Aston Martin Vantage S driven

* Hardcore version of Aston Vantage * Price £102,500-£110,700, on sale now * MPG 21.9mpg, CO2 299g/km...

Aston Martin Vantage S driven

What is it?
For a company with such an admirable history in sports-car racing, Aston Martin remains reticent about building a pure track car for customers to buy. Yes, there are hardcore versions of various models, but with the intent that they are primarily for road use.

That more or less sums up the Vantage S. The power and torque from the Vantage's 4.7-litre V8 engine may have been raised slightly to 420bhp and 361lb ft, a seven-speed single-clutch paddle-shift transmission with closely spaced gear ratios is standard, the suspension is firmer and the steering quicker to make the car dive into corners with less delay and tyre scrub, and the exterior styling and cabin trim have been doctored to remain in keeping with all this, but the S is not a track car.

It's a road car that's not out of place on a track, if you understand the subtle difference.

All of which leaves you feeling thrilled at times and short-changed at others. You need to take the car on a track to get the best from the engine because it's one of those that thrives on revs, and the new gearbox from the Italian company Graziano helps you to keep it in the ideal torque band for more of the time.

On the road or on the track?

The steering and suspension changes make sense on the track, too: it's all stiff and taut enough to keep your cornering lines neat, but not so ferocious that you dare not ride the kerbs.

On the other hand, there's no carbon-ceramic brake option, so the pedal goes spongy after just a few laps, and the Bridgestone tyres that are standard fit will soon start to look second-hand.

For road use there's a long-ish seventh gear that makes motorway driving acceptably calm, but you can't get the best from the engine without waking the neighbours and, quite possibly, the dead, and the ride is eye-wateringly solid on the kind of surfaces that are all too common in the UK.

Perhaps the biggest, surprise, then, is that Aston also offers the Vantage S as a convertible as well as a coupe, but as it turns out there's not a great deal of difference between them thanks to their stiff mutual body structure. The coupe's the better car on road and track, but you'd need to be of a strong sporting persuasion to prefer either over the standard Vantage V8 or the V12.

What Car? says

Likeable, but only for the hardcore sports-car enthusiast