Hautos: Haute Living Test Drives the Aston Martin Vantage S

If ever there were a gentleman’s sports car manufacturer, Aston Martin would fit the bill. Sleek and understated, Aston is the automotive equivalent of Savile Row, a four-wheeled analog to a Super 150 wool suit. They may not achieve the outright performance of certain Italian competitors, but Aston Martins transcend the spandex and shark skin of other supercars with a tailored finesse that’s rich and textural, like a finely whipped chocolate mousse or a mahogany lined library.

So I was delighted to find myself skidding across the Ascari racetrack in southern Spain with hooliganistic abandon, tires screeching and tail sliding with a feral gusto that would make a stunt driver proud. The car was Aston Martin’s new Vantage S—the edgiest offering in the Vantage lineup—and the experience tapped into a rarely exposed aspect of the famously buttoned-down brand.

How do you transform the standard V8 Vantage into a sharper track toy? First, you boost horsepower and torque, bringing total output from the 4.7 liter V8 to 430 hp. Next, you completely redesign the transmission, incorporating a new Sportshift II unit by Graziano that adds a gear (for 7, total) and is capable of 20 percent quicker shifts than the model it replaces. A “Sport” button makes the gears shift faster and allows the engine to respond more immediately, and with a louder exhaust note. Accordingly, the traction control system has been re-calibrated for harder driving, and the upgrades are rounded out with bigger brakes, quicker steering, wider wheels, and stickier tires.

Accelerating out of the pits at the Ascari race track, the Vantage S lurches with urgency, its paddle shifters ordering the transmission to whack into the next gear so there’s no momentum lost, not a moment squandered before you meet the first turn, a sharp left-hander. When summoned, this 3,549-pound coupe changes direction with an immediate connection between steering wheel and path of travel, its efficiency of movement conveyed in its taut exterior body proportions. The larger brakes scrub off speed effectively before the next higher speed turn, which is negotiated with confidence thanks to the Vantage’s stiff aluminum chassis. Keep the revs relatively high, and the V8 charges out of the bend and slides the rear end slightly, offering a confluence of g-forces that reveal a lively, spunky personality that can only be completely exploited on the track.

But how does the Vantage S feel on public roads?

Rev the engine before merging onto local Spanish streets, and the V8 responds with a raspy bark, especially when the “Sport” button is depressed. On these rambling country roads, the transmission’s staccato shifts bring some of that racetrack urgency into everyday life. The abruptness seems somewhat out of place in this leather and Alcantara-lined cabin, but it’s also a refreshing injection of life, a practically punk influence on an otherwise tweedy brand. The ride is stiff and unwielding, transmitting every bump in the road through the lightweight carbon fiber seats. Those optional perches aren’t available to US buyers—no big loss, since the standard seats are supportive yet far more comfortable—but we can indulge in a 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system Stateside, as well as alternate trim finishes like piano black and an Alcantara lined steering wheel, among others. The cabin is a luxurious but compact space, finished with some delicious details (like a jewelry-like, counterclockwise rotating tachometer) and a couple not-so-yummy features, like an unintuitive multimedia system. In all, the Vantage S’s lavish interior sports buttery soft surfaces and fragrant hides which offer delightfully defiant delicacies against the stomach churning duties required by high G-force driving.

For a brand that has milked its alliance with a certain tuxedo-clad spy, the Vantage S sheds a bit of Aston Martin’s buttery smooth driving characteristics to offer a more snarling, twitching animal. For drivers who don’t want to be shaken and stirred by their sports cars, other Aston Martins can satisfy the need for swift, smooth transportation. But if you’re the type who wouldn’t mind shredding a few weekend laps at the track, the Aston Martin Vantage S is a compelling way to have your luxury and burn some rubber, too.

The Aston Martin Vantage S is priced at $138,000, and the Vantage S Roadster at $151,000.

To read more from Basem Wasef, visit his website at basemwasef.com.