Friday 4th May 2007


ADVANTAGE PRODRIVE

James Mills drives the Prodrive Aston Martin V8 Vantage


Normally, when it comes to cars, it’s hard to get excited about anything as mundane as a button. But in the Prodrive Aston Martin V8 Vantage, one button in particular becomes something of an obsession. The soul stirring name, head turning styling, mouth watering construction and a spec’ sheet that’ll impress your 911-driving mates all play second fiddle to one little alloy disc on the steering column.

Prodrive exhaust tweak lets you hear the V8
Prodrive exhaust tweak lets you hear the V8
With the engine started you prod, push, jab and, well, just smile. It activates Sport, Standard or Quiet modes, but trust me on this one, the only setting a PHer will be interested in is the full-on war cry, Sport. This is front-row of the gig entertainment. Where the regular 4.3-litre V8 won’t show its true colours until 4,000rpm - where upon an exhaust valve opens in the exhaust and you finally get your money’s worth - pressing this little button sets the valve to playtime.

Quite why it took Aston Martin’s GT racing partner, and now owner, Prodrive, to think of making the most of existing technology is beyond us. Doubtless the legislators can be blamed. But as an after-market conversion, Prodrive’s neat little bundle of tricks is free from keeping bureaucrats in jobs. Praise be.

Carbon front and rear lip spoilers cost £2,937
Carbon front and rear lip spoilers cost £2,937
To accompany the war cry, there’s a little bit of war paint too; nothing too Adam Ant and over the top, mind, just enough of a hint to warn 911 drivers that this is a V8 Vantage on the hunt for scalps. There’s a thin black lip of carbon fibre running along the bottom of the now familiar wide-mouth Aston nose, which together with a discreet carbon fibre rear wing slashes high-speed lift by a significant 45 per cent.

The aero package will set you back £2,937. Throw in another cheque for £6,239 and you can have the exhaust together with an engine upgrade. Its remapped ECU engine management unit – read snappier throttle response - and sports catalysts liberate a handy 45bhp and 23 Ib ft of torque. That’s enough that you’ll feel the difference, as well as hear the difference…

The result is akin to a sprinter who’s just had their arms untied from behind their back. New life and energy radiates from this V8 Vantage. And as for the newfound soundtrack, no car enthusiast in their right mind could help but fall for the exhaust’s bellow.

An extra 45bhp from the 4.3 litre V8
An extra 45bhp from the 4.3 litre V8
Purely in the interests of science, we invited along a 911 GT3 RS (996) complete with sports exhaust and there could be no arguments over the results. The Prodrive V8 stretched the broadest grins across faces as it sailed past under full throttle. As party tricks go, this one will definitely win you new friends.

As for the engine, its newfound performance sits at the top of the rev range, so you need to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in to reap the rewards. Do so and you’ll experience a car that thrives on revs.

The added firepower helps drop the 0-62mph time to 4.7seconds – but it’s the changed character of the car, not the raw stopwatch times, that really grab you. On an open valley road with the full 8,000rpm deployed, sound bouncing off the hillsides and exhaust popping on the over-run, there comes a moment where you feel you might have found your very own little bit of motoring nirvana.

But not so fast, because there’s still the not inconsiderable matter of how Prodrive’s V8 Vantage carries itself…

Prodrive chassis improves regular Vantage
Prodrive chassis improves regular Vantage
Fortunately, they’ve been busy with the suspension too. The third and final option in this makeover is a Bilstein damper and Eibach spring set-up for the suspension, complete with switchable control from the cockpit that can be yours for £5,581. If you like the look of the lighter, larger 19” forged Prodrive alloys and Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber, that’ll be £3,995. All of which brings the complete conversion to a hefty £18,752 over and above a V8 Vantage. Hmmm, how about a Porsche 911 Turbo, anyone?

Nevertheless, for all the 911 Turbo’s stunning pace and ability, the Prodrive V8’s interactive front engine/rear-wheel driving characteristics have a strong appeal of their own.

In the dry, you can pitch the car hard into long fast bends, feeling all four-wheels load up before playing around with the throttle and adjusting its stance to your taste. There's more composure too from the rear axle under acceleration and over bumpy road surfaces. Yet although it’s the baby of the Aston range, it still has that hefty feel which requires a degree of manhandling to get the best out of it – a characteristic of modern Astons you’ll either love or loathe.

...but leave the firmest damper setting for the track
...but leave the firmest damper setting for the track
A word of warning however: when cold or wet, those Pirellis will keep you on your toes – the rears can lose grip swiftly, and without a great deal of progression. You’ll need to be quick with the steering inputs, especially when you’ve cancelled the driver aids.

Most of the time, you’ll drive the car in the standard damper setting. The composed body control allows you to tackle the roughest, most undulating and cambered roads without breaking into a sweat. But for those occasions when you venture onto a track, the sport setting is ideal for some fast and furious action. Nevertheless, try running that setting on any of the UK’s shabbily surfaced roads and you’ll tire of it faster than Bernard Manning at a Women’s Institute meeting.

As for the brakes and gearbox, they’re left untouched. But despite our best efforts to cook the brakes, they never showed any signs of weakness, while the gearshift – although no master class in the art of slick-shifting – somehow fits with the car’s macho undertones.

The end result is a car that PHers will love. It may not have the edge in every respect, but it serves up a great big slug of character that makes the V8 Vantage a more desirable proposition. It isn’t cheap, but Prodrive has had no end of interest from existing owners, so clearly it’s hit the target.

But the one thing that leaves a lasting impression is that neat little button on the steering column...





 

Author: James Mills