Aston Martin offers a V8 Vantage that costs under $100,000. That means you can cross-shop a new Aston with a Jaguar F-Type R. But is the 2015 V8 Vantage GT a bargain, or a desperate ploy to sell a 10-year-old sports car facing its end times. We found out.
(Full Disclosure: Aston Martin wanted us to drive the V8 Vantage GT so bad, they flew me to the UK to see how its new cars are made, and how its old cars are re-made, and then to Germany to the Nürburgring 24 to see Chris Harris help race one of their Vantage racecars to a class podium. I'd never been. Next year, I want to go back and camp in a Unimog. Who's in?)
Suppose you could walk into a BMW dealer today and get a 2004 BMW E46 M3, brand new, for $30,000. How about a 2005 Acura NSX with a warranty and the smell of fresh adhesives thick in the air for $60,000 out the door? What about a 2006 Ferrari F430 with zero mileage for less than $130,000? I'm willing to bet – to paraphrase Martin Landau's washed-up producer in "Entourage" – that's something you might be interested in.
How about an Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT for under $100 grand? It's the same principle, but this one is real.
Ten years ago, Beyonce was the middle one in Destiny's Child, Justin Bieber was in fourth grade and naming a web site "Jalopnik" seemed like a good idea. And the Aston Martin V8 Vantage was mere weeks away from being delivered to its first customers.
First shown as a concept in 2003 at the Detroit auto show, the V8 Vantage was a "new direction" for the then-Ford-owned Aston Martin. It was a smaller than its Aston contemporaries, built with a high-tech Erector set of bonded aluminum called VH (vertical, horizontal). The name wasn't a technical description. It meant the platform was adaptable to a full line of cars of differing wheelbase lengths, a fact made clear by its initial use: underpinning the larger, V12-powered DB9.
Next to the sexy DB9, the Vantage looked like an English bulldog puppy, but was closer in attitude to a bantam rooster. It had a front-mid-mounted, 4.3-liter V8 connected by carbon-fiber prop shaft to a transaxle at the rear. It had a taut, curvy body shape designed by Ian Callum and Henrik Fisker, who found a way to make the Vantage look fresh, not a pastiche of past designs. It was quick enough and mercifully well-balanced, the most driver-focused Aston Martin built since the late '50s. And it had an intriguing base price of around $110,000, making it the most affordable Aston as well, roping in buyers long priced out of the company's fold.
Fast forward to 2014. Jalopnik is still here, and not much has changed with the V8 Vantage, except the price (yes, higher). The engine displaces more volume (4.7 liters) and makes more power. With the V8 Vantage S, introduced in 2011, the steering rack quickened, the suspension stiffened and its engine aggresiv..., er, aggressened to 430 hp at 7,300 rpm and 361 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. Weight went down and braking force went up. Add to that build-quality improvements and subtle refinements that come from doing the same thing over and over for an entire decade, and you're starting to get why the new V8 Vantage GT can be mentioned in the same breath as more recently updated models.
During the same period, just about everyone else in the performance-car world moved on to squeaky new tech: weird, algorithmic steering; rapid-fire, dual-clutch semi-autos (or slick new automatics); artificially aspirated, flat-torque-curve, sonically challenged tinderboxes, and fancy stability programs that would let my late grandmother hang out the tail of a new Stingray at 100 mph, assuming she'd taken a driving lesson since 1919. And even then.
In our modern world, the V8 Vantage — due for a major overhaul within the half-decade — seems quaint. It offers throwback tech like hydraulically boosted steering, fixed damping and an un-boosted, peaky V8. It's the kind of thing people pay big money for in the used-car market. Just ask anyone who's bought an air-cooled Porsche 911 lately how much they paid for it, and prepare to be gobsmacked.
And so, with the V8 Vantage nearing the end of a lengthy product cycle, Aston Martin's product planners devised the V8 Vantage GT, which can be had for around the same base price as a Jaguar F-Type R. The Jag is perhaps more spry and, thanks to its supercharged V8, has more power at lower revs than the Aston, but suffers from light, feedback-challenged steering and no manual transmission. Still, it's the perfect foil to the V8 Vantage, which is why the next great comparo you'll want to read will match up these two cars on a great road.
So here we are. Checking out the V8 Vantage in GT guise, it's clear this is a very smart move on Aston's part. It has heaps of driving character, a gorgeous figure, manual transmission, a high-revving, naturally aspirated V8, feelsome steering and brakes, neutral handling, mechanical limited-slip, and an unfussy, well-damped ride quality. If you like those things, you'll like the GT, which is basically a V8 Vantage S with some packaging decisions made for you.
For one, you can choose from a fixed selection of base colors and accents, two of which were inspired by Aston Martin racing colors of the past – Alloro Green (with yellow), from Stirling Moss's Le Mans DBR1/300; Mariana Blue (with red), from Bobby Parkes's Morecambe Rally-winning DB2/4 – or Jet Black (with gray), Skyfall Silver (with white) or Speedway White (with red).
Color accents show up vividly on the grille "lipstick," mirror caps, cant rails (not on the roadster) and rear diffuser blade, although they can be deleted in all-or-nothing fashion. Also standard are diamond-turned alloys painted in graphite, black headlamp bezels and clear tail lamps with black surrounds. An alcantara-covered steering wheel is a no-cost, and absolutely essential, option. None of the cars we drove had the white stripe you saw on the launch car. (In Europe, Aston sells the GT as the N430, or Nürburgring + horsepower, a moniker they didn't think would resonate with Americans.)