Overall rating: 4.5/5
The N430 may 'just' be a new version of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, but it turns out to be the best of the breed yet, with a thoroughly well-sorted chassis, a great engine and extrovert looks that'll appeal to motorsport fans and Aston enthusiasts alike.
In the metal 4.5/5
How many modern car designs survive nearly a decade without any significant change? The Aston Martin Vantage has been on the scene since 2005 and it's as muscularly beautiful now as it was then. It turns heads and attracts approving nods in its standard format, though the two-tone colour scheme of the new N430 model will divide opinion. Five different options are available and the contrast colour is used on the door mirror casings, front grille surround, roof rails and rear diffuser. The effect varies from incredibly prominent on the green/yellow or white/red cars to subtle on the black/grey or silver/black models. Our favourite is the dark blue and red. If you're not a fan of the two-tone look then go for the Roadster, as it has less of it. Look closer and there are other changes externally, including a black front grille, plus dark surrounds for the lights and side windows and other detailing. Complementing all that is a simply gorgeous set of graphite painted forged alloy wheels. They're lighter too.
Inside, the updates are relatively subtle though quite a few in number. The seats may be electrically adjusted, but their frames are made of Kevlar and carbon fibre to reduce weight and they have 'N430' embossed in the headrests. Contrast stitching can be applied to them and the leather steering wheel, which may also be trimmed in Alcantara. The suede-like material is also used in the doors, while carbon fibre forms the gearshift surround and the N430 plaques.
Lovely as all of this is to look at and touch, the interior is still flawed in terms of ergonomics. The infotainment system and the integration of the (optional) satnav controls are very far from perfect. Clearly an owner will have more time to get used to it all than we had, but most rivals do this better.
Driving it 4.5/5
There's much shared between the N430 and the range-topping V8 Vantage S, including the 436hp engine (430bhp - hence the name) and fixed rate damping for the sports suspension - and we liked that car a lot. The N430 comes with 20kg of weight savings too.
The details aren't so important; the experience is. This car is blessed with a well-honed chassis that is the antithesis of the likes of the BMW M4 and its endless driving system options. The Aston isn't as cutting edge in its technology, but that makes it refreshingly simple to drive. The Sport button alters throttle response and the exhaust bypass valve, but little else. And you'll want to have it pressed all the time to make the most of that V8 sound emanating from the large exhaust pipes at the rear. It's a guttural noise that rises to a bass-laden mechanical roar up to the rev limiter at about 7,500rpm. It feels like it could rev even further, and the long travel of the throttle pedal underlines how rewarding a big-capacity naturally aspirated engine can be in an age where turbocharging is becoming the norm.
At 4.7 litres, the engine has plenty of low-down and mid-range urge so it never feels slow or flat-footed, though you'll undoubtedly use a lower gear than is necessary a lot of the time, just to hear the V8 sing. That reveals one of the only weak spots of the N430's dynamic make-up: its manual gearbox. The change itself is fine, especially at speed, but there's a wide gap between second and third so it feels long-geared a lot of the time, and the position of the lever in the car makes it quite awkward to quickly downshift to second when approaching a tighter corner. Nonetheless, it's very satisfying to time it with a blip on the throttle. An owner of this car will enjoy taking time to perfect this technique.
The brakes, in contrast, are a high point, hauling the Aston down from speed with confidence-inspiring bite and pedal feel. They're steel discs measuring 380mm up front and 330mm at the back. The steering is also worthy of a mention; it's direct and offers up more feedback than many more modern systems, yet it's not at all nervous around the straight ahead, making motorway work a relaxed affair.
And despite the sports suspension, the N430 is never a spine-jarring mess. Sure, it's firm by regular car standards, but it deals with awful surfaces commendably well and you soon learn to trust it. This appears to be thanks to incredibly well-judged damping, which controls individual wheel movement particularly well over rough surfaces. This makes it surprisingly easy to drive quickly in such circumstances, which should mean it'll deal well with our own pockmarked road system.
Arrive into a sharp curve with too much speed and it's scrubbed off in stabilising understeer. Indeed, get back on the power too early, before the front tyres are properly hooked up, and the nose will tend to run a little wide too. However, be patient, get turned in before squeezing the accelerator pedal, and the Aston gradually, predictably, moves through a neutral stance into satisfying, but mild, oversteer on the exit. There's so much traction in the dry that this can be done with abandon, even with the three-stage traction control system turned off fully. Full-on drifts are only possible with a lot of provocation.
While it's huge fun on a tight and twisty road, the N430's natural habitat is a well-surfaced sweeping piece of tarmac with well-sighted bends and fast straights. It's exhilarating in either situation and in isolation it's irrelevant that there are faster cars available for less outlay when this one is so good to drive.
What you get for your money 4/5
Depending on your point of view, the N430 is either very good value (it's cheaper than the V8 Vantage S it shares much of its updates with) or quite expensive (the fabulous Jaguar F-Type R Coupé is priced lower and is much more powerful). But we don't believe common sense prevails when it comes to buying high-end sports cars. The Aston is well equipped and no doubt most buyers will shell out considerably more than the list price to customise the car further.
As mentioned above, the N430 can be had in coupé or Roadster formats, and though the six-speed manual gearbox is standard, Aston Martin also offers its paddle-shifted Sportshift II 'automated manual' transmission, which is a seven-speed unit.
Aston Martin pays more than lip service to the Nurburgring with this car. We drove the N430 in Germany the day before the 2014 Nurburgring 24-hour race, an epic battle in which the Aston V12 Vantage GT3 racer finished fifth overall. Aston Martin took three class podiums as well with its close-to-production V12 Vantage and pair of V8 Vantage N430s.
Aston's future looks bright, thanks in no small part to its tie-up with AMG, but it'll be a long while before we see a replacement for the Vantage model range. Until then, variants such as the N430 will have to sate the appetite of Aston fans. It's far from perfect, but for those that get the Aston Martin brand and for anyone that loves driving it's still a special car.