It was supposed to be a turnaround of F1 pitstop-style precision and timing. We needed to grab some batteries (and some crisps, obviously), pick up a white Aston Martin Vantage to compliment our black example, and blast off towards Portugal’s west coast in time for sunset. 20 minutes of key hunting and crisp eating later, it was clear we’d failed miserably.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re coming off the A20 motorway and up against it thanks to our faffing: The sun’s looking perilously low. For the next half an hour or so, our hired driver and videographer Jon and I are racing the rotation of the Earth.
Thankfully, we’ve got the right tools for the job. Each of our cars feature 4.0-litre AMG engines, supplied as part of Gaydon’s Daimler technical partnership and given a new wet sump design and a few other tweaks for its installation in the DB11 V8. For the Vantage it’s been given a further software fiddle to make the throttle more aggressive, plus a shoutier exhaust system (with surprisingly small twin tailpipes - best you go for the louder sports exhaust with its quad tailpipes). Power remains the same though - you’re looking at 503bhp and 505lb ft of torque.
"There’s an unflappable poise to it as you chuck in that very willing front end, and absurd traction from those 295-section rear tyres on every corner exit"
Thanks to a reasonable dry weight of 1530kg, it’s fast: 0-62mph takes just 3.6 seconds - faster than the old V12 Vantage S, and given enough room, it’ll top out at 195mph. Let’s call that a nice round 200mph, you know, in case you’re going downhill and have a tailwind.
Thanks to the ever-escalating power war, 503bhp - absurdly - doesn’t seem like an awful lot these days, but in the Vantage it’s more than enough, as proven by a swiftly executed overtake performed on a motor caravan dawdling along at 30mph. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror confirms that Jon had no trouble slipping past in the white Aston either.
With a wealth of mid-range torque, it’s a joy to belt out of second-gear corners too. After that dramatic initial punch of torque though, that 4.0-litre offers up a weirdly linear power delivery for a turbocharged engine. Response too, for an engine like this, is exceptional. It also sounds quite different - chief engineer Matt Becker explained to me that the team worked hard to remove the “low-end bassy dominance” found in the eight-banger’s Mercedes applications, shifting focus to mid and high frequencies to “make it sound more like an Aston.” It predictably can’t match the aural drama of the old 4.7-litre naturally-aspirated lump found in the old Vantage, but it’s certainly one of the most satisfying-sounding turbo V8s out there.
With the road to the coast becoming ever more twiddly, I’m doing a lot of shifting between second and third gears. Gaydon’s engineers changed the final drive of the transaxle-mounted ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox to give a stack of shorter ratios relative to the DB11, and overall it’s an impressive bit of kit thanks to short and sharp cog swaps. But it’s not perfect - it’s often frustratingly reluctant to comply with your downshift demands.
In terms of the way the Vantage drives though, that’s one of my few criticisms - in almost every other regard, it’s an utter weapon. There’s an unflappable poise to it as you chuck in that very willing front end, and absurd traction from those 295-section rear Pirelli P Zeros on every corner exit. Even when you turn all the electronic safety nets off, the back end of this thing just refuses to budge (that said, budge it did, with a little persuasion during a later track session at Portimao).
The steering is beautifully weighted, swift and utterly predictable, and offers up a modest hint of feedback. Combine that with such a talented chassis, and you’ve got one hell of a driver’s car. Dynamically, the new Vantage is Porsche good - it really is. The only other fly in the ointment is that the Sport+ mode for the adaptive dampers is excessively hard even on the smoother roads out in Portugal - back in the UK you’ll probably find yourself in the standard mode most of the time, which is still quite firm.
I find this out on the final two mile-stretch to the sea, where the road seems to rapidly transform into the surface of the moon. But there’s not far to go now - the Atlantic is in sight, and we’re nearly at the very edge of mainland Europe. Winding down to sea-level we’d targeted, we find another Vantage launch participant has beaten us to it, resulting in a hasty three-point turn and a quick blast over an amusingly slippy dirt track to a clifftop view of the sunrise which - thanks to some well-timed overtakes and this extraordinarily capable car - we’ve just about caught.
Cameras are set up, cars are quickly positioned, and shooting commences just as the sun starts to slip under the watery horizon. Damn, do these cars look good here.
That’s the reason we took these cars on this final journey, despite having already amassed vast quantities of footage and photos throughout the day. The Vantage is the kind of car that inspires you to jump behind the wheel, punch the right buttons to engage angry bastard mode and go for a drive, simply because of the way it looks. It’s edgy, exciting and daring all at the same time, and crucially, like nothing else on the road - not even from Aston’s own stable.
From that huge front grille to the elegant side profile, and most definitely not forgetting the delicious little ducktail spoiler, it’s a glorious feast for the eyes. I’m so in love with the looks that had Aston Martin made an utter dog’s breakfast of the rest of the car, I’d still want one. But thankfully, they haven’t. Not by a long shot.