Compared to other high-end sports cars, Aston Martin’s Vantage has become relatively affordable. We drive the more sought-after N420 derivative.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Images: Simon Luckhoff
Aston Martin has been using the Vantage nameplate for decades, from the 1950s to be precise. Following the unveiling of a concept model and then the release of the modern version at the 2005 Geneva Motor Show, penned by Henrik Fisker, the company's "entry-level" car is arguably one of the prettiest modern Aston Martins of all time.
This might have been launched as the new "baby" Aston Martin, but it quickly became a favourite among enthusiasts. Over the years Aston Martin has released several special edition models and fitted both V8 and V12 engines to this relatively compact sports car.
It is a machine that for many encompasses some of the core principles of a sports car: gorgeous design, performance and even a basic level of practicality. Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the enduring design of the Vantage is certainly appreciated by most enthusiasts.
Although the current Vantage model has moved the game on in terms of quality and performance with the help of a contract with Mercedes-Benz, the previous Vantage model has quickly risen to modern classic status. This is partly attributed to the fact that prices of entry-level models have dipped to as low as R500 000 for a high-mileage example. Make no mistake, running costs are still higher than an equivalent Porsche of the same value. After all, these were expensive, thoroughbred sports cars when they were new...
As the owner of this limited-edition N420 told me, for him the Vantage is sort of the “new 911”, in a way. By this he meant that you get a lot of performance and style for a respectable price. At the same time, some buyers tend to miss out when they look at this price bracket and don’t even consider these cars.
What makes the N420 special is that only 420 units were made. Although power from the engine remained unchanged (420bhp), some of the upgrades included a new and lighter exhaust system and carbon-fibre-backed sport seats. In total Aston Martin managed to shave 27kg of weight from the standard car. Stiffer suspension was fitted and those beautiful wheels are 1kg lighter (each) than the standard items.
Behind the wheel
This N420 is painted in Asia Pacific Cup White while the black cant rails offer a strong contrast. The 19-inch wheels fill the arches perfectly and when you open the doors they move, as in Aston tradition, slightly upwards. This is not only an elegant design touch, but also practical when you park next to a high kerb in town.
The cabin is compact, but behind the seats is a parcel shelf for odds and ends or a soft bag. The Alcantara-clad steering wheel with the manual gearlever are two of the elements that immediately add a healthy dose of visual excitement.
Although there is a long bonnet stretching out in front of you, from the moment you pull off, there is a compact nature to the car’s footprint that is not always the case with front-engined sports cars.
Cape Town’s Signal Hill road is a favourite route for one and all, be it to hike up Signal Hill itself, or to tackle a few corners in an entertaining car. Driven with a level of enthusiasm the N420 is truly in its element. The stubby gearlever offers a welcome direct shift action through the six-speed ‘box, while little input is needed through the steering wheel to point the nose of the car into the desired direction.
The 4.7-litre V8 engine (which started as a 4.3-litre in the earlier models) is eager to rev when you want to press on. At the same time you could make use of the substantial torque and cruise around in the middle of the rev range, still easily leaving traffic behind.
There is a solid, structural feeling throughout the car. This can partly be attributed to the strut braces which can be viewed when you open the engine lid. The 235/40 tyres up front and 275/35 tyres at the rear provide high levels of grip and you can lean on them with confidence through the corners. The N420 is no lightweight, however, tipping the scales at over 1 600kg, but it hides its weight very well.
When these cars were launched they were often viewed as being slightly behind in terms of technology versus some German rivals. Time has been very kind to them though and the Vantage has matured to become a very likable sports car. This particular example has only done 17 970km, and has been properly looked after. Even the cabin has aged well.
As the sun starts to set behind the mountain over the Atlantic Ocean, I head down the twisting, nicely cambered road one last time and enjoy the rumbling exhaust note, and can't help but admire the overall composure. It is a rather attractive proposition and indeed a modern classic in every sense of the word.
Searching for a Vantage
At the time of writing there were eight previous-generation Vantages for sale on Cars.co.za. Unquestionably the V12 Vantage S is the one to have, but I would rate a V8 manual as the second best option. This is especially the case in terms of collectability as most of those on sale were fitted with the less-desirable automatic transmission.
2010 Aston Martin Vantage V8 N420
Weight: 1 630kg
Engine: 4.7-litre, V8
Power: 313kW at 7 300rpm
Torque: 470Nm from 5 000rpm
Top speed: 290kph
0-100 km/h: 4.9 seconds
Gearbox: six-speed, manual, RWD