First Drive: 2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT

 

“Porsche who?” I hollered with a chuckle, as I threw the blue-and-red 2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT into a hard left-hander in the mountains outside Santa Monica, California.

Stomping on the throttle as I exited the turn, the little Aston bellowed a loud and enlivening response to my cries, which filled my ears – and those of anyone within a half mile – with the sounds of unrestrained 4.7-liter V8. It sounded like heaven and hell crashing together … but in a good way.

I grabbed the shifter, stomped the clutch and yanked the gearbox into fourth. The engine once again roared, as the lines separating my body — my being – from the car around me seemed to blur, just like the trees, rocks, and houses blurred by the windows, as we rapidly gained speed.

At that moment — where man and machine hit a harmonious vibration and connection — I realized I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was at home.

Forgetting

I’ve been writing about cars for about five years now. In that time, I’ve driven most everything I’d ever dreamed to: Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Aston Martins (obviously), Bentleys, and Rolls-Royces. But last fall, I found myself in a bit of a funk. Nearing the end of a dream-come-true year, I came to a hard realization: They’re just cars.

No matter how orange or V12-y, these wondrous lumps of steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber were just cars: wheeled things to get you from A to B.

It was this awareness that sent me off the rails a bit. I’d flown too close to the sun, it would seem.

Over the years, writing about cars had gone from a path spurred by passion to a flavorless task. It felt like I had ordered a steak and it show up overcooked. Yes, it’s still a steak, but chewing and swallowing it was an annoying chore.

For a few months, I was going through the motions, driving cars and writing about them without any real interest or excitement. I figured it’d take a while – and something really special — to restart my love of motoring. Delightfully for me, the jumpstart came sooner than I had expected.

Sitting behind the wheel of Aston’s V8 Vantage GT, I rediscovered my love of cars and for the art of driving.

For good reason

There’s good reason why this little car, the entry-level Aston, reignited my love of driving; it was designed to.

Aston looked at its line of handsome, dashing, powerful, and prodigious cars and realized there was something missing. Though each of its cars is a motoring masterpiece in its own right, the brand didn’t have a party piece, dedicated simply to art of driving. Accordingly, Aston engineers set to work creating the V8 Vantage GT.

They took their tried-and-true 4.7-liter V8, rejiggered the valved air intake system, and boosted the spark strategy. These changes added more air to the engine at higher rpm and also more effectively ignited the gasoline, creating more power and also more efficiency.

14-aston-martin-v8-vantage-gt-blue

The result is an engine — paired to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automated manual — that produces 430 horsepower and 361 pound-feet of torque. All told, the V8 Vantage GT will do 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 190 mph.

To ensure it stops as well as it goes, Aston engineers looked to their GT racing series and bolted up higher performance brakes and a quick-ratio steering rack. And, amazingly, they’ve priced it at $99,000, making it the introductory model to the Aston Martin range.

GT racer

Having driven the V12 Vantage S Roadster last fall, I wasn’t expecting the less powerful, cheaper version to be more enlivening or driver friendly. I was wrong.

After a few shifts, I became acclimated to the heavy but intuitive clutch, the positioning and heft of the gearbox shifter and its linkage, the weight and directness of the steering, and the response and wondrous sounds of the V8. Within minutes I felt like I wasn’t simply piloting a car, but rather operating a new appendage. Behind the wheel of the V8 Vantage GT, the car quickly became a part of me.

Honestly, no car has ever felt so intuitive so quickly. More often than not, it takes me several hours to know, without actively thinking about it, what a car is doing or how it is best operated — when to turn in, how much grip it’ll have, how fast I can shift the transmission.

Not so with the V8 Vantage GT. In a matter of moments, I was solving hints of understeer with a tap of the throttle, throwing the car into corners on foreign, mountain roads much harder than I would in anything else, and giggling like a little school boy in line for a surprise pancake breakfast.

