2011 Aston Martin Vantage S
We've had a great run in nearly every flavor of Aston in the past year and change. MotorAuthority kicked off 2010 with a late-winter run above Malibu in a DBS Convertible, and then descended on Valencia for a drive in the gorgeous Aston Rapide. Over the summer we parlayed an semi-free afternoon into a first drive of the V12 Vantage.
In the Vantage S, you're pulling the Aston ship into something more closely approaching reality-- a reality that includes the likes of the Maserati GranTurismo, Jaguar XKR and some flavors of the Porsche 911. On the outside, maybe the Ferrari California. That's an inside straight of beatific proportions, every car with its own inescapable hook, whether it emanates from under the hood or from a rear quarter. From about $138,000 to $151,000 for coupe and roadster versions, the Vantage S sweetly tunes up the base car to tighter track tolerance, while it's still wholly happy on almost every other surface.
From all visual takes and angles, it's only lightly touched up, not that it needed any more. The Vantage's faultless taste registers in nearly every detail, from the little upkicks at the end of the rear quarter windows to the arrow-pierced fender vents that probably kicked off the now-cliched craze. Okay, so the swap-outs for the S aren't all that subtle: how about carbon-fiber diffusers, 19-inch 10-spoke wheels, and bigger skirts and sills? They're still more sensitively appliqued than the visual 2x4 whacks you'd absorb from any wide-body 911. The embroidered logos on the seats and woven-metal trim inside are downright spare, if you've sniffed the spoiled meat that passes for tuner steak.
The engine only splits with the Vantage party line in small ways. The exhaust system opens up at 4000 rpm to bypass its more constricting low-rpm breathing passages, and the fine tune of Aston's throttle controls in Sport mode has been polished up. The net is 430 horsepower at 7300 rpm, and 361 pound-feet of torque up at 5000 rpm--good for a top speed of 189 mph, Aston claims, and a 0-60 mph time of about 4.5 seconds.
A single-clutch, automated-manual transmission with seven forward speeds brings the car to life when you press the D button on the dash--better yet, the S button--and pull one of the pair of metal paddles behind the steering wheel forward. Aston says the SportShift II is a lighter-impact, less-complex solution than a dual-clutch transmission, but faster than its usual SportShift automatic. Tied in tandem, the rear-driver's throaty V-8 and gearbox are rated at 14/21 mpg, decent for a near-exotic though off the Porsche 911's amazingly green marks by a fair amount.
The updates to the suspension, wheel-and-tire, and braking systems hone the Vantage S's handling into more of a killer weapon. The steering ratio screws down from 17:1 to 15:1. The shocks and springs are tauter, and the Potenza-shod rear wheels have grown to 10 inches wide. Six-piston front brake calipers clamp down on larger discs in front, backed up by four-piston units on the rear wheels. The stability control gets as permissive as you want--and you'll want to choose your yaw rates wisely as you drill deep into Ascari's more Gordian road knots.