Vantage Point - Risking paralysis and death, Jeremy Clarkson gets behind the wheel of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. 'Make no mistake, I was gagging for a go in the Vantage. I was desperate' October 26, 2005 James May has a theory on the Nürburgring, that sinewy 14-mile race track in Germany where car makers from all over the world go to hone a new car's handling. He says that they're not really honing the handling at all, just going all-out to set the fastest possible lap time. And that a car set up to get round the 'Ring in under than eight minutes is going to be complete rubbish on the A38 just outside Burton Upon Trent. Of course, it's my job to pooh-pooh the ramblings of Captain Slow. But this is a tricky one because he's sort of right. Certainly, I was alarmed when I saw an early spy photograph of Aston Martin's new V8 Vantage hurtling round one of the 147 corners with one of its front wheels a full two inches in the air. Captain Slow saw it too and pointed out, quite rightly, that any chassis stiff enough to stick a front wheel in the air is going to have the give and suppleness of a grandfather clock. "They're just trying to make it go round the bloody place faster than a Porsche 911", grumbled Her Majesty's Daily Telegraph's motoring correspondent, in that deep, manly baritone of his. 'It's an absolute honey. Until you happen to take a quick walk round to the front' "And that'll make all their suspension engineers feel all warm and gooey but it's completely irrelevant because..." Fortunately, the rest of the sentence was so low and so deep that only dogs within a five-mile radius could hear what he was on about. But the essence is that he wants to see the Nürburgring closed down. I'll leave you to reflect on that notion while we move on to discuss the car that raised his ire. The Vantage. The most eagerly awaited Aston Martin since, well, er... the last one. I'll admit I was nervous about what the ride might be like but felt, in a car such as this, that's a bit like worrying about pricking yourself on a needle in a haystack. Or turning down the opportunity for an evening out with Uma Thurman because, as my wife keeps pointing out, she has 'big hands'. The Vantage, after all, is supposed to be a sports car; a small, tight, pointy, revvy thing and anyone who didn't like having their spleen shaken into its component molecules could always go and buy a DB9 instead. Make no mistake, I was gagging for a go in the Vantage. I was desperate. And then my back decided to explode. One night, while I was asleep, all the oil in my spine decided to become infected and seep into my central nervous system. Put in plain English, I slipped a disc, and the super-potent painkillers supplied by my GP meant driving would be a big no-no for the next six months. But then the opportunity to drive the new Aston came along. Hmmm. This would mean coming off the painkillers for a day, and putting up with the agony so I could have a thrash in a car with a ride I suspected would be hard enough to make things even worse. The doctor said I'd be mad. My wife said I'd be mad. But they don't understand. You see, I've never really thought about buying a DB9 for a number of reasons. It's a beautiful car, of course, and possibly the best GT in the world, but for purely personal reasons, it's not quite me. First, I have an innate wariness about the complexity of a V12. And second, there's the fact that it's just not quite sporty enough. The Vantage seems to address both issues. It has a 4.3-litre version of Jaguar's Welsh-made V8, and with its short wheelbase and Nürburgring handling, would almost certainly have the lemon-fresh zest of a 911. Deep down, I wasn't driving this car for your benefit. I was driving it to see if I'd like to buy one. I was driving it for mine. First things first: the styling. To the casual observer, it's a DB9, but actually the two are completely different. The Vantage has an even prettier backside, a much more aggressive stance and a roofline that's a full two inches lower than a Porsche 911's. The backrest is a little too concave for Clarkson, especially with a dodgy back It's an absolute honey. Until you happen to take a quick walk round to the front. Viewed from dead ahead, the wheels are completely hidden by a huge spoiler and it really doesn't work at all. Still, the quality of the panel fit is exceptional and there's more good news inside. As with the DB9, the doors open upwards slightly so you don't catch them on high kerbs. You even get DB9 door handles and that's just the start. You get DB9 everything; dials, buttons, knobs, the lot. That's great, because they're elegant, and yet somehow, I wish it were different. It looks like they might have been saving money and 'diesel thinking' has no place in the bespoke world of cars like this. So far as I can tell, you even get DB9 seats and that's not very nice, either, because the backrest is too concave. This is fine if you're fat, but not so good if you're not. And really bad news if your spine's broken. Still, I climbed in (ouch), turned the key, pushed the starter button and waited for that characteristic Aston start-up bellow. It didn't come. The V8 started to make a noise, so I pressed the nice 'n' light clutch, tensed bicep before engaging first on the He-Man six-speed 'box and, for the first time in three weeks, actually found myself going for a drive. On the road, I put my foot down and - Oh. My. God. - a valve, deep in the bowels of the exhaust system flicked open, or shut or something, and the sound of all hell burst forth from the tail pipes. It's not a V8 noise at all, any more than the Ferrari 430 makes a V8 noise. It's not a rumble or an off-beat strum. It's an ear-splitting bellow. At 5,000rpm, it can kill birds. At 6,000rpm, you can hear it, and I am not joking, two miles away. This is easily - and I mean by a huge margin - the loudest car on the market today. Strangely, however, it's not loud at all in the cockpit, which meant I wasn't unduly distracted, which meant I noticed it wasn't anywhere near as fast as I'd been expecting. They say it'll do 0 to 60mph in 4.9 seconds, the same as an automatic DB9, but it doesn't feel that way. Every time I pulled out to overtake another car, I was left on the wrong side of the road feeling a bit disappointed. That said, not as disappointed as those people coming the other way, but let down nevertheless. I should have read the figures before I set off because the Vantage only produces 380bhp and that's 20 less than you get from a