The New Vantage and New Moves

My last blog post was about my initial impressions of the New Vantage, based on what I've seen in pictures and the news. On Thursday I got to see the car in person thanks to an unveiling event at my local Aston Martin dealership. Keep in mind that this is a pre-production car and some things might be changed for the final version.

The New Vantage was in disguise under a DB11 cover...

The New Vantage was in disguise under a DB11 cover...

I went to the unveiling with one primary goal: I needed to be sold on the very polarizing front end of the car. I had mentioned previously that I fully intended to buy a manual convertible New Vantage when the time came, but the front of the car was a dealbreaker. I wanted to love the car - I really did, and still do - yet the front bumper was just not sitting right with me (and a lot of people). Seeing the car in person helped in some ways, but set things back in others.

The New Vantage

The Vantage is entirely new, sort of. It's a massive departure from the previous Vantage in nearly every way. The core concepts of the car remain: it's the entry-level Aston Martin model, more sports car than grand tourer, with ~50/50 weight distribution, and primary focus being the driver and driving enjoyment.

I'd heard in another video that the only parts that carried over from the previous Vantage where the exterior door handles, but that same video showed at least a few other parts from the old car as well. The rear bumper reflectors, which sit just above the tail pipes, look to be the same as those on the previous car. I'm quite happy about that, because it means our clear and smoked versions of that part will work on the new cars as well. Inside the car, the glass buttons (actually called "switches") are the same as those from the outgoing cars as well. I'm really hoping those are standard, because they have a huge impact on the look and feel of the interior. They aren't obvious, but they do make the interior as a whole look much more upscale. Having the plastic switches, which were standard on the previous Vantage, would result in an interior 'feel' far too similar to an entry-level Mercedes - something Aston Martin has already risked due to so many shared components.

I expect there are a number of parts shared with the DB11 as well, just as we saw between the previous Vantage and DB9. And we already know plenty is taken from Mercedes, particularly the engine and electronics.

The New Vantage has far more power than the outgoing V8 Vantage with much less weight than the V12 Vantage - the best of both worlds as far as performance is concerned. If you're looking to get into a meaningless pissing match, the New Vantage does 0-60 mph in about 3.6 seconds and can eventually get up to 190 or so mph. In the real world, those numbers don't matter. The massive improvement in torque, however, does. The AMG-sourced twin-turbo engine in the New Vantage has about 150 more lb-ft of torque than the outgoing naturally-aspirated V8. That's a huge increase that will have a meaningful impact on actual driving situations.

Base price increases quite a bit as well, now at $150k compared to the ~$100k of the V8 Vantage GT or ~$130k of the standard V8 Vantage previously. The improved power output helps justify the price increase, but hopefully the price increase brings with it a far larger list of standard features as well.

The Exterior

Up front (hey, pun!) I'm going to say that I still hate the front end. Something I've always hated about automotive photography is that so many people insist on taking pictures up at the car from a low-to-the-ground camera position. It's incredibly unflattering for a car, and invariably makes the car look unwieldy. Maybe it's just me, but I think that's pretty much always the worst angle for any car and cars would be far better photographed from a higher angle - say, eye level as if the person looking at the picture of the car was actually looking at the car in person. Crazy notion, I know.

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This isn't digressing too much because from what I've seen it does have a real impact on public perception of the New Vantage. The people that like the New Vantage's front end tend to say that it looks much better in person than in pictures. This is true and largely due to picture angles. In person, the massive grille sits very low to the ground. Standing against the car, the leading edge of its nose is only as high as my knees. Stand up, take a look at your knees, and imagine the grille being below them. That's how low it is, so pictures that make it look tall are very misleading.

Still, my opinion of the grille hasn't changed. I still think it's poorly designed due to its lack of integration with the front bumper fascia. And while I hated the grille in pictures, seeing the car in person did help reduce my animosity toward the front end. Being up close to the car in person gave me a chance to look at details. I still don't like the front end, but my animosity shifted slightly to center. The grille's mesh material is a generic expanded sheet metal.

