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Aston Martin Vantage V8


Brrrrragh! Push the throttle to the floor again. Brrrrragh!

The whole carpark seems to reverberate as the toe-tingling shrieking bark echoes off the concrete and glass.

"Again," whispers a little voice inside my head. "Do it again."

So I do, and again the concrete floor, roof and pillars reverberate to the sound of a quad cam Aston Martin V8 engine yelling at the top of its lungs, courtesy of a valve that opens at 4000rpm and turns the exhaust into a straight-through system, bypassing the muffler.

And we're not even moving, just sitting there with the handbrake on, the six-speed gearbox in neutral and the gunslit-shallow side windows wound right down so we can delight in the music composed by Aston's engine tuners.

Grin doesn't even come close to describing my reaction. I whoop with joy, adding a more guttural note to the symphony of sound being trumpeted by the Aston.

It's hoon heaven and for goodness' sake this isn't even a hoon car - not in the cliched petrolhead meaning of the word - but an aristocratic British thoroughbred with a pricetag that nudges a quarter of a million dollars.

But there's nothing to say that even an aristocratic gentleman can't also be something of a hoon.

And the Aston Martin Vantage V8 (AM V8, for short) hides a good helping of out-and-out hoon character within its drop-dead gorgeous body styling.

This is the baby of the Aston range, with family resemblances to its bigger siblings but without their bulk.

Its lines are sleek, low, lithe and convey an air of sheer muscle that visually underlines the car's performance potential.

Its lowness serves to emphasise the width of its track, and the wheels at each corner echo the elegant yet purposeful lines of such illustrious forebears as the DB4 Zagato which defined Aston Martin GT performance on the racetracks of Europe during the 1960s.

It's strictly a two-seater, yet as you lower yourself into the superbly-shaped and very supportive seats, there is never any sense of being cramped.

Aston Martin is part of the Ford empire - albeit at the very top of the Blue Oval's brand portfolio - and the Vantage V8 benefits from some very practical Ford touches in the layout of its dashboard and controls.

A Mondeo driver will feel right at home looking at the clean dashboard layout and its logically laid-out controls. The same effect will be felt when operating the simple-to-use sound system.

None of this is to suggest that the Aston's cockpit has any of the feel of a $30,000 rep-mobile.

On the contrary, the mix of stitched leather, suede roof and pillar lining and piano black and metallic-look accents are in the best tradition of fine British craftsmanship that has made the Aston Martin name a byword for quality.

It's the clarity and user-friendliness of the controls and dashboard that evoke images of the Mondeo or the BF Falcon.

Stylists call design this good "intuitive", and in the case of the aforementioned Fords and the Vantage V8, that's a perfect description.

Mondeo manual drivers might also note another similarity - the ease with which the clutch works.

High-performance cars, especially ones with torquey V8s, often have clutches that are as heavy to operate as they are heavy-duty.

Yet the Aston's clutch is light, engages cleanly and smoothly and is a delight to use even in stop/start city traffic.

This is, indeed, an easy car to get used to,

You sit low, yet the view ahead is excellent and the car is easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces and easy to place during fast cornering. Reversing is a little more difficult, but not so difficult that you need an assistant with aircraft-parking paddles to guide you.

The Aston eases out of the garage and along Westhaven Drive, negotiating the speed humps with never a hint of scraping the front spoiler/apron. The low-speed ride in firm and a little lumpy: at speed it is superbly supple.

If ever there were a car that puts into action the advice former world champion Jackie Stewart imparts in his driving school this is it.

First gear is for getting off the line, slot into second as soon as you can, says Stewart,

The only reason to hold on to first in the AM V8 is to get the revs over 4000 so you can hear the exhaust shriek - which it does from a most un-hoon-like 45km/h or so.

Snick second and nail the throttle and the car leaps forward, crossing the 4000rpm/muffler bypass threshold as it pins the passenger back in the left-hand seat.

The first time I experience this, I'm riding solo - fortunately - because I holler and whoop and laugh. This is real adrenalin motoring, exciting and intoxicating.

The Aston's well-sorted ratios make the best of the engine. And though the torque - at 410Nm - is useful rather than massive (as it is in the Aussie V8s which seem engaged in a battle to out-torque each other as they go further and further past 500Nm), the AM V8's well-matched gear and final drive ratios ensure strong highway acceleration, even in sixth gear.