With most of my other reviews, I am forced to dissect the components of the car and debate their merits. The brakes are fade-free, the suspension supple but stiff, and the steering well weighted and responsive. When I say things like this it serves two purposes: To evaluate the pieces and to also make up for the fact that the car didn’t give me an all-encompassing takeaway. The V8 Vantage GT did.

2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT

The handling was awe-inspiringly confident. With a flick of the steering wheel, I could send the plucky little Brit off in another direction – without any fear of loss of grip or competence. And with the Alcantara seats hugging my body tight, I could worry not about keeping myself upright, but looking to the next apex as the car bounded between the bends.

I mean, it is all those things; every component hits perfection. But its grin-inducing steering, for example, isn’t the story of the car; it’s the entire package. There are no weaknesses. There are shortcomings with this car. It is a shining beacon on the top of Mt. Driving Nirvana.

Looks as good as it goes

Thankfully, Aston’s design men didn’t simply add race-worthy parts to the car, slap a price tag on it, call it a day and tuck into a curry. Instead, they continued the performance narrative inside and out.

Designers wanted to give the introductory model a dark-themed exterior. Accordingly, it’s been blessed with painted, diamond-turned alloy wheels, black headlight bezels, side window surrounds, and textured taillight finishers.

They’ve made the optional paint schemes rather distinctive, too. The one I drove, for example, has navy-blue paint, a grey GT stripe down the side, and red accents on the grille surround, roofline, side mirrors, and brake calipers. I like to think of this one as the “Superman” color scheme.

2015 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT

Some of my fellow journalists said, if it were their car, they would have deleted the grey stripe. I thought it tied the lighter hue of the headlights into the body of the car, though, which gave it a brighter visual feel.

The same colors carried into the interior onto the Alcantara GT seats. Some might balk at a near-as-makes-no-difference $100,000 car not having leather. Once you take a corner at twice the speed your brain thinks reasonable, you’ll be glad you have Alcantara hugging your rear rather than slippery leather.

If it weren’t clear, I am deeply, deeply in love with this paint scheme. I find it the perfect blend between braggadocio and under-the-radar-style. Passersby noticed and appreciated but never grimaced. And that’s exactly the reaction I’d want from my entry-level Aston.

Conclusion

Lobbing the blue and red V8 Vantage GT through the hills that Los Angeles winter afternoon, sopping up the sounds and sensations of that car, has been forever lodged into my memory and deep into my heart.

Simply losing oneself in on a road, though, isn’t enough to justify plunking down 100 grand for a car. I mean, it is, if you have it to spare. To be worth that much to the rest of us, it’s got to be special … and, perhaps more importantly, better than the competition.

Yes, Porsche 911s are quieter inside and Jaguar F-TYPE R Coupes are quicker. Neither of those cars, though, pulls the driver in and transports him into another realm quite like the V8 Vantage GT.

I love the shoutiness of the Jag but, for as good as it is, it’s an imperfect machine. The 911 is far too clinical and sterile for my taste. Where the Germans use math to create such motoring mastery, the Brits harnessed their moxie to make the V8 Vantage GT so darn good.

Plus, for the money, buyers get an Aston Martin, which is cosmically cooler than — if I’m honest — any other brand on the planet. But, again, that’s not the whole story.

Unlike other cars, it’s not its quickness that defines it but rather the experience in total. The V8 Vantage GT brings mechanical parts together to create an experience, rather than just a driving machine. With this car, it’s not what it is exactly, but how it makes the driver feel.

There are intuitive cars out there, like the Mazda MX-5. There are fast track- and road-tamers, like the Nissan GT-R. And there are handsome lads like the aforementioned Jag. Thankfully, the V8 Vantage GT is all of those things … in one.

And it’s also the best driver’s car I’ve ever driven. I hope to spend some more time with it soon.

Highs

  • Relatively accessible pricing
  • Iconic and enviable exterior styling
  • Shout-y but not ear-shattering exhaust
  • Perfect driving dynamics
  • Intuitive driver engagement

Lows

  • I still can’t afford one