keep a foot hovering over the brake. Naturally, this system is not very fond of traffic. It’s prone to overheating. And while it remains functional, inevitably delays the already slow shifting time. The best way to keep it cool is to simply shift manually.
Another downside to deal with is the low ground clearance. That flat front splitter will cause quite a lot of grief on steep driveways. Speed bumps will need to be taken diagonally. Thankfully, with the right approach angle, there’s little to worry about the rear.
The Vantage is best enjoyed when traffic is light and the weather is fair. Lots of room is needed to truly appreciate how quickly it accelerates, how beautiful the exhaust note is, and how precise a handling package it has put together. Even when going quickly over bumpy roads, the Vantage never seems to succumb to bump steer. Brakes are progressive, powerful and consistent. On smoother sweepers, the steering lets you simply point and roll on the throttle to tackle the curve like a pro. Just be mindful not to be too eager with the throttle or the back will kick out excitedly, even with traction on.
Sport mode stiffens the shocks more, improves throttle response, and tells the transmission to shift higher and lets that exhaust burble and crackle more. That burble can be heard from blocks away and makes for one hell of a herald on a Sunday drive.
Track mode unleashes the full Kraken from the depths of hell. And I’m not ashamed to admit I was too frightened to do so.
Like Craig’s Bond, the V12 Vantage is hardly ideal company for civil affairs. It will loudly announce its arrival from far away, and draw stares anywhere you go in the city. The harsh ride and tricky transmission can make any short commute a bit of a chore. I also wouldn’t entrust it to any valet.
It may seem a tad expensive, but compared to the softer V12 grand tourers it will easily shame, becomes a relative bargain. Take it for a club run or track day and you’ll find it the most fearsome vehicle in the lot. For a track focused machine, it’s still rather well equipped, yet not bloated with the frivolities found in most grand tourers. The linear and untethered powerband, precise and analog feel, and exceptional handling will easily match most Ferraris and Lamborghinis and will be a constant presence in a 911 GT3 RS’s mirrors. It is best reserved for the most challenging of missions, where brute force is demanded, collateral damage be damned, and some proper humbling is in order.
(UPDATE: The price of the car we reviewed has been removed upon Aston Martin Manila's request, as their models are priced on application )