crankandpiston is in a race against time with the rising sun and ‘the most dynamic expression of the V8 Vantage ever created’, the Aston Martin Vantage N430.
Hard to believe, given the staple it has become in the Aston Martin fold, that the Vantage is now ten years old. Presented in concept form at the 2003 Detroit Motor Show, Aston’s new ‘baby’ sports car would finally make a much-publicised debut in Geneva in 2005 as the British marque’s entry level. Successfully too. Whilst the Boxster – the Vantage’s fellow entry-level model – continued to ‘enjoy’ a maligned reputation as ‘not a proper Porsche’ compared to the 911, interest in the Vantage exploded. Far from being ‘not a proper Aston’, the Vantage brought sleek elegance, refinement, a brave – and latterly successful – new direction for the company after years under Ford’s umbrella, and a soundtrack from its inboard V8 that quivered not only the heartstrings of potential buyers but the rooftop tiles of homes up to 2km away.
A ten-year run produces quite the gravy train, with more powerful and more dynamic examples of the Vantage making their respective debuts since the first V8 Vantage. In 2007 for instance, an altogether different model – the 400bhp N400 – arrived celebrating Aston’s achievements at the most famous circuit in the world, the ferocious Nürburgring, with the race-spec Vantage GT3: since Aston Martin Racing’s establishment in 2004, the team has a 100 per cent finishing record at the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Three years later, the more powerful, similarly race-inspired 420bhp N420 was unveiled, a further attempt to offer GT4 levels of intensity and excitement for the road. And now, ten years after the Vantage first took its bow, there’s a new one.
You join us early morning deep in the heart of…actually I’m not sure where. Having decided that our usual haunts weren’t quite what we were looking for when putting ‘the most dynamic expression of the V8 Vantage ever created’ through its paces, one left turn after another in the N430 has left us not far from the Fujairah mountain range. Although that’s all we’ve got to go on. Previous experience with Aston’s antiquated SatNav – an update over its previous generation but still not the easiest of systems to work with – mean our experiments this time have come to naught, and we’re pretty much winging the directions. This laissez faire attitude is thrown into full perspective though when we notice a warm orange glow has started to rise atop the horizon. We need to find a shooting location and fast. If the sun rises too high, the ‘golden’ look we’re hoping to capture in our N430 images will be lost.
Don’t let the snappy prototype-esque moniker fool you. There’s actually very little on the N430 that’s mechanically different to its V8 Vantage base model. Lightweight – and bespoke – 10-spoke Graphite painted alloys as well as copious amounts of carbon fibre equates to a 20kg kerb weight saving, Aston’s mid-mounted 4.7-litre V8 pumps out 430bhp and 361lb ft of torque (equal to that produced in the V8 Vantage S), and those supportive buckets are actually fashioned from Kevlar for further weight saving, but the suspension, Sportshift II transmission and ZR19 Bridgestone Potenzas remain the same. The true difference – as you’d expect from a special edition model – is its ClubSport Graphics Pack. The epileptics amongst you may wish to shield your eyes, since our test model today has followed the example set by its CC100 Concept sibling, boasting as it does the historically inspired ‘Race’ insignia. As well as Alloro Green paint (plus a dash of black detailing), the callipers and front grille surround are finished in yellow, a theme that continues in the cabin courtesy of the seat stripes and contrast stitching. The mod-cons associated with Aston Martin – namely Argento Grey leather, the Bang and Olufsen ‘rising’ speakers and the snazzy glass key fob that slots into the dash – remain. It’s a little on the nose, but other options include the more elegant ‘Stealth’ Jet Black option if you thumb through the catalogue.
Our digital team in the support car has already fallen behind as the N430 takes point, the search for the perfect location now on. With time most definitely in the red corner and the Aston in the Alloro Green still fighting to put its gloves on, we’ve had to hit the loud pedal a little earlier than anticipated. Not that we’re complaining. That hallmark V8 roar rouses the surrounding landscape with its deep warbly notes (another reason we opted against shooting in the city), that cheeky ‘brrrrrwwwwwttttt’ on the overrun as intoxicating as it is addictive. Up to 430bhp soon rips the tranquillity that surrounds us to tatters as the loud pedal is pushed even harder…
Even though mechanically the N430 boasts little over its V8 Vantage S base model (at pace, it’s difficult to fully appreciate that weight loss), the newboy is still a terrific machine to poke with a stick. There’s just enough aggression from that fiesty V8 to give your neck a kick under hard acceleration, but not so much that the front wheels slither helplessly wide on the tighter turns. Grip from the 19-inch Bridestones is seemingly endless as the weighty hydraulic power-assisted steering helps keep the nose pointed where it needs to go, the rears focused on sending 430bhp to the tarmac.
The stiff aluminium chassis – plus the already stiff suspension (which does stiffen the ride, true, but not enough to erode your spine to dust) – means balance through the turns is beyond criticism, the rear end staying tight to the line thanks to perfect weight distribution and the stability control systems. A little added bite from that V8 in Sport mode encourages you to get the rears dancing, but there’s just too much grip for the N430 to spit you into the undergrowth, strong progressive braking on-hand anyway should plan B be required. It’s all mightily impressive though there’s little difference to the base V8 Vantage S. Unless we’re talking price, in which case the N430 top trumps the V8 S $114,500 to $116K.
There is though one issue with our drive, a point emphasised further when as we hit a stretch of potential shooting spot. Now into the lower gears and giving the throttle a breather (thus allowing the pursuing camera car to get larger in the rear view mirror), the Aston’s seven-speed SportShift II gearshift once again starts to make its presence felt. In the upper eschelons of the rev-counter, upshifts give a much firmer kick to maximise acceleration and provide what Aston calls the ‘ultimate involvement’ of the driver. Drop below the peak 7300rpm power output though and the single clutch nature of the ‘box – which I’ve had issue with on two previous occasions – makes travelling at a cruise incredibly jerky. Much experimentation has found a sweet spot between 4-5000rpm where the upshift is mercifully smoother, but it’s a coin toss whether you can hit this every time. Rather than face being thrown forward in my seat when I flick the right paddle, I opt to stick with first gear as cruise down side-road after side-road. The orange glow has now peaked over the horizon and time is badly running out.
Whether the fates have conspired to show mercy on us today or whether they’re keen Aston Martin fans remains to be seen, but quite by chance we stumble across a gorgeous stretch of empty beside a standing pool of water, the sunlight bouncing off the Vantage’s sunroof somehow making those yellow contrast stripes more subtle than they had looked earlier. The digital team quickly sets to work. For me though, there’s musing to be done.
It’s difficult not to feel a pang of emotion for the N430. The Race livery – reminiscent of the Q-spec heavy V12 Vantage S – may not be to everyone’s tastes and the special edition nature of this ‘new’ Vantage does make me wonder what dynamic potential has been lost. But given that underneath the self-congratulatory tinsel there lies a V8 Vantage S that both weighs and costs a little less, and prides itself as ‘the most dynamic expression of the V8 Vantage ever created’ whilst retaining day-to-day civility, it’s difficult not to be tempted: a blip of the throttle and that heavenly soundtrack are choice enough arguments, as are the looks that remain the toast of the automotive world despite being a decade old. I can’t quite bring myself to fall head over heels though.
Please Aston Martin – PLEASE – give us a proper gearbox. I’m begging you.
Full technical specifications on page 2