There are mutterings among the more cynical observers within the auto industry that Aston Martin has run out of steam – that the brave new post-Newport Pagnell era at Aston has finally ground to a halt, creatively if not financially as well. On the surface, you can understand why some might believe this to be so. Having created its excellent VH platform in 2002 and then given us a range of cars that has made as much sense individually as it has collectively, Aston does appear to be offering us more of the same again.
First comes this car, the slightly redesigned, slightly more potent Vantage S. And, later this month, we'll see the new Virage, whose mission is to plug the gap between the DB9 and the DBS while resurrecting a name from the past that is hardly synonymous with greatness.
Yet in reality, all Aston Martin can be accused of – certainly with the launch of this new Vantage S – is making a natural, entirely welcome range of improvements to a car that was already touched by genius. In that sense, Aston Martin is merely doing what Porsche has done to the 911 a zillion times over, to its huge financial (and technical) gain. Heck, the current Vantage is yet to celebrate its 10th birthday, whereas the 911 is homing in on its 50th.
In light of which, it's hard to view the $140,000 ($153k for the roadster), 430hp Vantage S as anything but a logical progression of the species. As Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez himself admits: "We do not need a revolution at Aston Martin right now," (because we've got the company right where we want it to be, thank you, and we're not about to throw that away because times are tough, reads the subtext).
The real advances concern the car's steering (which has a quicker, sharper rack), its suspension (which is "just about new from the ground up," the company says) and the gearbox – a brand-new 7-speed, paddle-shift item designed in conjunction with Graziano that's lighter and offers 20 percent faster shifting than its 6-speed predecessor, and features closer ratios than anything offered previously in a Vantage, be that V8 or V12. Impressively, overall weight is down some 66lbs from the entry-level V8.
The styling has also been tweaked to give the V8 more visual muscle, although not to the point where you'd mistake it for the full-fat V12. Even the brakes are bigger, front and rear, as are the 19in. wheels and tires.
On the road, the differences are immediately apparent and center on four areas: the steering (particularly when in Sport mode), the fantastic new NASCAR-like bark from the V8 and the superior shift quality of the new gearbox. Oh, yes, and the new suspension, which somehow manages to make the Vantage S feel sharper at speed but more compliant over rough roads than before. It's far better resolved than the last V8 Vantage I drove, which was fitted with the optional sport suspension.
What it adds up to is a car that may look pleasingly familiar but is, in fact, considerably better to drive in every dimension – one that's both quicker and more refined than any other V8 to date, but also more rousing to drive. Not exactly a car that it is easy – or appropriate – to be cynical about, in other words.