With premium brands, normally bigger is better. But not with Aston Martin: it's very firm about the entry Vantage being its sportiest and most aggressive model: stronger and more rewarding than the larger DB11 and DBS.
ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE
Base price: $249,000.
Powertrain and performance: 4.0-litre twin turbo-petrol V8, 375kW/685Nm, 8-speed automatic, RWD, Combined economy 10.3 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 3.6 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4465mm long, 1273mm high, 2704mm wheelbase, 20-inch alloy wheels with 255/40 front and 295/35 rear tyres.
We like: Muscular styling, throaty V8, agile handling, vastly improved quality.
We don't like: Poor visibility in urban driving, clumsy Mercedes cabin controller.
So what's new?
Aston Martin's announcement that the Vantage is now available with a manual transmission, for a start.
That's not the car we're driving here, unfortunately. But it is a clear signal that the British maker reckons its smallest model is definitely the most driver focused.
Since you asked, the Vantage AMR manual has a seven-speed shifter (with a "dog leg" first) and the limited-slip differential specially tuned by the Aston dynamics team. The AMShift system mimics the technique of heel-and-toe downshifts.
The removal of the automatic transmission takes 95kg out of the AMR. The new car is limited to 200 units in a variety of liveries - including the final 59 example in "Vantage 59" green/lime to mark the anniversary of Aston's 1959 Le Mans win.
Is this all making the "standard" Vantage sound a little bit ho-hum?
How does it all come together?
Put the AMR aside and the Vantage is still an exhilarating, thunderous sports car. Yes, that's right: sports car rather than luxury coupe.
The styling is sheer aggression (Aston amusingly calls this model a "natural predator", but you get the point) and it has the dynamic personality to match. We all know that new-gen Astons use Mercedes-AMG V8 power, but that's a good thing: exquisite engineering and proven potential for excessive noise. Which the Vantage has, although it's been tuned to have very much its own soundtrack.
It's incredibly wide for one so short (2.1 metres mirror-to-mirror), which contributes to not only that in-your-face look but also astonishing lateral stability in fast corners. So it's steady, but it also feels like it wants to dance if you get lively with the throttle. There's loads of mechanical grip and many electronic safeguards to stop you overwhelming the Pirelli rubber, but there's also a titilating sense of danger in the way the car responds to steering and throttle.
Much of the appeal of machines like this lies in their blend of extreme performance and handling potential with everyday driveability.
The Vantage impresses on a popping-down-to-the-shops level as well. Getting in and out is relatively easy thanks to the low sills and up-and-out door hinging, although the very low seating position (as it should be a proper performance car) and high waistline brings some opportunity cost in terms of visibility.
You can forget about the wobbly and confusingly laid-out Aston cabins of old: this one looks sharp and feels to be of genuinely high quality.
There's some benefit from the use of Mercedes-Benz switchgear of course, although we're not huge fans of the German maker's non-touch-screen and touchpad/rotary controller combination. It's no longer latest-tech by Benz standards and more to the point it was all a bit clumsy even when it was.
But it's all still generations ahead of the previous Vantage.
Any other cars I should consider?
The Porsche 911 is the benchmark for this type of car - even Aston Martin admits that.
Vantage money gets you a Carrera S with similar power and performance. The Porsche won't get the adrenalin pumping quite as much (at least in this specification) and it's not a V8 of course, but in terms of handling nuance and overall design it's next-level.
Others? You're probably talking mid-engined machines - which is appropriate because the Aston's V8 is actually front-mid mounted.
The McLaren 540C is another $50k and arguably not as practical, but the Audi R8 V10 is a proven everyday proposition. It pumps out 397kW and is less than $5k extra over the Vantage.