Aston Martin V8 Vantage
by Robert Forrest
Aston Martin Akasaka is part of Shintoyo Enterprises Ltd., a group that also includes Jaguar as part of their exclusive network. Situated in a basement showroom on the 246 near Akasaka Mitsuke station, Director Yushi Katayama offers the next step for Jaguar drivers with deeper pockets.
Following four years in Washington DC at George Washington University, Katayama’s English is soaked in a warm American accent. He then spent a year at Aston Martin’s HQ in Britain before joining Shintoyo last year. I spoke with him and Operations Manager, Koichi Yashiki, about their business—and the much admired V8 Vantage that brings Aston Martin ownership one step closer.
The original Vantage from 1977 added vigor to the charm of cars like the DB6 and today’s version, the body a tight fist of power and emotion, is a fitting successor. It targets the rebirth of wealthy young professionals, and following its 2005 launch was soon voted best production car design by expert e-zine Car Design News. It still looks—and sounds—as good today. The range was recently extended by the gorgeous convertible, which brings that hammering exhaust note right into the cabin.
Both coupe and cabrio are based on the same chassis as the DB9, though the V8 Vantage’s more compact dimensions slice up to 200kg from the range-topper. As the name suggests, it is powered by a 380hp V8, gaining two cylinders over the Porsche 911, which have become common trade-ins, according to Katayama. He also notes that many owners are 30- to 40 somethings in the finance industry, often foreigners, and typically more likely to be in the creative business than drivers of other brands. Suitably, it is advantageous that both he and Yashiki are fluent English speakers—something vital if you are to navigate the extensive options list. Electrically folding mirrors and heated seats are particularly popular, but the color chart is where things get more interesting; they will color-match the paint and leather to anything you provide. So that means no more of the blank whites that are so common now. Another benefit of opting for a batch-produced car is the hand-finished interior, which unites the stylish flair of Italian shoes with the precision of Swiss watches for a leather-lined cocoon, glistening with details.
Aside from the 911, rivals for the V8 Vantage include the Audi R8, Maserati GranTurismo, the Lexus LF-A and the Acura NSX. The Maserati, being a large four-seater and not a compact sports car, will however worry the Jaguar XK more than the Vantage, instead it is German designers that get closer to the Aston. Both the R8 and 911 are stunning; the Audi unique in its graphics, the Porsche special for its pebble-like contours. It is a striking example of how competitive the car industry is, and how important design is in carving an impression. Here the Vantage marks its aesthetic balance: if the Audi is mostly tense tendons, and the Porsche more organic, then the Aston brings the two together with primed muscles around strong bones. It is clever market positioning by British Design Director Marek Reichman, and accurately reflects the competency of the dynamics a brief test-drive exposed.
The first thing you notice is how easy the car is to enter via the so-called ‘swan-doors’ which open slightly upwards and can be held at any angle—particularly useful in tight spots. Inside, the space afforded by the front-engine layout is comparable to its mid- (R8) and rear- (911) engined rivals, with plenty of leg room and a useful parcel shelf. But enough of that, what you want to know is how it goes—and it does. Clear streets and open windows cajole a noise that curls into a metallic howl above 1500rpm as acceleration flattens your chest. The hi-fi is quite good too, but you soon don’t care as you tease the engine’s orchestra with your foot. And it feels safe; being so wide and low brings a rare sense of security when changing lanes. The best bit though is seeing your reflection in shop windows—and the fixated stares of strangers. You feel good driving it.
…if the Audi is mostly tense tendons, and the Porsche more organic,
then the Aston brings the two together with
primed muscles around strong bones.
If you are in the market for an exclusive and charismatic coupe and opt for the Brit, you may be happy to hear you can see its construction: Aston Martin Akasaka will help arrange a trip to England for a tour around the factory and a chance to see the astonishing design studio (from the outside, of course). Back in Japan, Katayama confidently explains the thoroughness of his aftercare service—even going so far as to state that existing Aston owners come to him from other dealerships to benefit. This is a pertinent point, however, as Aston Martin has come under the spotlight recently following Ford’s sale. I put this point to him, and Katayama quickly stated that the ‘future is very bright under the new ownership’. He is referring to the Prodrive-led consortium, that because of which Aston is pursuing motorsport more with production of the beautiful four-door Rapide, expected to begin late next year. But for those unable to wait for that, driving the V8 Vantage is not a bad way to pass the time.
For more information on the Vantage V8 or other Aston Martins, see www.astonmartin-akasaka.com or call 03-5411-2332