James Bond could soon adopt a German accent – at least if producers of the upcoming 25th instalment of the blockbuster franchise decide to put the fictitious superspy behind the wheel of the latest Aston Martin Vantage.
The most affordable model from the evolving – and expanding – sports car brand now has Mercedes-Benz power, for a bigger kick and more noise.
The new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is the same engine used in the Mercedes-AMG C63 and S63, among others, providing sharper performance than the British brand has offered in its entry-level machine.
Yes, it's the same basic engine as used by Mercedes-Benz, right down to the turbos nestled between the V of the engine, designed to reduce turbo lag by shortening how far the air has to travel to the intake.
But Aston Martin gets a less powerful version than that used in various Mercs.
There's 375kW of power and 685Nm of torque, the latter arriving in a delicious rush way down in the rev range.
While the engine is capable of more – up to 470kW in the upcoming GT four-door – it's far from undernourished, blasting the Vantage to 100km/h in a claimed 3.6 seconds.
Where the Aston Martin adds a British twang is with its exhaust sound.
While it lacks the guttural timbre of an AMG at idle, it makes up for it with a harder edge as revs rise. It's purposeful, although still lacks the rawness of the naturally-aspirated V8 from the previous Vantage, instead making up for it with some fruity enthusiasm – and the sort of performance buyers at this level expect.
It's a shame that sound doesn't kick in on demand, though. Instead, you have to select Sport or Track modes, each of which changes the mapping of the eight-speed automatic transmission, holding gears more and making for sharper shifts.
It's great if you're going for maximum attack, but less endearing if you're yearning for comfort but just want the full-bore noise.
Where the new Vantage has made big leaps is in the everyday liveability.
Aston Martin chief Andy Palmer has long said the brand doesn't need to have the fastest cars in their respective segments, but they must be beautiful and suitably fast.
Goal achieved with the Vantage. That it also pampers occupants is a win.
To some extent that's the most impressive part of the new Vantage. Suspension has surprising compliance considering the low-profile 20-inch Pirelli tyres it's running on.
Even in Sport mode it'll deal admirably with bumps, although Track is too firm for many Australian roads, unwanted jolting entering the equation.
The steering is nicely sorted, too, with a nice ratio, zero unwanted feedback and enough weight when you want it for true driver involvement.
The steering wheel is also a bit different, almost square rather than round; it has a flat bottom and flattened top, too.
That difference is something Aston Martin does with elegance elsewhere in the cabin.
There's a great selection of authentic materials, from the matte silvers to the carbon fibre and stitched leather. It's a great mix of old and new.
The digital instrument cluster reinforces that, with a concise layout and clean, modern look, although there's not a huge difference between the modes in terms of what's displayed.
The Benz influence
The Mercedes influence stretches beyond the engine, too. Those familiar with the German brand may recognise the indicator and wiper stalk is pure Benz, as is the central controller, known as Comand; fortunately the 8.0-inch display has been injected with unique colours and fonts.
It's a shame the electronic handbrake is buried near your right knee, a rare blemish on an otherwise ergonomically sound cabin with hints of aeroplane cockpit.
The push button gear selector is more of an Aston Martin tradition than anything genuinely useful.
Beauty or beast?
For more than a decade it was difficult to pick one Aston Martin from another. Yes, they were stunning, but they were very samey in their styling.
That criticism can't be levelled at the Vantage.
The nose retains that familiar grille, almost like a cross section of a very wide, squashed bell.
But things have been smoothed elsewhere and there's a simplicity to things such as the headlights.
So much so that the Vantage gets edgier and more aggressive the further back you go.
It's personality the Vantage does so well.
It may not be as composed as a Porsche 911 – from $299,950 that's its prime rival – but it oozes British flavour, even with the German engine.
There's a newfound breadth of ability along with hints of cheekiness that ramp up the fun factor.
And it's the most capable Aston Martin to date, its competency when pushed indicative of the maturing of the brand.
That it is so different to anything on the market makes it all the more appealing. German heart and all.