So, we’ve come to the end of yet another orbit of the sun (assuming one starts counting on January 1, which wasn’t always the case), and it appears as if the world’s motoring press are declaring their ‘Car(s) of the Year for 2013’. The obvious choice for that award is the 2014 Range Rover Sport, which is a proper tailgate for that stupid hatch they fit (Overfinch are you listening, since JLR clearly are not?) away from automotive perfection. However, since I prefer my Economists to be of the Austrian persuasion instead of some bisexual townie who proved so ruinous to the planet that his actions/theories caused World War II and led to the founding of the London School of Economics after the reputation of the ancient university with the ugly colour blue was utterly besmirched (John Maynard Keynes), I’m not daft enough to buy one new. No, like the women I date, it’s far better to let some idiot deal with the depreciation and later mechanical breakdowns, yet being an eternal optimist, I like to award my praise going forward… So, having lost most of my audience with an economic history diatribe, I can now reveal the Rolling Sloane 2014 Used Car of the Year without spiking demand too much is: the Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Right, so when I told a petrolhead friend of this conclusion, he asked only one question: ‘Why not the DBS?’ Well, you can’t get a used but still practically current DBS for less than a middling 3-Series rep-mobile, which should be the end of the argument. However, it isn’t. You see, the V8 Vantage is actually the best car Aston makes, despite it being the cheap one. And, no, this is not some sort of rationalization for a borderline idiotic future-purchase. The Vantage is the top handling Aston, most economical, and arguably the best looking car in the range. Considering Astons all have the same VH platform, Volvo-derived switchgear, and semi-bespoke interior, the V8 is the only one I’d buy.
The V8 Vantage differs from the other products coming out of Gaydon by having 4 fewer cylinders under the bonnet. Every other Aston has a V-12, which in normal automotive parlance should make them ‘super awesome’. But, what if you knew that V-12 was really two 1990’s era Ford V6’s grafted together? Well, the Duratec V-12 was born out of desperation during the time Aston was part of Jaques Nasser’s Premier Auto Group abomination, which also explains the Volvo switchgear by the way. This 6.0L engine shares more than just bore centres with the V6 out of a banger Mondeo or Taurus. In case you haven’t noticed, I am the type who cares about this sort of thing, so I’ll go with the sexed up Jaguar V8 for snob appeal thank you. Let’s just say it: The current Aston V12 is the worst in production V12 you can buy. Yep, if you want one, I wouldn’t begrudge you, but Lamborghini and Ferrari make much better 12-cylinder engines, they’re just rubbish at matching them with the correct gearboxes from time to time. Sure, the V8 in the Vantage is a massaged version of the AJ-V8, which have proven to be reliable, powerful, and refined in all the ‘real Jags’ this century. The V12 shares parts with the less-than-reliable X-Type’s V6, is heavier, and is slower to rev. In fact, it’s being put out to pasture with Aston Martin’s new engine supply deal with Mercedes. Yes, all the upcoming Astons are set to have AMG V8’s, which logically means V8s are better, plus you can get a factory upgrade package for the older 4.3L cars (before the switch to cast-in liners) to nearly match the power of the later 4.7Ls.
Obviously, when it comes to pedigree, nothing comes close to an Aston Martin. Of the post-war upstarts Lambos are to brash, Ferraris have become rather ugly, and McLarens are a bit too showy for some, yet even Trotskyists admire Astons for their beauty. Hell, Aston Martin was even founded in a South Kensington mews house, so poshness is a in-built virtue for the ‘brand’. Even the abomination that was the Cygnet can be easily forgotten, since that was to satisfy some daft fuel economy standards. Yes, Aston Martin can make a polished turd and still be king of the supercar mountain; they are after all the one James Bond drives in the movies, currently.
Shorter is Better:
Why is the Vantage the best all-around Aston? Simple, it has the shortest wheelbase. I do suppose this needs an explanation, so let’s compare the DBS to the Vantage: The DBS has a wheelbase of 107.9 in and weights in at a hefty 3,740 lb, whilst the V8 Vantage in current form has just over five fewer inches between the axles and is nearly a quarter of a tonne lighter. Both cars share a racing pedigree, but the lighter and smaller V8 has some real advantages in the intrinsic handling characteristics needed to be a proper Aston. Being Front-Mid engined cars, where the engine is mounted behind the front axle but head of the drive, the centre of mass is right where it should be for optimum performance in every Aston. The bigger and longer cars simply have more mass to cart around, which makes them worse. If you don’t get this, please go take a lesson in basic Physics, because I can’t be bothered to explain it. Not only is the Vantage more chuck-able in the bendy bits by being lighter, but the shorter distance between the axles means it can turn tighter. It’s like watching a standard car park vs a limo, but on a much smaller scale. Now, Aston Martin being very good at what they do have compensated for this in the DBS… They made some changes to suspension and steering in the DBS to make it faster around a track. Unfortunately, they ruined the ride quality and induced loads of bump-steer into what should have been a better version of the DB9. Generally a car with a longer wheelbase has better ride quality, but that’s not the case here.
It’s the Practical Supercar:
Let’s completely discount the existence of the Porsche 911 here. No one in their right mind would own a water-cooled one out of warranty, and it’s not really playing in the same league, which means the Vantage is the best option in terms of a supercar for everyday use. Sure the DBS has the options for the vestigial rear seats in place of the parcel shelf, but it also has a conventional boot. The Vantage has a similar storage area being the seats, but the real trump card is the hatch. By making the storage space more usable, having better ride quality, and being not much bigger than a Focus or Golf in a land of compact only spaces, the Vantage can be your only car without making a real sacrifice. Can you say that about a Ferrari, McLaren, or Lambo? Plus, since Aston built more of these than any other car in their history, save the DB9, you can have your choice of colors and options. Say that about an Aventador! This higher rate of production also means more cars are on the market, so supply and demand are in a more advantageous balance for those of us with a modicum of impulse control. So, why would you want to buy anything else with your hard earned money?
Note: I’m going to catch some flack for discounting the pervious generation Maserati Quattroporte from this discussion. There are two reasons for this: 1) the one you’d want is an automatic, 2) the electrics and build quality were improved in the current cars by sharing parts with Chrysler. There’s a reason why they’re so cheap.