It was a scene that would make Gordon Gekko or Jordan Belfort, not James Bond, green with envy. A cool grey Aston Martin V8 Vantage N430 pulled up to the curb on busy 5th Avenue in Bonifacio Global City. I walked to the road as the valet opened the driver's door for me. This is how arrivals are done in the real world. And I would savor the moment twice more in the same day, with a white Aston Martin V12 Vantage and a V12 Rapide.
Some may remember that Aston Martin Manila had just opened last September, with a showroom located along the prestigious 5th Avenue in Global City. DBPhils Motorsports, Inc., distributor of the storied British brand, had generously handed over the keys to a few of their vehicles for the day. There was no fanfare, no red carpet, or flashing lights, all the better to enjoy the car as it is.
Naturally, having all that horsepower and no room to gallop would be no fun at all, so as soon as we familiarized ourselves with the vehicles, it was off to a location further south to stretch the cars' legs.
Vantage V8 N430
The first we tested mong the three was the Vantage V8 N430. The ‘N’ stands for Nurburgring, and the 430 for the power output. The N430 is bereft of much of the luxury trim to become a lighter, faster, more race-track tuned machine — think of it as Aston Martin’s answer to the Porsche 911 GTS. Nonetheless, there’s generous use of alcantara throughout the interior, be it on the wheel, door cards or armrests. The vehicles is typically shown off in the signature British Racing Green and yellow trim, but can be availed in a more discreet combination like this.
Naturally, it's offered with a manual, and while the clutch is not as heavy as most would assume, a more clearly indicated redline on the tachometer would have been appreciated. The suspension is incredibly stiff, but it even the city's worst potholed roads could not unsettle it. Floor the throttle and there won't even be a single twitch in the rear as most of its competitors are wont to do. As such, the handling is sharp, turning in immediately and returning a very connected feeling to the driver. As expected of any Aston Martin, the exhaust is the most joyful part about it, prompting you to rev at every opportunity. Despite being a “track-focused” car, it’s one that can still be tolerably driven to the track and back.
If the V8 is found lacking, the further up the rung is the Vantage V12. It can be distinguished by the hood vents and aggressive black wheels. Opting for four more cylinders will be rewarded with a full 565 bhp to boast of that can rocket the car to 100 km/h in just 4.1 seconds. That surge is accompanied by a bellow that is both spine-tingling and pleasing. It's also adrenaline pumping and slightly frightening ech time.
Unlike the N430, the V12 Vantage is much better appointed, with generous use of leather, a Bang and Olufsen sound system and a softer ride than the N430. Nonetheless, it can still misbehave with a press of the Sport mode that opens up the exhaust, shifts later and stiffens the steering.
Easily the biggest surprise of the day was the drive in the Rapide, Aston Martin's four-door. Aston Martin representatives riding along with us cringed every time we called it a sedan or saloon. It's still a sports car, they insisted, and we'd find out why later.
It had the tamest design of the three, with nothing but the proud signature grille up in front. The side retains the marque's classic profile, in spite of the four doors. The rear door's handle is hidden in the pillar. Behind is a steeply raked hatch, that still provides enough room for overnight bags. It also shows off how well contoured the rear seats are.
Inside, the vehicle had the optional crystal key that lights up when inserted into the ignition. Up above is a quilted leather ceiling. On the second row are LCD screens on the seatbacks.
Appointments aside, the Rapide is the most comfortable of the lineup, with adaptive damping able to provide a truly magic carpet pampering ride. It's set to adaptive mode by default, returning a soft ride but slowly stiffens as the speed builds and if steering inputs are quick. We were even encouraged to take on speed bumps as fast as 40 km/h, feeling like nothing more than an undulation in the road.
It may not offer the best leg or head-room, but can carry much more with the rear seats folded down. As such, the Rapide is best enjoyed in the driver’s seat, where it offers exceptional acceleration, handling and stability in spite of its size. It cleverly disguises its length with the driving feel, with the Sport mode of the adaptive damping quickly transforming it into a potent coupe.
If there’s anything the day with Aston Martins proved, it’s that their blend of sport and luxury is rather unique, mixing British refinement with a dash of Italian flair. The performance is definitely there, but it endeavors to please with simpler things, like its timeless form, crystal keys, clean and classy speedo and tachometer gauges that wind up in opposite directions, or the signature growl that is equal parts Italian tenor and hairy-chested aggression. And best of all, those that want a piece of it need only prepare just a tad more than the average R8 or Porsche 911 price tag, but just below that of Ferrari and Lamborghini. It's some clever positioning for the newest and coolest cat in town.