Even in super-coupes, compactness is a virtue. It's one of the many things that makes the Aston Martin Vantage S so entertaining to drive.

The exquisite sense of styling proportion shared by all Aston Martins means that the baby of the range, the Vantage, doesn't look a lot different to the next-size-up Vanquish or the DBS. At least until you see it on the road.

But compact it is. In fact, the Vantage is 157mm shorter than Holden's new small car, the Cruze hatch. If that doesn't put the Aston's 321kW/490Nm 4.7-litre V8 and traditional front-engine, rear-drive configuration into context, nothing will.

Thing is, the way the Vantage S looks and the way it drives are two different things. Styling-wise, it's every inch the genteel English express - beautifully shaped, unmistakably Aston and upholstered with lashings of soft leather.


On the road, it's brash, brutal and more than a bit scary. Especially the $257,000 S version, which boasts an extra 8kW/20Nm, a unique seven-speed Sportshift II automated manual gearbox, quicker steering rack, retuned suspension, wider tracks front and rear, uprated brakes and larger 19-inch wheels and tyres compared with the standard Vantage V8.

A mild tweak it's not, although the styling enhancements are pretty subtle: front splitter, different side sills and reshaped bootlid similar to that on the Vantage V12.

Yes, you can have the Vantage as a V12 too. The mind boggles. You might be sitting in sheer luxury, but this is a raw experience. If you're not going to use the car's considerable performance and handling abilities, I'd suggest the compromises might be too great in everyday driving.

Key to the Vantage S experience is the new gearbox, which has shorter ratios and faster gear changes (by about 20 per cent) than the standard Vantage.

This is a single-clutch unit and it can feel a bit clumsy and laboured around town - especially if you're driving in full-automatic mode.

The great advantage of a single-clutch transmission is a more natural and engaging feel at high speed - that's the reason Lamborghini has stuck with such a system in the new Aventador.

And so it is with the Vantage: gear changes are fast, but also processes to be enjoyed when you're hammering along, as the Sportshift slams into the next ratio to the tune of V8 thunder. And V8 thunder is something Aston Martin does very well.

It's a short car, but with a long wheelbase and the engine pushed right back over the front axle. It gets your attention, but the Vantage is not a nervous machine - just beautifully balanced and communicative.


I love the Vantage S. Who wouldn't?

The bottom line:

Don't be fooled by the genteel styling and luxurious cabin: the Vantage S offers a raw, engaging driving experience with monstrous V8 power and rear-drive. There's nothing quite like it.