This could sound a bit strange, but my best memory – aurally speaking (if you follow) – is in a Jaguar XKR convertible, in a single lane tunnel, with the top down, and with the throttle pedal mashed to the floor. The sound – and the resulting sensation (or should I say thunder) – was epic.
It was as if a World War II bomber was taking off within the confines of the tunnel. The roar from the (what was then a) 4.2-litre supercharged V8 made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and the resulting wail from the quad exhaust embedded itself in my memory forever.
So, when I tested the (now) 5.0-litre supercharged V8 XKR coupe, concealing 500 fire-breathing horsepower, it had a lot to live up to – acoustically anyhow. So, to keep it honest, we brought along another British-made sports car with an exhaust note to deafen your neighbour as quickly as it can quicken your pulse – the Aston Martin Vantage.
Thus, the scene for this exhaust note shootout was set – dawn, Worli Sea-Face, intrepid morning walkers, and two British sports cars that sounded angrier than God through a violent thunder storm. Let’s just say that these two well-and-truly shattered the pre-dawn calm.
Bear in mind, though, that this is Mumbai – the calm doesn’t last particularly long as it is. And if it is to be broken, then what better way than to channel it through two stunning sports cars?
The Aston, for instance, transforms even a mundane act like getting in the car into an event – right from the door handles that sit flush on the door, to the actual doors themselves, which are traditionally hinged but open at an upward angle. Aston refer to them as ‘swan wing doors,’ which is a little too ‘fairly tale’ for a car that looks as menacing as this one. An Aston Martin Vantage in jet black, i.e. our test car, is like a hit man in an immaculately tailored suit who seems to say, “My doors open this way because they feel like it, do you have a problem with that?” Either way, it just seems to work.
And this effect is carried on inside the cabin as well. There’s exquisite leather everywhere, and everything in the car just feels bespoke – like an Aston should – right from the maroon leather that surrounds the seatbelt buckle, to the perforated hide on the steering wheel, to the interior LED lamps that shoot light beams at you. Of course, there’s more – the instrument cluster looks like it’s made from a single piece of billet aluminium, the gloss black finish on the center console looks like it’s come from a grand piano, the glass key is a work of art, but, believe it or not, Aston calls it an ‘Emotion Control Unit,’ and the ‘Power, Beauty,’ and ‘Soul’ readout that appears as you start the car – it’s all there to let you know that you’re seated in a car that is James Bond’s choice of chariot.
But, the question is – does it go as well as its exhaust note seems to suggest? Well, one look at the 275/35 R19 rubber mounted on some of the most exquisite multi-spoke wheels that I’ve ever seen, and you would think so. And, it must be said, the long and the short of it is that it goes pretty darn well indeed!
The 4.7 litre V8 produces 420 horsepower and pulls like a freight train. The best part, though, is that it’s naturally aspirated, and, therefore, is extremely linear in its power delivery – allowing you to exploit the relentless torque (470Nm from 1500rpm) of the engine even within a city like Mumbai.
For our anniversary issue in November this year, we had a pretty impressive selection of machines at the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit in Abu Dhabi – this included the Audi R8 V10, the Maserati Gran Turismo MC Stradale, a Maserati Trofeo Cup car (which we didn’t actually get to drive), a Radical SST, and an Aston Martin GT4, which is the race-spec Vantage. And, I have to admit that, while the Radical was the most exciting, my favourite car of the test was the Aston because it was pure unadulterated GT magic.
Now, the street going version isn’t quite as powerful – or light, seeing that it’s equipped with every leather clad amenity known to man. As a result, you do feel a little bit of its girth from behind the wheel, but it still feels imminently direct and chuckable from the driver’s seat. The chassis is incredibly neutral and the steering is brimming with feel – allowing you to play with the rear end at will, even within the restricted confines of the most populous metro in our land.
The only downside, of course, of all this driver involvement and feedback is that you also get to experience every single expansion joint on Marine Drive. Plus, I would have much preferred a traditional manual transmission rather that the paddle shift semi-automatic that most people seem to opt for these days. Yes, you can sense the shifts taking place in the transaxle behind you, which is nice – the transaxle, by the way, has the transmission and axle housed together in the rear to ensure even weight distribution. But the transmission can be just a little fussy and cantankerous at slow speeds. Besides, Aston Martin is one of the few manufacturers who still offer a proper manual gearbox, and I salute them for that.
Speaking of which, the XK-R is offered only with Jaguar Drive Select – Jag’s rotary knob that greets you by rising up from the center console – which means that the Jaguar doesn’t even offer a manual transmission. To its credit, though, this is a 6-speed automatic that offers manual shifting – again through paddles on the steering wheel. The up side is that the transmission is decidedly good natured and the shifts are incredibly smooth. And that’s quite useful actually because the Jag truly has explosive power.
To merely say that this really is a leaping cat would be an understatement. It’s more like a feral feline on the prowl – it’ll sneak up on you innocently, and then lunge completely without warning. Let me put it this way, it has 503 horsepower courtesy of its supercharged V8. But, more importantly, it produces a mammoth 670Nm of torque from 2500rpm. Needless to say, all you have to do is tap the accelerator pedal, causing the car to obediently and instantly surge forward in response. Of course, to ensure such feline reflexes, I would drive it only in Sport – with Dynamic Mode engaged all the time.
What you notice about the Jag, in addition to its power, is how liveable it would be on a day-to-day basis. The steering is light, but sharp, the ride is compliant, but firm, and the looks are stunning, but not outlandish. My favourite angle, interestingly, was a view of the rear haunches in the wing mirrors. Both cars, in fact, are truly voluptuous. There are other traits that both these cars share as well – for instance, a lot of mice lost their fur for the headliner on both cars.
But, other than that, what it boils down to in the end (the purpose of this comparison) is the exhaust note face-off – and, while the Aston puts up a good fight, the Jag convincingly wins the battle of the duelling exhausts. It’s deep throated, its melodic, it manages to vary its pitch and tone perfectly, and it’s something that you could never tire of.
The broader question, though, is what’s the future of powertrains in R-spec Jags? You see, in the interest of efficiency, everyone seems to be going the turbo route – but they just don’t have the roar you get from a naturally aspirated, or supercharged, V8. In fact, AMG has developed a special acoustics team to adequately tune the next generation of its turbo powered muscle Mercs. So, let’s enjoy the tune of both these cars while we still can.
And while the Jag may win the aural contest, the Aston certainly scores on driver involvement. The light steering and compliant ride of the XK-R score on the bumps around Bombay, but out on the open road – or better yet, on the racetrack – the Aston would be in a different league. Plus, everything about the Aston is special – just take a look at the stalks that hold up the wing mirrors for instance, it’s pure sculpture. Bear in mind, of course, that it’ll lighten your wallet by about an additional 75 lakhs to soak in the intricate details of the Vantage.
In the Aston, you earn the speed, and it’s very special indeed. In the Jag, its effortless – it just is!
|Aston Martin V8 Vantage||Jaguar XKR|
|Engine||4,735cc / V8 / 32 valves||5,000cc / V8 / 32 valves / Supercharged|
|Transmission||6-speed automated manual / Rear Wheel Drive||6-speed automatic / Rear Wheel Drive|
|Power||420bhp @ 7300rpm||503bhp @ 6000-6500rpm|
|Torque||470Nm @ 5000rpm||625Nm @ 2500-5500rpm|
|Acceleration||0-100km/h – 4.9 seconds||0-100km/h – 4.8 seconds|
|Price||Rs.1.70 Crores (Ex-showroom)||Rs.95 Lakhs (Ex-showroom)|