Jaguar XKR. What's more, you only get 302 torques, which doesn't sound very plentiful either. Anything that passes you on the straights will be reeled in on the twists Maybe I was expecting too much, but whatever. If you do buy a Vantage, be careful what you choose to take on at the lights. My colleagues tell me that even the Jaguar XJR will keep up. So that means that an M5 or an SL55 will thrash it. Even the 175mph top speed is less than I'd been hoping for. Maybe the penalty for sticking on that big front spoiler isn't only aesthetic. It can't be a weight issue because the magnesium, composite and aluminium body sits on a bonded aluminium chassis. Which means you'll eat heavier fairy cakes. So what about the ride? Well, to test that I gritted my teeth and headed for my favourite route which is a mass of bumps and crests. This is a road that destroys Maseratis, and caused the F430 to bottom out endlessly. It's this road which probably did for my back, and you know what? The Vantage was brilliant. Oh, it's firm all right, but it never crashes. The whole thing felt beautifully damped and controlled. So damped and controlled in fact that it never bottomed out once. Pity. I would've like to have knocked that air dam off. I'll just have to settle for the enjoyment of having driven a car which proves James May to be wrong. I liked the steering too. There's the same weight you get in a DB9, but more feedback and feel. Is it as good as the steering you'll get in a 911? I'm not sure. I don't think so. But it's close. What I do know is that the SL55 which tore away from you on the straight is going to be hauled right back in when you find yourself in the twisty stuff. Its air suspension will be all over the place, whereas the proper set-up in the Aston, allied to the dry sump which gives a lower centre of gravity, means you flow from bend to bend. I never saw the traction control light flicker on once, but then I was trying to be sub-sonic for the sake of my neck. I didn't try hard enough, though, because after 15 minutes, it really was starting to hurt and this made me angry because the V8 Vantage is very good to drive. My fears about the ride were unfounded. And my concerns about the lack of oomph were lost in a blizzard of cornering forces and noise. Afterwards, my wife took it for a drive and, to put you in the picture, she thinks there are only three really good cars on the market at present. The Cosworth-powered Caterham, the Mitsubishi Evo FQ320, and the Ferrari F430. It's been so long, JC struggles to remember what the 'wheel is for She thinks her Lotus Elise 111S with its sports exhaust is 'soft' and 'a bit boring'. But guess what? She loved the Vantage too. Weirdly, she even said it was fast enough. So what would it be like to live with such a thing? Well, it's a hatchback, which sounds great, but since there's no back seat to fold down, just a bulkhead, it's hard to see precisely why this should be an attraction. Just as it was hard to see the point of a lifting tailgate in the old Alfa Romeo GTV6. That said, the boot is generous, principally because you don't get a spare tyre, just a can of gunge and an AA hotline number. What's more, the cabin's spacious too. You might expect a small car like this with such a low roof to feel cramped and hemmed in, but because they haven't tried to shoehorn in some token back seats, you sit way back, like you do in a BMW Z4. This helps create a feeling of space, principally because you don't have eyes in the back of your head so you can't see that you're sitting on the tail lights. So what about quality and the old adage that you should never buy an Aston until it's been in production for at least two years? This was true of the DB7, for sure; it was true of the Vanquish and its stupid gearbox; and it was true of the DB9 too. In fact, they still haven't sorted out the low-speed power-steering judder in that one. Well, obviously, even I could build a machine that would last 15 minutes so I can't judge, but my colleagues took the car to Scotland and back and say it's the first Aston ever which arrived back at base with no warning lights on at all. Well, apart from the handbrake 'on' one which never went out in the first place. That said, I still won't recommend that you buy a Vantage straight away, which is fine because you can't. There's a two-year waiting list, by which time any early niggles should have been sorted out, even if it'll probably cost you the price of a small country by then. Here's the deal, though. The clincher. What would I do to jump that queue? Would I, for instance, be prepared to talk to one of the German engineers who'd helped build it and, if so, for how long? Would I let him talk at me for a week, a day or would I give up after a millionth of a second and go and buy a Porsche instead? There are some issues, chief among them being this one: when you buy a Porsche 911, you get Porsche engineering from the headlamp washers to the rear numberplate bracket. You don't in the Vantage. Yes, the Cologne-built engine has an Aston cylinder head and Aston valve gear and it makes an Aston noise too, but you know, deep down, that really it's a Jag cake with Aston icing. That exclusive profile sure beats the ubiquity of the Porsche 911 Then there's the key, which is from Volvo, and the satnav, which is a Volvo unit too. And this is the stuff you can see. How much, behind the scenes, is Ford? And if there is as much as I suspect, why am I being asked to pay £79,500? Would I ever get away from the fact I was driving a glorified Mustang with Volvo accessories and a German heart? Obviously, the noise helps mask a lot, but even this gives me some cause for concern. It's coming from a relatively conventional V8, one that's only been made to sound so shatteringly violent by a tricksy exhaust valve. Let me put it this way. If there was no such thing as badges, if all cars came from the same company with the same pedigree and the same history, would I buy a Vantage or a Porsche 911? You might not like the answer to that one. I know I don't. But happily, cars do have badges and the companies behind those badges do have pedigrees and history. So here, then, is my conclusion. In a Porsche 911, you're going to have a very good time actually driving the thing, but everyone is going to hate you. They're going to give you dirty looks as you drive by, call you names at the lights, vandalise your paintwork in the night and never, ever let you out of a side turning. That's a given. In the Vantage, everyone's going to want your babies.