The sprint to 100km/h is accomplished in five seconds, and the car has a totally-believable quoted top speed of 280km/h (175mph).

On the motorway it wafts along in serene near silence, the engine inaudible, road noise well hidden and only a smidgeon of wind noise from the exterior mirror/side window area ruffling the quiet.

Here, indeed, is a car that could swallow kilometres with ease and at an astonishing rate if the motorways weren't limited to 100km/h.

But it's not on the motorway that the AM V8 makes its strongest impression.

That's reserved for some very demanding roads we use on our regular 200-kilometre test loop.

Show the Aston a tight and winding and rising and falling road and it seems to strain at the leash, eager to get on with the job.

Tight roads like this are second and third gear country mainly - even hairpins marked 25km/h are dealt with in second. The Aston charges from corner to corner with an alacrity and agility that belies its 4382mm length, 1866mm width and 16340kg kerb weight.

A gentle turn of the chunky-rimmed, perfect-diameter steering wheel is enough to guide the car through even the tightest corners. The steering itself is superbly-weighted and offers excellent feel and feedback.

On favourite roads, the car is exhilarating, alive, an absolute joy with its slick, precise gearshift, smooth clutch action and instant throttle response.

The brakes - 355mm front, 330mm rear, all ventilated and grooved and all with four-piston monoblock callipers - are magnificent, though they do require a reasonably hefty push when you're hurtling towards a tight corner. But give them that hefty push and they haul the car down impressively, time after time, with never ever a hint of fade or brake pad odour.

The Aston has a fair compliment of driver aids - dynamic stability control, traction control, ABS anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist.

I didn't switch off the traction control - I figured it'd react faster than I could if we got into difficulty - but I felt it operate only once as we cornered hard on an unevenly-surfaced tight corner. This is no intrusive traction control system.

The Bridgestone Potenza tyres - 235/40 ZR19 front and 275/35 ZR19 rear - fitted to seven-spoke 19-inch wheels, provided superb grip.

There was a lovely feeling of rear-end movement - and with no hint of traction control in operation - when the throttle was nailed out of a second gear corner.

The AM V8's road behaviour is exemplary, and the only minor quibble was some driveline shunt and the occasional clunk from the limited slip diff as we accelerated out of ultra-tight corners or when creeping along in second gear in snarled-up city traffic. A little touch of the hoon in the night and a reminder that this is a rear-wheel drive car with a big - 4.3-litre - torquey V8 and a relatively simple layout.

Even in high-energy use on a demanding road where changes from third to second and back are frequent the gearbox is never tiresome as some manuals can become in big V8-engined cars. It feels robust and capable of heavy-duty duty, but is never ponderous or difficult.

Fuel economy? We were having too much fun enjoying the acceleration and that exhaust note. But we got more than 400km out of the 77-litre tank. Aston Martin says the car will use 25.2 litres/100km in city running (11.2mpg), 12.5 (22.6mpg) on the highway, and 17.2 litres/100km (16.4mpg) on the combined cycle.

Deep pockets required, then; but you'd need deep pockets anyway to stump up the $246,000-plus purchase price.

Creature comforts? Among the best and most supportive seats we've encountered outside of specialised competition seats. These units drew no unfavourable comments from passengers even in spirited driving.

And there's a good sound system, though we seldom played it, preferring to enjoy the engine's exhaust note instead.

There is air-conditioning, of course, electrical adjustment for mirrors and seats (the switches for the latter thoughtfully placed on the inside edge alongside the transmission tunnel, avoiding the often awkward fumble between the seat and the door armrest), and a moderate amount of luggage space in the lockable boot and behind the seats.

There are nifty touches like the handbook which is tailored to the shape of the glovebox, maximising the oddments storage room. And like the doors which lift upwards as they open to give easier access.

Less endearing were the door handles which are nicely flush-mounted and pop out when you press the leading edge inwards. I got drenched in an autumn downpour trying to open the driver's door by pushing in a slickly-wet leading edge to allow the lever-action handle to pop out ­- and failing miserably to accomplish the task.

But perhaps the greatest creature comfort bestowed by the AM V8 is the feeling of wellbeing you get while driving it or riding in it - to me the true essence of a fine car, and  a factor that is always present in the very best.

If you had the money and you wanted a high-performance car with looks that truly merit the overused description, stunning, reaching the decision to buy an Aston Martin Vantage V8 would take a split second.

Buy one? Would I ever. It is truly the stuff that dreams are made on.


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