Test Drive: 2019 Aston Martin Vantage

Behind the wheel of the all-new sportscar in Portugal’s Algarve region

All-new and set to be the brand’s top-selling model, the 2019 Aston Martin Vantage is potentially the most important car Aston has made yet. That wouldn’t be anything new for Vantage; the nameplate is the British sportscar maker’s best-selling model ever, and the new Vantage (not merely updated, or refreshed) is sure to carry on that torch.

There’s a new guard in Gaydon, England, and the directive from the C-suite on through to the design and engineering teams was to further differentiate the line-up. The result is a more aesthetically and dynamically unique Aston Martin, created from the ground up. And while the 2019 Vantage will soon hit dealerships as the most accessible car bearing the Aston badge, it also may also be the most fun one yet. We went to Portugal’s Algarve region to get behind the wheel and learn what makes it so unique.

Compared with its elegant and new grand-touring sibling, the Aston Martin DB11, the aesthetic of the Vantage is downright aggressive. That’s intentional. When Andy Palmer had taken on the role as Aston Martin Lagonda’s new chief executive, he said Aston Martin was known for beautiful sportscars, but that he was also aware people couldn’t often differentiate one from the other. While the new DB11 GT was a stunner, Vantage had to be visually unique.

Out on the Portimao racetrack, the Lime Essence-colored track cars are visually arresting. Thin LED lights at the front and rear create a strong graphic, and an aggressive integrated front splitter (that helps channel air flow at the front and bottom of the car) denotes the sportier character of the Vantage. An integrated side gill serves both an aerodynamic function relieving a high-pressure zone when Vantage is driven at speed, but also adds to the muscular physique.

Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman says the goal was to distill Vantage’s essence into “the forms, surfacing, stance and signature details.” Furthermore, if you push DB11, you get a little bit of lift at the front, and downforce at the rear. With all of its aerodynamic sculpting and work, Vantage profits from downforce both front and rear. In fact, it has three times more downforce than DB11 at maximum velocity. And even without knowing there was a 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine paired to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with paddle shifters, capable of producing 503 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque, you immediately get the sense that this is a true, extremely capable sportscar.

When asking Aston Martin Chief Engineer Matt Becker what he thinks the single greatest difference between the new Vantage, and the old, the answer was simple: “It’s the e-diff.” This is the first Aston ever to be fitted with an Electronic-Differential. As Becker explains, “What that allows us to do is vary the amount of torque across the rear axle that we have, which allows you to make the car very short, very agile. Add in tricks like Dynamic Torque Vectoring, and because we can open up the diff, it’s like putting a pole in the ground when you’re skiing. So the car will rotate very quickly.”

We experienced this first-hand on the famed racing circuit’s elevating crests, blind corners, and aggressive turns. Despite downpour conditions on the track, the Vantage remained sharp, responsive, and communicative. A large part of that is the ability to pair with the electronic stability control to send power instantly to the needed rear-wheel, using an algorithm that factors in things like speed and steering input. The e-diff is one of “many tools in Vantage’s performance toolbox,” but Becker insists it’s the single most important in creating the Vantage’s dynamic capability.

There are other differentiators, too. While the DB11 sports Bridgestone tires, the Vantage opts for 20-inch 255/40 Pirelli P Zeros. It’s not just swapping rubber, one supplier for another, Bridgestone to Pirelli. In this case Pirelli worked with Aston to develop a compound specifically for the Vantage, a specialized version of the vaunted P Zero. Generally found on top-end performance cars, the specially-formulated P Zeros further differentiate Aston’s newest rocket. That excellent grip provided by the new tires also help Vantage propel to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds, and reach a top speed of 195 mph, placing it in very elite company. While rain wreaked havoc on the track, the car remained within our control, even at speed, through the Algarve circuit’s long straightaway, and under hard braking and duress.

While modern cars go through a great range of testing and development, Vantage was put to the extremes. Deep-freeze Arctic ice-testing was done in Northern Sweden, while high-intensity heat testing was done in Southern Italy, at the Nardò racetrack, and surrounding roads. While sportscar and supercar owners would (and should) expect as much, there’s a bit of confidence-inspiring work done on Vantage that should alleviate potential buyers concerns, as well.

Despite the fact that most Vantage owners likely have a few cars in their garages and most won’t see that many miles in a year, with the help of the Suchi Data Logger, more than 150 different things are monitored. A daily report is then sent back to Gaydon. Smith says the team back at Aston’s UK headquarters analyzes the data, and any notes Smith and his team have added. “If we spot something that seems a little irregular, we can have a chat. This stage is all about identifying anything that could possibly come up, and troubleshooting if needed.”

The measurements include: ambient air temperature; barometric air pressure; engine oil temperature; engine oil pressure; temperatures on the transmission, differential, brake fluid, damper, suspension bush, and more. Inside the cabin readings are taken from the instrument cluster surface, A/C vent, and general ambient air. Even the driver and passenger’s head temperatures are measured. Outside of the cabin there are sensors on the rear bumper harness, and trunk floor, to name a few.

There’s a dizzying amount of data and telemetry involved to make sure when the car eventually reaches the road, or the track, it’s in top form.

Having sourced the 4.0-liter engine from the ever-capable hands of AMG, Aston—famous for the gratifying sound of its cars—had an excellent starting point with which to work. But with a new intake, and completely reworked engineering to fit Vantage’s performance envelope, naturally, the sound received some tuning, and sounds a bit different, as well. We drove both twin-pipe, and quad-pipe versions of the Vantage. The quad-pipes give off a slightly more sonorous song, with more mid- and high-frequency notes. On the Portimao Circuit, we were mostly in third or fourth gear, going up through the seventh on the long straight away, reaching more than double freeway speeds in most US states; regardless of which gear, each shift in Sport Plus driving mode offered a satisfying note that reinforced Vantage’s more aggressive character.

With Vantage, Aston Martin looked to integrate the powertrain, transmission, suspension, and steering, to create greater dynamic harmony. This comes in the form of three distinct modes: Sport, Sport Plus, and Track. Noticeably gone is the DB11’s fourth “GT” mode, as the Vantage is intended “to never be anything less than a sportscar.” The suspension features an Adaptive Damping System with Skyhook technology, that adjusts damping based on the selected mode. The modes affect everything from throttle response—what you feel when you smash down on the gas—to suspension, and steering feel.

On the slick track in the wet, and on more dynamic roads, we were often in Sport Plus. In town and when cruising on more trafficked roads of the popular resort and vacation enclave, Sport proved satisfactory. In that mode, the suspension is at its most supple, the exhaust is a few decibels more quiet. At any time however, you can switch the mode and instantly awaken the waiting beast.

Images courtesy of Aston Martin