Aston Martin V8 Vantage N420
Ever since they unveiled it to the world in 2005, Aston Martin hasn't been able to leave the V8 Vantage alone.
From the outset, the V8 was pegged as a potential race winner, and before long the AM team had thrown out the expensively hand-wrought interior, bolted in a roll bar and sports seats and then unleashed the resulting machine on the world stage.
The car they created, the N24, continues to be a key player in sports car racing, having made its debut at the 2006 Nürburgring 24 hour race with the company's CEO Dr Ulrich Bez at the wheel. The N24 soon spawned a special edition road car, the N400. Now, in keeping with Astons' relentless tweaking, we have the N420, an even more potent slice of modern sports car.
The N420 also manages to improve on the V8's appearance - an impressive feat, given the original's almost unimpeachable neatness. There are some neat design touches - a deeper spoiler and sills, carbon trim and, our favourite, a blacked out C-pillar that gives the stubby Vantage a bit of visual stretching by breaking up the sweep of the roof from front to back. Buyers can choose from a palette of race-derived paint schemes, including the retina-searing Kermit Green and Rose Yellow (with the option of a contrasting colour surrounding the famous AM grille, as per the company's race cars), but this is one car that looks great in white.
The N420 shares its older sibling's obsessions with weight loss and the little touches of race-inspired design, trim and engineering details use carbon fibre for lightness. For the N420 is designed to turn the compact and highly desirable V8 into a purist sports machine, toning down the comforts that make Aston's smallest model into such a delectable combination of day to day driver and long distance touring machine.
That's not to say the N420 is raw; far from it. Leather, Alcantara, chrome, carbon fibre and aluminium make the cockpit a fine place to be (although the bucket seats are less forgiving than the standard ones). But we suspect that anyone investing in one of the 420 coupes or convertibles to be built at Aston Martin's Warwickshire factory won't be using for a relaxed cruise. Instead, the N420 has been tuned to turn it into something of a terrier, an eager, occasionally rather unpredictable little beast that demands daily exercise and is apt to get a bit fidgety if you're just using it to commute around the ring road.
Instead, the uprated V8 positively pops and snarls thanks to a robotised manual gearbox that's always eager to change down to give instant access to the power. As a result, lack of power is never an issue, although the trade-off is a slight jumpiness when you're trying to glide silently along the street.
The snarl of the V8 is distinctive - embarrassing, even - in built up areas, it is still strangely awe-inspiring, whether you're making a smart(ish) getaway from the traffic lights or pulling out into the fast lane of a motorway and putting your foot down. At some point in the not too distant future, the sound of hot exhaust gases being expelled from a large internal combustion engine might start to lose its emotional kick. For now, Aston Martin understands that this is a very particular kind of modern music, one that has been gradually ingrained into the culture for well over a century, and has no intention of letting its cars go quietly. The N420 is an object lesson in how practice makes perfect.