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Test Drive: Aston Martin Vantage S

The British luxury sportscar maker's "power suit" answer to the muscle car

by Ryan McManus in Design on 14 March 2011

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Recently announced at Geneva, the Aston Martin Vantage S is the newest incarnation of the luxury automaker's smaller, welterweight sports car, falling in between the base V8 and the V12. With the letter "S" indicating everything from a totally reworked, sublime driving experience to a couple bits of carbon and an oversized spoiler, we were curious to find out how Aston defined this upgrade. We had the opportunity to find out when invited to the "Two Hearts, One Soul" launch, where Aston unveiled the Vantage S and the new Virage in Ronda, Spain.

The Vantage S is like a Vantage V12 but with a V8 engine, impressively adding 10 brake horsepower more than the base model. The result is a lighter car that's more balanced, but benefits from all of the Vantage V12's good looks, tighter steering and throttle progression. Upgraded from an oil-cooled six-speed gearbox, the air-cooled seven-speed by Graziano translates into weight savings, a livelier gear ratio and more usable torque through the range. Carbon fiber is applied in places that makes sense, like lightweight bucket seats that were stiff but comfortable (and unfortunately not available in the States).

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Driving the Vantage S Volanté convertible around southern Spain, the car was relaxed and poised—as easy to pilot through tight streets in town as it is on long curving country roads. Simply pressing the "sport" button, holding down the DSC button for four seconds and engaging the paddles transforms this car from a laid-back GT into a growling rocket. The luxuriously comfortable interior (though taller drivers will find the headroom snug) had an optional 1000W Bang and Olufsen stereo with iPod integration that provided an impressive soundtrack—when we didn't have the volume down to hear the throaty V8.

The Vantage S is brash, addictive fun and you find yourself wanting to push the throttle open just to hear the exhaust reverberate through the countryside. A stripped-down sports car, the model is a near perfectly weight balance with a mid-mounted V8 up front driving the rear wheels.

After a quick lesson from Simon Dickinson, lead Performance Driving Instructor at Aston Martin, we took the Vantage S Coupé on the track and through the paces at Ascari. Braking hard into a corner and turning the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, you feel the bespoke Bridgestone tires bite in. Down-shifting into second using the column-mounted shift paddles, when you hit the gas the car hurtles down a straight, leaving you smiling like a total maniac.

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The unmistakably gorgeous car combines the original Vantage's classic beauty with the V12's aggressive curves. This is not a flashy machine (at least not when compared to its Italian counterparts) but it is brawny. At some angles, it even recalls the golden era of American Muscle fastbacks like the Mustang Mach 1. If the original Vantage was a charcoal gray suit, the Vantage S is a double-breasted pinstripe—it's extravagant, but pulls it off nicely—and more like our current 007 than the Bond of yore.

There are faster, more capable cars for the money, like a Porsche 911 Turbo or an Audi R8, and the Vantage S will likely never top this category on numbers alone. The GPS unit is a 2010 model, not the Garmin-designed one available in the Virage, and it's sub-par by even the most generous standards. The interior can go from subtle to boy racer really quickly if you choose the wrong color combinations, and it unfortunately doesn't have a manual transmission as an option. The seven-speed auto-box is fine, quick enough for most people, but it doesn't replace the driver interaction of manipulating a stick.

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These flaws are part of the point of owning an Aston Martin, however, and what makes the Vantage S such a rewarding car. It's not the perfect machine or the popular choice, but it is a supremely rewarding alternative, a statement that one's interests lie not in pure performance numbers or pure status, but in a mix of history, style, design and performance. The Vantage S is—in a single word—gratifying.

The Aston Martin Vantage S Coupé will retail at $132,000, or $151,000 for the convertible Volanté. Contact Aston Martin for purchasing details.

Images by Ryan McManus

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