First drive: Aston Martin Vantage N430
That’s “N” for “Nurburgring”, and “430” for bhp. Ollie Marriage reports on the latest cosmetic upgrade from Aston
Ah, the new N-for-Nurburgring, 430-for-horsepower Aston Vantage!
Indeed. And it’s a handsome thing is it not?
It’s always been handsome. It still is. This is not a surprise. Tell me what’s new.
Well, it uses the 4.7-litre quad-cam, dry-sump V8 from the Vantage S and the suspension from the Vantage S as well, while…
Sorry to interrupt, but are you telling me this is a purely cosmetic upgrade?
But the original N400 wasn’t, was it?
No, it wasn’t. Back in 2007, it had an uprated version of the then-4.3-litre V8 with an extra 20bhp, plus bespoke dampers, springs and rear anti-roll bar. This new one takes all its settings from the optional sports suspension-equipped Vantage S. The alterations are chiefly the two-tone paint schemes (there’s a choice of five), various N430 badges, a carbon gear surround, alcantara steering wheel, that sort of thing. The sole possible dynamic advantage comes from the 20kg of weight saved by using lighter forged alloy wheels and carbon-fibre and Kevlar seats.
This is a bit disappointing.
I have to agree that on paper it is. But in reality it isn’t. The Vantage has been on sale, mostly unchanged, since 2005. That’s plenty of time for Aston to have ironed out the faults (of which there were a few on early cars) and perfected the formula.
It’s also plenty of time for it to feel hopelessly out of date.
It is, but somehow, with the N430, that doesn’t feel like too much of a disadvantage. As time passes and Astons (yes, all of them) fail to move on with technology and emissions, they’re becoming ever more distinct from the latest sports cars with their torque vectoring, electric steering and so on. They’re becoming more charming, and this suits them. And while many of these new systems help cars go faster, they don’t make them any more entertaining to drive. The N430 feels like what it is – a culmination of ten years of development. It drives cleanly and well, is firmly damped, but not harsh, steers pleasingly and gets itself down a difficult road in a fast and engaging manner. It’s an analogue sports car, the antithesis of the Nissan GT-R.
But not fast? It has a 0-100kph time of 4.6 seconds.
Yes, and that is half a second slower than a BMW M4 etc. However, pretty much all the lost time is accounted for by the ponderous manual gearbox, one of the N430’s key flaws. The shift is notchier than Russell Brand’s bedpost, and there’s too much drivetrain shunt at low speeds. And the V8 is a little light on torque compared with all the turbocharged stuff that’s around. But it’s a lovely motor to use, sonorous, meaty and with a wild, thrash metal top end. The gearing is long, but the engine hits hard. Leave it in third and there’s lot to enjoy. It revs quickly, responds precisely and feels more hardcore than many other naturally aspirated V8s.
So it’s a proper driver’s car?
Not in the mould of the Porsche GT3 – it’s too heavy for that – but on a sweeping country road it’s poised, turns in well and despite James May’s conviction that the Nurburgring only harms car development, soaks up the punishment. It’s genuinely enjoyable and romps along with abandon. It does feel slightly old-fashioned in the detectable roll it exhibits, and the fact it only has a single Sport button (and that doesn’t alter the damper stiffness, just the exhaust and throttle sensitivity) but I really didn’t mind. There are things I would like improved though – the gearing really needs to be shorter and the gearchange snappier. I also wish Aston could completely cure the odd steering judder you get when turning the wheel fast at low speeds. And if you really hurl it into a corner there’s a sense you are getting to the limits of the chassis’ know-how.
And the cabin?
It’s good. It feels special. The materials used and the way they’ve been put together in the N430 give it a proper ambience. It’s better for not having the Nurburgring map embroidered on the centre console as in the old N400, and N430 badges are restricted to the seat and door kickplates. Best of all, when you press the glass key into the dash (yes, you still have to do that, and no, it still doesn’t work every time), the dash display doesn’t illuminate with the cringey “power, beauty, soul” motto any more. It’s now “Pure Aston Martin”. Marginally better.
It used to get slated for its sat nav system, too.
It did and not enough has changed. It’s still utterly frustrating. In two days I never figured out how to zoom in and out on the map. The trouble isn’t the system itself, which is sourced from Garmin, but the integration into the car, with all the buttons tucked down ahead of the gearlever. They’re so inaccessible they’re reason enough for you to opt for the automated manual Sportshift transmission instead (it also has a shorter final drive, which could help the gearing issue). If you so choose, you can also have your N430 as a roadster.
But that would be even more money, and I bet the N430 is deep into six figures already...
Here’s the thing: the N430, although it is basically a Vantage S with the optional sports suspension, is actually less than the model it’s based on. Porsche 991 Carrera S-with-a-bit-of-spec money. That’s not bad is it? And it’s not a bad car all round – better than expected for a no more than a cosmetically enhanced Vantage S. It has a niche. The question for Aston going forward is how it’s going to update the cars, embrace the technology and not lose the charm...
4735cc, V8, 430bhp, 489Nm, 8.7kpl, 321g/km, 0-100kph 4.5secs, 306kph, 1610kg