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It's supposed to come in three finishes, but at the end of the day it's still a terrible material choice for such a prominent panel on an Aston Martin, or one any high-end car for that matter. A lot of people have derided the front grille due to how non-traditional it is. I don't like it because it wasn't designed well. The "traditionalists" generally prefer the look of the previous grille with its horizontal slats. Design aside, the decision to use expanded metal mesh to replace their beloved slats is going to turn away quite a few owners of the previous Vantage that were on the fence about the design, or waiting to let it grow on them.

The way I see it, there are two things to do at this point: 1) wait for Aston Martin to offer a different mesh material option, or 2) rely on the aftermarket to fix what I see as a bit of a mistake on Aston's part. As a growing part of the aftermarket, while also being a supplier of OEM parts, I think either option is entirely feasible. It's just a shame that Aston Martin chose the material that they did for such a prominent and important part of the car.

Beyond this, the shape of the front is just a mess. Compare how clean the lines of the previous Vantage were next to the New Vantage.  The outgoing Vantage was outlined by a beautiful curve. The front of the New Vantage doesn't resemble a curve so much as it does a crushed soda can. (Don't mind the shoddy rush job in MS Paint.)

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Tucked up under the grille's upper lip is another great addition to the New Vantage: a front camera. It's well-enough hidden and is going to save a lot of people a lot of grief. It's very easy to damage the front end of an Aston Martin - it's way ahead of you and impossible to see. The front camera should help prevent quite a few curb bashings. There's also a camera out back. Between the cameras and parking sensors around the car, it should be much easier to manage wiggling the New Vantage into a parking spot, which is something I honestly still struggle with even after several years of ownership. You can see the camera in the very top middle of the mesh in the picture above.

I think the side of the car looks great. As I have and continue to complain, the front grille and rear valance stick out far too much, but the profile of the car is menacing and well-penned. The deep fender vents and side strakes of the previous Vantage have been replaced by large, shallow "gills" available in a few finishes: body color, carbon fiber, and perforated metal.

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Some people have said they dislike that the vents and strakes are gone. I'm personally indifferent. I think the look of the previous venting suited the previous car, and the look of the new venting suits the new car. I do prefer the functionality of these new gills as they're made specifically to vent high-pressure air from the front wheel wells. This helps keep the front end from lifting at high speeds, a feature also found on the DB11. I had tried to do this on my grey V8 Vantage, but there's a computer module sitting inside the fender on the right-hand side that would block the ducting.

The rear of the car is not quite as controversial as the front, but still has a divided audience. Echoing my complaints of the front grille, the outside edges of the rear valance stick out without much integration with the rear bumper cover. The "ASTON MARTIN" lettering is also a bit much, and stands out as much in person as it does in pictures.

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The previous Vantage had "license plate fillers" on either side of the license plate in markets that have a narrow plate (like the US). European plates are much wider, so the filler pieces aren't necessary. Personally, I don't think they're necessary on US/etc cars, either. I have European bumpers on my grey V8 Vantage, and the lack of corner markers and license plate fillers gives an overall much cleaner look to the car.

I'm fairly certain that those of us in the US and elsewhere with narrow license plates can expect to see the fillers return. I took a peek behind the Euro-style rear plate on the New Vantage and the filler holes were indeed there.

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My hope is that the fillers are redesigned. Those on the previous Vantage were fragile and prone to breaking, resulting in an annoying rattle that was difficult to fix (the rear bumper has to be removed and the fillers need to be replaced). Regardless, based on the holes in the New Vantage's rear bumper, it's safe to say we'll be seeing license plate fillers on the rear of the cars destined to markets with narrow license plates.

The beautiful curve vs crushed soda can comparison I did of the front of the car also applies to the rear end. While the previous Vantage was sculpted with a single sweep, the New Vantage was by contrast carefully chiseled with a jackhammer.

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Also of note (exhaust note, get it?? puns!!) at the rear of the car are the exhaust tips. They're made in an unfinished manner and fairly small compared to the rear valance in which they sit. The idea for keeping the tips unfinished was presumably to make them look raw like those you'd see on a race car. But the rest of the car is so polished that the exhaust tips come off as unrefined and unfinished. It looks like the actual exhaust tips are simply missing. Another possible option for the aftermarket, it'll be interesting to see if there's a way to add tail pipe finishers or if it'll require full replacement of the muffler - which is something we'll be offering anyway.

