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The 2020 Aston Martin Vantage Is Missing a Spark

Aston's newest Vantage has elements of brilliance but doesn't come together as a package.

© Mack Hogan   Aston's newest Vantage has elements of brilliance but doesn't come together as a package.

By Mack Hogan, Road & Track

Aston Martin's products have always had quirks; Volvo-sourced infotainment, befuddling controls, random quality issues. But those were easily forgiven, accepted as tradeoffs for incredible designs and sonorous V-12s that made your eyes go big.

But there's little room in this world for a small, lovable British firm toiling away on new V-12s and producing only the most pure-blooded sports and GT cars. The company, perpetually strapped for cash and now untethered to any one corporate overlord, has to mature and compromise to get by. Part of that means taking help where it can get it, which is why the Vantage borrows its engine and cabin tech from Mercedes as part of a partnership with Daimler AG. That means the engine will probably work reliably for years to come and the infotainment will always connect to your phone, but you can't help but notice Aston Martin lost something in the process.

© Aston Martin   aston martin vantage

Even if you haven't driven one, you know what to expect from an Aston Martin. Grumbly exhaust, dramatic styling, lots of leather. Big shift paddles, a bulging hood, and that low, wide grille alluded to the aggressive, 503-hp V-8. The Vantage looks best in a brighter color like the highlighter-chic "Lime Essence," which emphasizes the low, black grille and the contrasting diffuser. But even in a tame shade, like this tester's "Ultramarine Black," the car stands out among the endless variants of Porsche 911.

Get in the driver's seat and the cabin makes you aware of Aston's limited resources. The interior is well-coated in leather, but its bulging shapes, circular controls, and squared-off wheel feel cobbled together. There's no elegance, no sense of cohesion. Even the key feels cheap, a glossy plastic brick with none of the bar-table-thunk credibility that the old crystal "emotional control unit" had. At least the Aston Martin name carries weight.

© Aston Martin   aston martin vantage

The good news is that the company's roots show through. The Vantage is a comfortable grand tourer. Potholes and speed bumps still register with a sharp jolt, but the Vantage is docile in heavy traffic and subdued during high-speed cruising. When the road gets twisty, it's agile and compliant.

The Vantage scoots to 60 in 3.3 seconds (per Car and Driver testing) thanks to the AMG-sourced 4.0 liter, 503 hp V-8, but doesn't feel ferocious along the way. The exhaust can't match the roar of the AMG GT, while the ZF eight-speed doesn't flick through gears with the decisiveness of the best dual-clutch transmissions. It's particularly confounding when you consider that this exact engine is hooked up to a crisp, well-programmed dual-clutch transaxle in the AMG GT. Instead of borrowing more from Mercedes, Aston opted to program the usually excellent ZF 8HP automatic to work with the AMG V-8. It falls short.

That gearbox doesn't match the playful tuning of the suspension, which lets the rear end swing out when you cut its electronic leash. But since you don't get any information from the steering wheel, it can be tough to have confidence in the car. It likely didn't help that my test car was on performance winter tires and that temperatures throughout the weekend hovered around 40 degrees.

© Mack Hogan   aston martin vantage

Dynamically, it handles well, lets go predictably, and—unlike most high-dollar sports cars—doesn't produce insane power for power's sake. The problem is that there's not one part of this car that worms into your brain, that gives you the head-over-heels feeling you want from a $150,000 sports car. Optioned up to our tester's $170,609 MSRP, it's hard to think of anything about the Vantage that feels novel in the company of its competitors.

Sure, it looks good, but even fans of Aston's new styling language can't argue in good faith that this is as captivating as the DBS or as elegant as the previous-generation Vantage. More to the point, borrowing good parts from a bigger company is entirely justifiable if you can use them as part of a better, more captivating product. For all the effort Aston put in, though, it built a car that's neither as fun or as well-sorted as the AMG GT with which it shares an engine.

To buy a Vantage over the AMG GT or any of the other sport coupes you can get for six figures, you have to really care about it being an Aston Martin. That brand—the racing, the James Bond connection, the achingly beautiful designs of years before—have to matter to you. Because while its step toward AMG part sharing will help the company survive, the product itself seems to have lost some of its charm.

© Mack Hogan   aston martin vantage

See more at: Road & Track

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Autos Magazine: The 2020 Aston Martin Vantage Is Missing a Spark
The 2020 Aston Martin Vantage Is Missing a Spark
Aston's newest Vantage has elements of brilliance but doesn't come together as a package.
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