It might be too from seeing too much black-tie James Bond, but when I see a modern Aston Martin I imagine that it's something of a gentleman's express: gorgeous styling, swift-but-subtle performance and lashings of wood and leather.
That's not exactly the case. Aston might be as strong as ever on design – even if many of its models look disturbingly similar – but there's a very hard edge to the character of many of its models.
The $245,000 Vantage V8 S is a case in point. This is the 'baby Aston': it's shorter than a Toyota Corolla in fact, so probably lacks the presence to please James Bond anyway (he drives a DBS). It looks beautifully proportioned and polite, but it's not.
The standard Vantage V8 is pretty dramatic, with a 4.7-litre V8 driving the rear wheels. But the S-version takes things up quite a few notches, with extra power (up to 321kW/490Nm), a different gearbox with shorter ratios and faster changes, revamped suspension including wider tracks front and rear, and larger 19-inch wheels.
As you can see, for Aston Martin as 'S;' badge warrants a bit more than a boot spoiler and a set of stripes.
Despite all of the above, it's the powertrain that dominates the driving experience. The V8 engine is thunderous in isolation, but doubly so in conjunction with the new gearbox. It's an automated-manual unit, but not a double-clutch arrangement like you might find in a Porsche 911 or Audi R8. So it doesn't shift in a super-slick manner as you drive around town; in fact, you'll get the odd lurch in automatic mode.
But the point of a seven-speed single-clutch gearbox like this is that you get a really engaging (excuse the pun) and mechanical feel. You can hear the ratios engaging and it takes a bit of practice to manually shift the thing and get it smooth. I like that.
I also quite like going incredibly fast, sensing the shift in attitude through corners from a short-wheelbase, rear-drive machine with a very large engine. The Vantage V8 S is bordering on raw at times and always exciting.
Bit of a monster. A baby monster.
But it is luxurious, yes? As expected, the Vantage is exquisitely trimmed in leather and loaded with toys. It has a beautifully hand-finished feel, although in truth there's nothing on the equipment list that you wouldn't get in a mass-produced prestige car. Box-ticking equipment is not what this car is all about.