The Interior

My first question, and most importantly as far as I'm concerned, is where does the stick go??

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It's hard to imagine where they'll put a manual gear knob in this interior without a drastic redesign. The Mercedes mouse can't really go anywhere with a manual shifter in the way. If they move it forward, in front of the stick, it'll be mostly unreachable and make the controls in front of it far too difficult to toggle. If it goes behind the shifter, it'll eliminate the cup holders. Of course, the New Vantage does not have a glove box so I can't imagine it'd be much more ado to remove the cup holders. An option would be to move the cup holders to the rear of the center console - the same position where they were located in the previous V8 Vantage's interior prior to that car's interior update. This might be the best option since the cup holders at the rear make them actually usable while the driver is still able to work the shifter.

The infotainment screen on the outgoing Vantage can be left concealed when not in use. Both of my Vantages are earlier models with the much maligned pre-Garmin navigation system, and I use Waze on my cell phone to get everywhere anyway, so I don't remember the last time I opened the screen. Frankly, I like it that way. Too bad "out of sight, out of mind" isn't an option in the New Vantage.

There are only a couple companies that manage to integrate a screen into a dashboard without being completely obnoxious. BMW does well with this. Mercedes, and now Aston Martin by extension, does not. The screen sits up high, like a monument to apathetic design. I really wish Aston Martin had done a better job with the screen. It not only looks terrible on its own, it also showcases the parts bin sourcing of the Mercedes components.

Ironically, Clare and I only two days prior to seeing the New Vantage had been talking about how nice it'd be if our Vantages had usable sun visors. The visors in the previous Vantage were so small that they were unusable for all but six or seven minutes during sun up and again during sun down. I often find myself sitting up as high as I can during my commutes to and from my office, trying to hide within the narrow strip of relief the sun visors provide. A couple days ago Clare mentioned how much she wished the visors were larger, and I responded that it'd be nice but it would all but block visibility through the windshield.

We got our larger visors in the New Vantage, and I was right about visibility.

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A nice touch is the thumb-spot on the mirror cover to make it easy to open and close it. It's a small detail, but meaningful. The mirror is also a nicer mirror than the funhouse version in the previous cars. But that's one tight sliver of vista between the sun visor and steering wheel! (Yes, you can push the visor further toward the windshield to open up the view.)

The big surprise for the interior, for me, was when I saw the seats. They look like a pair of cheap sneakers.

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I'm guessing the extra leather wrapped over the bottom and side bolsters (the red leather in the picture above) was added to reduce or eliminate the wearing that is so common on the seats in the previous Vantage. It's a great idea in principle and I'm glad they thought about that... but it looks terribly cheap on the New Vantage's seats. Overall the seats look like low-budget Sparco knockoffs that were so common in riced-out cars in the early 2000s. They can be ordered in monotone leather rather than two-tone, and hopefully that helps improve the styling.

One of the perks of the DB9 is that you get a couple extra "seats" (I use that term loosely here) in the back, which are very convenient for tossing a bag, purse, or case of wine. The downside to that car is that the trunk is surprisingly small. The previous Vantage had the best of both worlds: a parcel shelf in lieu of rear seats and a massive trunk, which a small human like myself can actually fit into with relative comfort.

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The New Vantage has a revised layout, which pushes the trunk space toward the front of the car. The upper area of the trunk is now larger, but the parcel shelf is all but gone. What remains is only an inch or two deep! It's a real shame, because the parcel shelf was the ideal place to toss a jacket or purse with easy access from the seats. It's much easier and more convenient than having to get out of the car to retrieve them from the trunk. And the parcel shelf was also perfectly sized for a camping chair, which is invaluable to those of us that take our Astons to events.

So What Do I Think Now?

I think the New Vantage is going to be a hit. It's a wild Aston to appeal to fans of the brand that want something a bit more bold than the marque's usual offerings. A few months ago at the British embassy I met a guy with a beautiful V12 Vantage S. He was at the dealership event on Thursday and decided to trade in his V12 for a New Vantage in the same color palette. Based on how he was talking about the car, he had no reservations about the trade. He also leases all of his cars, so it may just have been time to update, but he didn't seem to have any qualms about getting into a New Vantage.

