Why so serious?
It’s been a little while since I’ve been behind the wheel of the new Vantage, which just a few years on doesn’t feel quite so new any longer. At the 2018 launch of the car, a few days zipping around a rain-soaked Portugal, the car was fresh and exciting, the second big step forward for an Aston Martin in the process of being rebuilt mid-flight.
LikeStunning looksV8 is strong and sweetHeritage doesn’t get better
Don’t LikeSchizophrenic drive modesDated interior tech
Now, with CEO Andy Palmer out and his vision for the brand’s rebirth in question, it’s hard to not look at the Vantage in a different light. This car, the second new model to get a thorough makeover, was repositioned to move it farther away from the venerable DB series. The Vantage is literally edgier, riddled with aerodynamic devices and tuned to feel up on its toes and ready for a fight.
In Portugal, on a passionate day-long encounter, I confess I was pretty smitten by the thing. Now, in the real world, on imperfect roads and small towns much closer to home, the Vantage is a bit more of an acquired taste.
The first strike against this particular car is the color, Ultramarine Black, mated with a pair of optional black trim packages. I know that blacked-out everything is trendy, and on many cars it looks great, but here all the aggressive detailing — the massive front splitter, the striking fender vents, that duck-tailed shape of the rear — just gets lost in the shadows.
In some ways that’s for the best, as the plastic shrouding round the exhausts is a bit much much and this color package effectively mutes it, and viewed up close in direct sunlight, that Ultramarine paint does have a lovely sapphire glint. The result is a car that looks a bit anonymous, and that’s a damned shame. I was completely smitten by the eye-searing new Vantage the first time I saw it in the flesh. This one would be easy to lose in a parking lot.
2020 Aston Martin Vantage looks better when it’s brighter
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There’s nothing anonymous about the interior, though the too-dark trend continues here. The distinctive look and feel is similar to the DB11, including the continued use of the industry’s worst door handles, perfectly designed to pinch your fingers at every use. The materials are good and I like the squircle steering wheel, plus the generously sized shift paddles, but the Mercedes-sourced infotainment system that was such a leap forward a few years ago now feels hugely dated. Meanwhile, the center console is a mess of random buttons with unclear iconography.
It doesn’t help that those buttons surround a blank spot that, on the 2021 model, makes room for a proper manual transmission. Alas what we have here in this car is an eight-speed auto. That’s actually not as bad as it sounds. I have few complaints about how the hardware performs, shifting smoothly about town and delivering rapid-fire performance when you reach for those column-mounted paddles.
Indeed, when found in a Mercedes-Benz, this transmission does a wonderful job. Here, it’s seemingly been programmed with economy in mind, as if this ultra-aggressive sports car thinks you’re on a hypermiling run. In Sport mode, the Vantage hops up to eighth gear at just 45 mph. Even in Sport Plus mode the car seems determined to keep the V8 at idle. This economy-minded behavior netted me 19.8 mpg in my week with the car — right on the 20 mpg combined EPA rating.
I suppose it can’t be a Bond car without a lot of buttons.
Max Earey/Aston Martin
To get the drivetrain to wake the hell up you have to toggle all the way up to Track mode. Suddenly, everything comes alive. The slushbox gets an adrenaline injection and the 503-horsepower, 4.0-liter turbocharged V8 becomes hyper-responsive. The exhaust, generally quite docile, now barks and pops at every opportunity. It’s a proper thrill if you’re really ready to go at it hard, though a bit much for those drives when you want to have a spirited run without waking up everyone in the county.
Toggling between those drive modes is still irritatingly sluggish and, making matters worse, must be done in sequence. You can’t jump from Sport Plus back down to Sport without cycling through Track first, occasionally resulting in an unwanted exhaust backfire or three when doddling into town.
Doddling is just not something this car is particularly good at. Driven aggressively, the Vantage is engaging and edgy and manages to feel fun even when you’re not going some multiple of the speed limit. In this price bracket, that’s a rarity.
But it’s when you dial it back that the rough edges begin to show. Even in its softest suspension setting the Vantage feels nervous, a contrast to the stoic nature of that German powertrain. It’s like the car has a bit of an identity crisis, one that no combination of button presses can help.
The Vantage has character, but it’s always difficult to weigh character against the polished charm of something like a 911 Carrera S, which makes do with less power but comes for substantially less money and does a far better job of toggling between sedate and screaming. And of course there’s the sublime Mercedes-AMG GT, which offers much of the same thrust in an impeccably refined package.
How much money are we talking about, by the way? The starting price of a 2020 Aston Martin Vantage Coupe is $149,995 and, for that, the car comes relatively well equipped, including the infotainment system, 360-degree camera and the eight-way power sports seats. You really don’t have to tick any boxes here, which is a rarity in this segment. Other than a heated steering wheel and a premium sound system, I probably wouldn’t tick many boxes. That said, the desaturated example you see here carries roughly $17,000 in cosmetic upgrades, mostly for that black trim plus the wheels and exhaust. Add that to a $3,086 destination charge and you’re looking at a suggested retail price of $170,609.
Far from a bargain, but if you’re someone who prizes rarity, pedigree and exotic looks, the Vantage comes in well below other supersport exotics like the McLaren 570GT and indeed Aston’s own DB11. The Vantage stands apart from the crowd and no longer gets lost in its own family portraits. Just make sure you have room to let it run before you add one to your own family.