Aston Martin's ongoing improvement of its aging V8 Vantage has produced yet another special, the GT8. This limited edition takes the car's motorsport success to the road and creates a gloriously analogue driver's car. The Vantage might be on its way out, but it's not going down without a fight.
In the metal
The Aston Martin GT8 takes the already squat, purposeful looks of the V8 Vantage and adds aggression, in the form of some fairly substantial aerodynamic revisions. There's a splitter that's so proud you could stand on it, wider openings for cooling air, sill extensions like railway platforms and a wing on the back that'd keep a Boeing grounded. That's a deliberate nod to the GT8's back story, as it has been built to celebrate the firm's racing success with the Vantage, and it has taken that brief pretty seriously. There's 100kg of mass removed (assuming you tick all the right - and expensive - option boxes), or just 80kg if you're less inclined to lighten your wallet to lighten your car. Choose to and you'll get some pretty cool magnesium centre-lock wheels, though, which are not only lighter, but also look sensational, so don't be cheap...
Inside, it's all very familiar, meaning the instruments are unreadable, the infotainment needlessly fiddly and the speedometer reading to 360km/h. Optimistically, too, as Aston quotes a 305km/h top speed, which is a little shy of the magic double ton in mph. That's no great shakes though, as it sounds like it's doing 200mph at idle, the GT8 sounding nothing if not fabulous, the interior echoing the pseudo-racer feel with some stark (but beautifully detailed) carbon fibre door cards. Those lighter doors are pulled closed by the sort of leather straps that would make a dominatrix blush, too. The lightweight fixed back seats clamp you in a manner that those accustomed to such company might enjoy, as well, the GT8 a rousing experience before you've even set off.
We had a favourite new Aston Martin recently in the V12 Vantage S manual, but the GT8 surpasses that car, even if it's not as explosively quick. The engine's not much more powerful than any other V8 Vantage's; indeed the 10hp hike is so little as to be insignificant when you've got 440hp, likewise the 6Nm of torque, which is only ever going to be felt by a computer. What are more significant though are the changes Aston has made elsewhere, specifically the reduction in mass and the chassis revisions. The potential 100kg drop in weight makes this the lightest V8 Vantage yet - even if 1,509kg isn't exactly featherweight. The suspension then is more instrumental to the GT8's appeal. The track is up 20mm at the front and 36mm at the rear, those 19-inch magnesium wheels wearing Michelin's focused Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber sized 225/35 ZR19 at the front and 295/30 ZR19 at the rear. The front anti-roll bar is stiffer, as are the front springs (by 25 per cent), while the rear spring and anti-roll bar stiffness remain identical to the standard V8 Vantage's.
Grip is, unsurprisingly, high, though it's the GT8's enthusiasm to turn in that defines it, the steering sharp, quick and unerringly accurate, the changes to the front end making for a more faithful nose. You'll do well to get it understeering, even when it's damp on those dry-loving Cup 2 tyres, as the chassis balance is spot on, which, given all the time Aston Martin has had to work on it, isn't surprising really. The ride is similarly impressive: the roads around Aston Martin's UK base are far from perfect, which is a good thing, as the cars are developed around there. Even with the suspension so focused it's rarely troubled by nasty cambers or crowns, unusual lumps and bumps in the tarmac's topography shrugged off with surprising ease. Refreshingly, the suspension features fixed rate dampers so there's no fiddling with settings. There's plenty of feel on offer, too, as the Vantage is ancient enough to still feature hydraulically assisted power steering, that manifesting itself with the sort of detailed feedback that even the best electrically assisted steering systems on offer from rivals still struggle to equal.
All very capable, and enjoyable, then, and that's before we've gotten to the best part. It might look like it's just rolled out of the pit garage, but the GT8's racing DNA goes only so far, as it features a manual gearbox. Fit one of those to a racing car and you'll lose any competitive advantage immediately, but the GT8's a road car and it's all the better for it. Even better too that it's a six-speeder, which, unlike the reluctant, tricky seven-speed manual in the V12 Vantage S, slips across its gate with a natural ease and speed that doesn't require mastering. The clutch has a high bite point, while all the pedals are long in their travel, but the brake and the pedal are perfectly positioned to allow your foot to roll off one and onto the other to ease downshifts with a blip of the accelerator. You'll need to, too, as there's no rev-matching, make-you-look-good software here; indeed, the GT8 (DSC Track mode and Sport button aside) is about as analogue a 'modern' car as you'll find this side of something wearing a Caterham badge.
That makes for a very immersive and engaging driving experience, the GT8 demanding of its driver, though not in a way that makes it uncomfortable or tiring. It's so damned enjoyable you'll keep finding diversions on the way home, just to hear that V8 reach for its redline. The combined mechanical sound of the engine under the bonnet and the blaring, forceful note from the big pipes out back is so utterly glorious you'll never tire of it. Aston Martin says the production version might be a bit quieter than the car we drove, but we say it should be left just as it is. Obviously with plenty of power and the stability and traction control system set to its more liberal Track Mode or 'entirely up to you' Off setting, the GT8 will move about underneath you as is your want. Track Mode on damp roads makes for some corrective fun, while grip levels are high enough in the dry to rarely have the electronic driver aids giving a helping hand. The V8 Vantage has always been a demanding, enjoyable drive, but the GT8 takes it to a completely new level.
What you get for your money
There'll be 150 examples of the GT8 built in total, all of which are already sold. They're not cheap (we estimate about €333,000 if you imported one into Ireland), but then, as is Aston's way, you can spend a lot more on it. We'd be a bit aggrieved that the GT8 doesn't come with the full lightweight specification as standard, though our usual gripes about the infotainment are silenced here, as you'll never want to listen to anything but that engine - or be able to hear a telephone call for that matter.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage has been around long enough that rivals are on their second or even third iterations since it was launched. That's to its enormous benefit here, though, as, while the world's gone digital the V8 Vantage remains a very analogue experience. That's even more so in the GT8, which ups the intensity markedly, adds some more extrovert looks to the package and the allure of a limited build number. As the Vantage reaches the end of its life it keeps getting better; it's going to be a tough car to replace...