The Aston V8 Vantage has been the basis of plenty of special editions and models in recent years, but this latest, the S, is the best yet. More power, greater focus and an improved transmission add appeal to Aston's entry-level sports car.
In the metal 5/5
One-77 aside, the Vantage - in V8 or V12 forms - is the most purposeful looking car in the Aston Martin range. Its squat, muscular proportions look fantastic with Aston's trademark grille, punctured wings and neat taillights. A revised front splitter and rear diffuser - both made from carbon fibre - are fitted. Wider profile side sills and 19-inch wheels finish off the S makeover on the outside.
Interior changes are limited to some different stitching styles and folded leather design on the seats. Optionally you can specify lightweight carbon fibre and Kevlar seats, which reduce the V8 Vantage S's kerb weight by 17kg. Otherwise it's all familiar V8 Vantage, though sadly, unlike the new Virage, the V8 S retains Aston's clunky Volvo-sourced satnav system.
Driving it 4/5
Emphasising the new car's greater driver focus, Aston Martin introduced the V8 Vantage S at Race Resort Ascari, just outside Ronda in Spain. Obviously it's gifted with super-smooth tarmac so it's impossible to comment on ride comfort, but its taut suspension gives the S fine body and roll control, while the steering - with a revised ratio - feels sharper and more alert than ever. The changes that are most obvious are the bigger brakes and completely revised Sportshift II automated manual transmission.
Even after repeated, high-speed laps on the challenging Ascari circuit the new brakes felt as powerful as ever. Larger in diameter, they're of a floating disc design and the six-piston front callipers enable later and harder braking into the corners at the circuit. The seven-speed Speedshift II is quicker in its shifts, and reacts quickly to input at the steering column mounted paddles. It's not as smooth and seamless as a twin-clutch system, but that's not necessarily a complaint, as shifts punch through - particularly in Sport mode.
The throttle response improves in Sport mode too, while the exhaust muffler valve opens earlier to bark out the 4.7-litre V8's rousing note. Gaining 10hp and 19Nm of torque, the V8's output is increased to 436hp and 490Nm.
Select Track Mode on the Dynamic Stability system and the S is hugely forgiving up to and beyond its high grip limits. Turn it all off and it's a hooligan, with every bend taken at your chosen angle. This is huge fun, but you'll spend a lot at your local tyre dealer if you do it regularly.
What you get for your money 2/5
The V8 Vantage S looks sensational, sounds fantastic and performs very well indeed. Add the hand-built factor in and it's a hugely desirable proposition. However, despite its appeal, the S looks expensive. A Porsche 911 Carrera GTS is far cheaper, while a V8-engined Audi R8 and Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale also undercut the Aston Martin. Decent standard equipment is a given, but we can't help thinking that the V8 S (and its regular V8 Vantage relatives) needs to be ten percent cheaper.
Not only is the Speedshift II quicker than ever, but it's lighter, which, combined with some other weight savings drops the S's kerb weight by 30kg. You can only have the Vantage S specified with Speedshift II, as there is no manual option on the price list.
An impressive addition to the V8 line-up brings sharper steering, sensational braking and more performance. The new S is arguably the most enjoyable V8 Vantage yet, though it's pitched against some serious rivals - many of which are cheaper.