Anyone lucky enough to both have somewhere in the $150,000–$175,000 range to spend on a car and a lifestyle flexible enough to allow them to slot a two-door speed machine in their garage is blessed enough these days to be able to choose from a wealth of options. Granted, Ferraris and Lamborghinis may be out of reach, but the Porsche 911, Acura NSX, Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz GT C and GT R, even the Nissan GT-R all lie within reach, in all of their supercar-rivaling glitz and performance.
But for sheer panache, for maximum glamour, for as out-and-out cool a car as you can find in that competitive set...there’s nothing like an Aston Martin Vantage.
Ever since it burst onto the scene in 2005 as the least-expensive member of the Aston family, it’s been one of the most alluring rides on the road. But since the new version debuted in 2018, however, it’s also been something else: a great car to drive. The combination of a short wheelbase, well-tuned suspension and fast-acting steering rack all play huge roles in making it nimble, darty and entertaining, but it’s the AMG-sourced twin-turbo V8 under the hood, the brilliantly-tuned eight-speed automatic and the electronic limited-slip differential that leave the driver feeling intoxicated. The Vantage feels like a Toyota Supra that switched from jogging to cross-training: still agile, just more explosive.
It also looks unlike any other car on the road. Its tidy length and broad stance make it seem as wide as it is long, while the curves practically ripple with muscle and the grille looks ready to gobble up slower vehicles. Color very much makes or breaks the Vantage, however. A black one I drove seemed almost generic from some angles; while the all-dark look dialed down the impact of the giant maw, it also left the car looking like nothing more than a pair of small headlights. A ruby red tester, on the other hand, looked magnificent. The color popped against the sheet metal, drawing the gaze to the lines of the body rather than the giant grille. I highly recommend spending some time on the Aston Martin configurator to figure out a colorway that works best for both the car and you.
Yet in spite of its exotic nature, it’s surprisingly usable. There’s plenty of room for two tall people inside, and between the luggage shelf behind the seats and the hatch in back, there’s a surprising amount of cargo room. The ride is firm, but not painful, even on New York’s pockmarked streets. Take it easy on the gas (which, admittedly, is nearly impossible), and you can even get halfway decent fuel economy.
Granted, it has its weak points. As a small, independent automaker, Aston Martin doesn’t have the resources to compete with the goliaths like Honda, Daimler and the VW Group on things like on-board electronics, build quality and interior materials; in spite of being a fairly new car, it already feels a decade older than, say, the latest 911. And as much as its face has grown more familiar and attractive since it first debuted, stare too long at any one part of it, and its proportions start to seem out of whack.
But the Vantage has one undeniable ace up its sleeve: that four-syllable family name.
Most of those sports cars you can buy for this sort of money are designed to be halo cars — the attention-grabbing pinnacles of more pedestrian makes. The designers and engineers work their tails off to make them as exceptional as possible, but at the end of the day, the R8 and NSX and GT-R exist to try and make the A3s and TLXs and Sentras they share showrooms with look more appealing by association.
The Vantage, on the other hand, is the entry point to the lineup of one of the top-tier automakers of the modern day. Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, McLaren — these are the upper echelon of carmakers, where six-figure price tags are the cost of entry. (We’ll set aside such hypercar builders as Bugatti and Koenigsegg, whose multi-million-dollar rides are in a realm so divorced from reality, they might as well be refugees from another universe.)
Sure, that money buys you remarkable performance and/or luxury — I challenge anyone to ride in a Continental GT or drive an Aventador SVJ and not come away impressed — but it also buys you entry into a club where the badge on the good grants you status. People look at you differently; they shoot thumbs-up at you, nod with approval, do double-takes when they spot you on the street, stop to ask questions in a clear expression of interest. These are little things, but over time, they add up to a boost in confidence. Driving a Porsche imparts no such spiritual lift; your car might be the pinnacle of sports car performance and engineering, but you’re more likely to get middle fingers and shouted insults than pleasant waves and unexpected compliments.
Besides, cliché as it may be to reference...James Bond may have driven Bentleys back in the original novels and dallied with BMWs in the ‘90s when the product placement dollars were right, but there’s only one car brand that’s identified with the world’s coolest fictional character. And I’ll guarantee you just about everyone who’s ever driven a Vantage has whispered their last name before their full name at least once from behind the wheel. That’s the power of an Aston Martin.