"That's what I love about these high-school girls man. I get older, they stay the same age."
It's a quote by Matthew McConaughey playing the shady, but hunky part of David Wooderson in the movie Dazed and Confused. He's a late 20-something lowlife hanging around campus longer than he probably should, and he's referring to the annual crop of young ladies moving through the school ranks. And it applies nicely here.
If ever a car has filled up at the Fountain of Youth it's Aston Martin's Vantage. Originally styled in concept form back in 2003, it's certainly getting on in years, but somehow its lines have stood the test of time.
It'll probably remain a looker ten years from now; and likely forever after that. But all the while, freshman crops of younger, hotter performance models will appear on the scene and the Vantage will, like Wooderson, have no problem holding its own in attractiveness.
Aston Martin is also clever with its Vantage repackaging schemes and since its original launch in 2005 we've had a couple of tuned-up Nurburgring editions, a full-on stripped out GT4 racing special, a spicy Carbon Black edition and a range-topping V12 machete on wheels. And now the S, which falls in one branch below the V12 on the Vantage family tree.
On test here is a R2.3-million roadster version (coupé is R2.1-million) of the Vantage S. Power's up from 313kW and 470Nm in a normal V8 Vantage, to 321 and 490 by way of special air intakes and electronic mapping. It's also about 20kg lighter, the front brakes are bigger, the suspension's been modified, steering input's been reduced and the rear wheels are wider along with all four tyres.
Aston says the changes create a more driver-focused car. And yes, it does, but keep in mind that every Vantage ever offered was driver focused so the S's R300 000 premium over normal V8 models is iffy.
The S is laser-scope accurate as far as handling's concerned and, while there's no mistaking the ride for anything but supercar-like, its bump absorption qualities are still fine for daily commuting. Just mind the carbon-fibre front spoiler that's low enough to scoop cigarette butts off the N1 and its longish wheelbase that makes little Kilimanjaros out of school-zone speed bumps.
There's an iPod docking facility in the centre console that allows playback through the car's speakers and, although very small, you can view artist and track data on a digital screen in the dashboard. There's also a flip-up full-colour navigation system, but compared to systems in modern German cars, it's outdated and frustrating to use. Thankfully satnav is an option, and I'd probably leave it out.
The 4.7-litre V8's got the torque to pull you out of trouble from mistaken early gearchanges, and it'll keep you pressed against the seat back right up to almost 8000rpm. It's quite a raspy bugger though, especially on cold startups when it sounds like a baritone banshee with a streptococcal virus. But in a good way because a V8 with a sore throat is a beautiful sounding thing.
But, Aston Martin's rationale when it comes to gearboxes has left me dazed and confused. And I can't blame the Vantage's age here either because for this car they've fitted a brand new, seven-speed paddle-shift auto versus the normal V8 Vantage's speed unit.
For a reason that's beyond explanation it has stayed with an outdated robotised automation system that performs terribly. Yes, with seven gears the ratios can be tightened up, and the juiciest part of the rev range can be exploited bette, but robotised manuals are known for their extremely slow and jerky shifts, and driving smoothly in full auto mode is an impossibility.
Using the paddle shifters is a must at all times in the Vantage S so that you can hold gears to the absolute limit where upshifts are a little less conspicuous. Downshifts are no better and it sometimes feels as if there's no engine compression at all to help slow down. At times it's difficult to even detect the actual change-down. Please, Aston Martin, consider a manual or dual-clutch option in your otherwise "driver focused" car and scrap the robotised system forever.
As far as the electrically operated soft roof is concerned I'm very impressed, although roadster versions of "track day" cars are a little naff in my eyes. It's kind of like sharpening a sword for display on a mantlepiece. Pointless. Regardless, this roof retains the almost impossibly sexy Vantage lines whether up or down, and is excellently insulated from noise and the elements when erect.
The Aston Martin Vantage is an absolute stunner in each of its many guises, despite its age. It's also an extremely enjoyable drive, especially in S trim, but one that could be vastly improved with more modern gearbox technology or at least, in this case, a manual option. - Star Motoring