Dealerships are very excited about the new car. Recent headlines have stated that the first year's production is sold out. Take that with a grain of salt. First, that includes dealership allocations and they snapped up as many as they could manage. The largest allocation in the US was for Aston Martin of Washington DC, and they only got 14 cars. Second, the first year's production isn't an entire year long, so not as many cars can be made as Aston would otherwise produce. Third, prospective buyers were shown the car a couple months ago and letters of intent signed by those wanting to place an order. That helped whittle down the number of cars available after the New Vantage was revealed to the public. So while the car appears to be a resounding success for Aston Martin, it isn't exactly the overnight sensation that many headlines have made it out to be.

I also think the New Vantage is trying to hard. The unpleasant exhaust crackling on overrun and the front and rear trim that sticks out just a bit too far are both signs that Aston Martin are pushing as fast as they can to appeal to a market wanting brash design, but I think it betrays the company's roots in beautiful subtlety and in fact ruined what would have been a fantastic-looking car. Bringing in the outer edges of the grille and rear valance by an inch or so would have kept the wonderfully-aggressive styling while also improving on the overall design.  But as they are now, they just stick out too far in every direction. And a better choice of material for the front grille would have helped a bit with the divisive front end. Looking at the car from a few paces away, the New Vantage suffers from both over-compensating exterior trim and a poor choice of grille mesh material.

The outside of the car is overly aggressive, the inside is overly busy. It's intentional, and Aston Martin succeeded in its goal to make the car more sporty while differentiating the Vantage line from the DB line. For those of us that wanted something more true to the subtlety the marque used to do so well, the New Vantage leaves a lot to be desired. The pre-production car we saw had gloss black on the front grille, side sills, and rear valance. These parts are also available in carbon fiber. I think the gloss black accentuated the already over-done parts even more, and those pieces would look better in a matte carbon fiber or body-colored paint - anything to draw them in a bit and make them look like they were made as part of the car rather than tacked on top of it.

There are, of course, still major unknowns about the New Vantage. While not the fastest car, the previous Vantage is an absolute pleasure to drive. The New Vantage has a completely different engine and gearbox, plus electronic steering - it'll be a tall order for a car with such a drastic redesign to maintain the soul of the outgoing model.

Redpants Updates

Redpants is moving to Florida!! The relocation has come unexpectedly, and we've got a lot to do in a very short amount of time. There's likely to be some interruptions in email responses, shipments, and inventory restocking while we transition over the next month or two. Some of that has already started happening, and we appreciate everyone's patience as we try to juggle our current obligations, our relocation, and the huge Redpants workload we have to constantly manage.

There shouldn't be a huge impact on our customers once the relocation is complete. The main thing is we'll be restarting our stocking of new OEM inventory, which is great for the Aston Martin owners that rely on us to keep ownership of their cars reasonable. Shipping shouldn't change too much - we're still on the east coast of the USA - and sales tax liability will end in Virginia and change to Florida.

In other news...

We have a signed agreement for our custom lug nuts, design is complete, and machining has begun. I include these lug nuts with orders of BC Forged wheels so any of my customers that have ordered those will be getting a set of lug nuts, as will future customers. I'll also be offering the lug nuts for sale separately for use with wheels sourced from other vendors. They're two-piece, aluminum, hard-anodized, have an optional security lug nut for each wheel, and will be available in black or silver to suit light- or dark-finished wheels. The workup to these has been getting a lot of attention, so I've doubled my initial order to cover previous wheel sales, pending orders, and additional inventory stock.

Our smoked and clear exterior lighting is almost here. The last update I received was a couple days ago, and they were still in final assembly at the manufacturer. The full package includes the front corner markers, side repeaters, rear corner markers, and rear bumper reflectors. This package is suited for cars with front and rear corner markers, like those in the USA. For cars elsewhere, like in Europe, you'll only need the side repeaters and rear bumper reflectors.