Aston Martin V-8 Vantage vs. Porsche 911 Carrera S

Aston Martin V-8 Vantage vs. Porsche 911 Carrera S Aston Martin V-8 Vantage vs. Porsche 911 Carrera S
Comparison Tests

Take a trip with us to the 100-grand plateau, the realm of the working stiff's exotic. Here, people still wear ties in their cars. They nurse sore feet, dictate instructions on cell phones, and curse at traffic. Here, people need a car that starts faithfully, won't chip a tooth on every driveway ramp, and doesn't require imported air in the tires administered by a white-coated technician named Fabrizio who labors under a permanent six-week backlog.

Porsche knows the working elite, has maintained a steady business with them as established as the three-martini lunch. Aston Martin is the interloper, a British boutique catering to knights, lords, and dames, known for plink-plinking aluminum panels by hand in a Shakespearean timber-frame cottage in Buckinghamshire. Ford bought it all in 1994 and has been modernizing Aston and using the Jaguar parts bin to pull down costs. The company now brazenly pitches its new V-8 Vantage -- base price of $110,000, but we are talking about an Aston Martin, sir -- as an alternative to the Porsche 911. Is it? Stick around to find out.

Aston Martin has dodged extinction by reinventing itself every 20 or so years. The supplier of Agent 007's very expensive GTs became the supplier of very expensive English Mustangs, and then the supplier of very expensive Jaguars. All of them were beautiful, and as heavy as London porridge. It's been a long time since an Aston topped the short list of cars for people who really like to drive. Even the slinky two-year-old DB9, Aston's V-12-powered middle child priced at $161,100 (the flagship V-12 Vanquish goes for $260,000), only tied for last place in a super-wedge comparo last August ("Lords of Envy"), maligned by such descriptors as "wooden," "knotty," "feeble," and "ponderous."

With the Vantage, Aston is changing course again, trying to pin the winged mascot to something besides handmade exclusivity. Aston chief executive Ulrich Bez, who has punched clocks at both Porsche and BMW, wants at least one car in his catalog that truly boogies.

The starting point is Aston's VH platform, a symphony of aluminum sheets, extrusions, and castings that is shared with the DB9. The bits are riveted and glued with aerospace adhesives into a two-seater that is 5.5 inches shorter at the wheelbase than the two-plus-two DB9 and a foot shorter overall. Smaller usually means lighter. The 3600-pound Vantage has a 440-pound advantage over the tons-o'-fun DB9.

The Jaguar 4.2-liter V-8 has been comprehensively reworked into the Aston's 32-valve, 4.3-liter DOHC dry-sump 7000-rpm screamer. It sits abaft the front axle, the six-speed manual gearbox just ahead of the rear axle. Placing the heavy bits in the middle is taught in supercar-design kindergarten, and in the Aston it produces a tidy 48/52-percent weight distribution. Surprisingly, much is not included in the Vantage's base price, for example: xenon headlamps, power-folding mirrors, parking sensors, navigation, and those stiletto-spoke 19-inch wheels. All of these contributed to our Vantage's $118,290 as-tested price.

Our intention was to hurl the Aston at the all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 4S. However, Porsche's single $100,620 tester was parked on the wrong coast and couldn't be united with our Brit in time. So we jumped into the nearest rear-wheel-drive 911 Carrera S -- they're quite common in California, after all -- and split for the hills. This Carrera S would vacuum $93,185 out of your pocket, and that amount includes $3365 for the leather-everywhere package, $2265 for power leather seats, $1390 for a Bose sound pack, and $920 for the dashboard chronometer.

That distant rumble is you readers grumbling about price disparity with the Aston. True, you can pay $82,195 for a stripper Carrera S, but the 911 is the benchmark by which all other sports cars in this price range (and a few others) are measured. It has to be here. Besides, check a few of the 911's options boxes, as most buyers do, and you're hurtling toward $100,000 at felony speeds. And the Carrera S is all about felony speeds, with a 3.8-liter flat-six in the trunk making 350 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque in all the right places. The 911 has been challenged by an upstart, and we hereby give it space to make its defense. Let's see what the parties to the dispute have for evidence.