THE reason that Aston Martin’s V8 Vantage is so well-loved is all to do with a little valve in the exhaust system. Around town and driving normally, the V8 Vantage delivers the usual Aston Martin contemplative serenity, but under full acceleration the V8 Vantage makes the most fantastically hellish noise as the valve opens up. It is beautifully loud.
It’s also wonderfully pretty – it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sports cars there is – a combination of muscular beauty and constrained aggression. Now five years of racing at Germany’s famous Nürburgring 24-hour race has led to the development of Aston Martin’s new Vantage N420, a lighter and positively tweaked racer version of Aston’s usual V8 Vantage.
Based upon the standard 4.7-litre, 420bhp, 180mph V8 Vantage, the N420 has a Sports Pack suspension package and sports exhaust system. The new suspension includes reworked springs, dampers and anti-roll bars, and equates to improved handling while the new sports exhaust system delivers an even more exciting and deeper exhaust note. And by using carbon fibre for some of its components including its lightweight racing seats, the Vantage N420 weighs 27kg less than the standard car.
Which is why an invite to drive it at Millbrook Proving Ground – an automotive testing circuit near Bedford – was gleefully accepted. Away from other road users on public roads, Millbrook offers a great opportunity to really test a car and Aston Martin also laid on professional drivers to guide our shenanigans. Which essentially means we got to have a great deal of fun in a fine sports car on a sunny day without the restrictions of normal speed limits.
And what fun the N420 is. I’ve always had a soft spot for the V8 Vantage but the N420 not only looks more like the GT4 racer that inspired it – this one is in black Asia Cup livery – it feels like one to drive. Its capabilities are particularly well exhibited on Millbrook’s hill route. After a couple of more tentative runs I let rip to the full extent of my fairly modest driving abilities. What I discover is that the N420 feels more extreme than the usual V8 Vantage. Although the changes are mainly cosmetic, the improved chassis feels taut, the steering is super direct and the car seems to have endless grip as the engine positively growls, eagerly powering on from one corner to the next. It simply clings to the road and the result is the most exhilarating drive. I feel connected, hard-wired in and completely focused. I am in a state of pure automotive flow. It’s a magnificent feeling.
Exterior-wise, the changes are actually pretty subtle. The N420 has wider sills and special 10-spoke diamond-turned gloss black alloys. Carbon fibre has been used for the splitter, side strakes and diffuser, while black mesh vents and graphite tailpipe finishers complete the racer look.
Inside, the Vantage N420 gets a special interior package with graphite instruments, a leather or Alcantara steering wheel, special N420 sill plaques and lightweight carbon fibre seats, complete with the same race stitching seen in the V12 Vantage. Paint-wise you can choose N24 Vantage racing colours: Rose yellow, Kermit green and Elwood blue, as well as the white and black Asia Cup livery that we tested.
So is it really £97k worth of fun? For what is essentially some carbon bits, louder paint, a tauter chassis and a loader exhaust? When driven hard, the N420 feels more focussed than the regular V8 Vantage and it’s definitely more entertaining. Yet when driven with less spirit it pampers you in the usual Aston Martin way. Which means: if you like the occasional track day this could be the Vantage for you.
ASTON MARTIN V8 VANTAGE N420
TOP SPEED: 180MPH
CO2 G/KM: 300G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 22.2MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY