Aston Martin V8 Vantage N400

Ultimate Vantage scores on exclusivity. But is it the best package?

  • Sharp looks, taut handling, interior feels special, charismatic V8, Sportshift transmission
  • Expensive, poor visibility, tight cabin

Experience counts in this market, and Aston Martin, which was founded back in 1915, has had longer to get things right than either Maserati (established in 1926) or Jaguar (1935). As with its rivals, the British marque has encountered more than its fair share of ups and downs, including being sold by Ford last year. But it’s now on a firm footing, and shifted more than 7,000 models in 2007.

That figure looks set to be beaten over the next 11 months, although only 240 examples of the N400 coupé will be on the balance sheet. It made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show last autumn, and features a manual transmission or the £3,000 automated Sportshift set-up fitted to this car. Our model is finished in gorgeous Karussel Orange – but the N400 is far more than just a glitzy paintjob.

There’s extra power, a sport pack to improve the handling and a range of cosmetic upgrades – including numbered sill plaques and a stitched map of the Nürburgring circuit on the centre cubby lid. But it adds £11,200 to the price of a standard Vantage, and is only 20bhp more potent.

Aston justifies the hike by pointing to the raft of options included. Sat-nav, a premium sound system, xenon headlamps and Bluetooth are all fitted. Plus, the styling has lost none of its power to stop people in their tracks. In France, the Aston was mobbed – the other two cars barely registered. This could be due to the colour, although for us the perfectly sculpted Aston is the most attractive choice. It helps that it’s so pert and compact; the N400 is the lowest of our trio by nearly 100mm and more than 500mm shorter than the Maserati.

Of course, interior space suffers – the Vantage is a strict two-seater. Then again, the hatchback rear end ensures it’s almost as practical as the Jaguar. And not even Coventry’s finest can match the feelgood factor of the Aston’s cabin. Simply opening the door is an experience to savour – it swings out and up on gas struts, and reveals expensive materials, gorgeous lighting and an excellent seating position. Yes, there are some Ford and Volvo parts on display, but they don’t detract from the air of sophistication.

The figure-hugging seats remind you the N400 isn’t just designed to cruise in comfort. It also has a naturally aspirated 400bhp V8. The modified engine management system helps provide more top-end shove, although best of all is the noise it makes – the 4.3-litre sounds like a thunderclap.

Add in quick shifts and short gearing (it pulls 400rpm more at 70mph), and the Aston feels by far the fastest car, even if there were only a few tenths of a second separating our trio at the test track.

Its brakes are easily the best. While the pedal is a bit soft, there’s none of the other models’ fade, and the N400 stopped from 60mph in 31.8 metres – two metres ahead of its rivals.

In the past, we’ve criticised the way Astons’ unsettled rear axles upset the handling through bumpy corners. The cars are gradually improving, and the N400 is the best yet. Boasting uprated dampers, a fatter rear anti-roll bar and stiffer springs, it corners superbly and generally feels far more together on uneven roads. The steering is the finest here, the controls all work in harmony and the suspension is firm but supple.

Major surface imperfections are still felt in the cabin, even with the dampers in comfort mode, although the Vantage was otherwise taut and controlled. But no matter how well rounded the N400 is, its £97,000 price tag is very expensive.

Details

Price: £97,000Model tested: Aston Martin V8 Vantage N400Chart position: 2WHY: The limited-run N400 has been built to mark Aston’s success at the Nürburgring 24-hour race.

Economy

Short gearing ensured the Aston was the least efficient cruiser, while its addictive exhaust note made it difficult to resist bouts of acceleration. But it’s small and light, and at 18.4mpg, came close to matching the claimed figure of 18.7mpg.

Residuals

As the Aston brand is so exclusive, resale figures are difficult to calculate. However, low-mileage 2005 Vantages typically sell for around £65,000 – which equates to an impressive residual value of 70 per cent.

Servicing

Although the fuel in France was 15 pence a litre cheaper than in the UK, running one of these cars day-to-day is not for the faint hearted. The N400 needs a check-up every 10,000 miles, and each service will set you back at least £800.

Tax

All three models sit in the top tax bracket. The Aston has the highest CO2 emissions, at 358g/km. Combine that with its astronomical asking price, and wealthy business users are looking at an annual tax bill of £13,580.

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