2014 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

It isn't the quickest or best-handling sports car on the market, but Aston Martin's "entry-level" V8 Vantage seduces with its exquisitely beautiful sheetmetal. Since its introduction, the V8 Vantage has formed the basis for the drop-top V8 Vantage Roadster as well as the potent V12 Vantage.

Recent Changes
For the previous model year, Aston upgraded the V8 with a number of performance upgrades along with a subtle styling update that includes a more aggressive lower front fascia and a new, functional diffuser at the rear.

Overview
The V8 Vantage is powered by a hand-assembled 4.7 liter naturally aspirated V8 producing 420 horsepower at 7,000 rpm along with 347 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. The high-revving V8 is mated to a choice two transaxles, both of which are equipped with a limited-slip differential.

The first is a traditional manual with six forward gears, while the optional transaxle is a new seven-speed Sportshift "automated-manual." Aston says the Sportshift provides faster and more precise shifts than the old six-speed unit, but the gearbox still sports an old-fashioned single clutch design (many competitors have switched to super-quick dual-clutch transmissions).

A top speed of 180 mph is possible, and good handling on the track is ensured by a 49/51 front/rear weight distribution. Fuel economy isn't likely to be of prime importance for most buyers, but, for the record, the V8 Vantage returns 14/21 mpg and 13/19 mpg with the automatic and manual transmissions, respectively.

Stopping power is increased thanks to new 380mm two-piece ventilated cast-iron front discs and six piston calipers along with 10mm wider tires. A re-valved power-steering pump and a quicker ratio of 15:1 (compared to 17:1) give the V8 Vantage a more responsive helm, while a new Hill Start Assist system works to prevent rollback on steep hills.

A Sport Package is available for those who demand only the best performance from their Aston Martin. The Sports Pack features forged lightweight alloy wheels, re-tuned Bilstein dampers, up-rated springs, and an anti-roll bar for the rear. the combined effects of the Sport Pack result in a vehicle that is better behaved at higher speeds.

As one would expect of the brand, even the smallest Aston Martin comes luxuriously equipped and includes full grain leather seating surfaces with alcantara inserts and headliner, electronic climate control, tire pressure monitoring system, and a 160-watt six-disc audio system capable of playing audio from mobile devices thanks to an iPod interface and USB connection. There is an optional 700-watt Aston Martin premium audio system with Dolby Pro Logic II support for those for whom the sound of that V8 engine is not enough.

Other major options comprise 19-inch wheels, an improved Hard Disk Drive navigation system, satellite radio, Bluetooth communication interface, and Xenon HID headlights.

Occupant Safety
All V8 Vantage models are fitted with dual front and front side airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

Key Competitors
Though positioned in price against the Porsche 911 Carrera S, Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz SL550 and Maserati GranTurismo S, the V8 Vantage is different from all those vehicles. It's lighter and more nimble than the GranTurismo or SL, but more of a grand tourer than the hardcore R8 or 911.