To sports car lovers, the name Aston Martin conjures images of super-fast exotic machinery, unique British engineering, race victories at Le Mans and the personal transportation of one James Bond. That machine-gun equipped car in "Goldfinger," the one with the ejector seat? That would be 007's Aston Martin DB5.
Those who really know Aston Martins of years past have a broader picture. This one includes finicky carburetors, painful idiosyncrasies and distaste for rain.
The 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage promises a difference. While it's the least powerful car in Aston Martin's current lineup, it's also the least expensive car the company has sold in decades, and it will be built in far greater numbers than any before it. More important, it's designed to be driven everyday, if an owner is so inclined, with the ease of use and practical function (a relative term) that auto enthusiasts expect in off-the-rack sports cars like the Porsche Boxster or Nissan 350Z.
Don't get the wrong idea. With the price of admission starting well over $100,000, the V8 Vantage is anything but cheap. And it's gloriously fast (is 174 mph fast enough?). It accelerates with the enthusiasm of a cannon shot, turns with the agility of a figure skater and stops like an F14 Tomcat landing on the USS George Washington. In short, the 2006 V8 Vantage is as sexy as anything with four wheels has a right to be. It's the kind of machine every car enthusiast should be able to drive at least once in a lifetime.
Buying a car like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage is anything but a purely rational decision, so comparisons with other exotic sports cars like the Ferrari F430, Ford GT or even the Porsche 911 might be moot. Yet more than 400 miles at the wheel of a V8 Vantage, including some driving the typical sports car owner might consider abusive, suggest that this could indeed be an Aston Martin for everyday. The V8 Vantage is, however, more of a sports car than the DB9, which is more of a grand touring car built on a longer wheelbase. The V8 Vantage driver feels more connected to the road, the ride has a harder edge, and more noise comes into the cabin. That said, the V8 Vantage is not a minimalist sports car.
The 2006 V8 Vantage represents a new direction for Aston Martin, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Co. Previous V8 Vantages in Aston Martin's 91-year history (in the late 1970s and the late 1990s) were the most powerful cars in the company's lineup. The new V8 Vantage is the least powerful and least expensive. The idea that a $110,000 car might be entry level is ridiculous, to be sure, but the V8 Vantage is priced about $60,000 less than the DB9, which is next up the Aston Martin pecking order. It will be built at the rate of 3000 per year. Aston Martin built more prototypes to test and develop this V8 Vantage than it did copies of the original over its entire production run.
The two-seat, rear-drive 2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage ($110,000) is available in one model, with one 380-horsepower engine and one transmission. The price generously includes destination charge and gas guzzler tax. Drivers who want an automatic should click on another report, because the V8 Vantage's transmission is a conventional six-speed manual with a foot-operated clutch.
Standard equipment includes a leather interior with Alcantara headliner and real aluminum trim, 10-way power adjustable seats, automatic climate control, AM/FM/6CD stereo, trip computer, halogen projector headlights, LED taillights, an alarm, and seven-spoke 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
Options include a satellite navigation system ($2,655), a truly gorgeous full leather duo-tone interior ($1,900), 19-inch alloy wheels ($1,595), a premium audio system ($1,595), high-intensity discharge headlights ($795), cruise control ($450), and heated seats ($450). Some two dozen more options allow a high degree of personalization. Start with platinum interior hardware ($475) and personalized door sill plaques ($295). Match the steely hazel of your true love's eyes with "out of range" exterior paint ($1,595).
There's no dearth of safety equipment, either. The V8 Vantage starts with an extruded aluminum frame that is one of the sturdiest in serial production. It has front and side-impact airbags, traction control, the latest-generation ABS and a sophisticated electronic stability system to help manage skids. However, it does not have the head protection airbags installed in the Porsche 911, which is its key competitor.