Seeing just one of these on our roads can make your jaw drop and hit the paver block. Now imagine the two of them together! These cars are traffic stoppers – enough to make the functioning of the traffic lights irrelevant. Aston Martin added some serious virility to the Vantage all those years ago and to say that the basic design has lost its sexiness is akin to calling Claudia Schiffer a hag. The Jaguar XKR, on the other hand, is a British brute with all those haunches and extra add-ons to take on the Germans, but it can’t hide its sinuous lines or the fact that it is a serious set of wheels.
To even compare the two is somewhat criminal and yet underneath the veneer of aluminium and trick bits, the influence of Ian Callum on both can’t be downplayed. Back in the good ol’ days when Ford thought it prudent to share bits, it asked its men at Halewood and Gaydon to find out ways to build their own cars using similar techniques. And while Aston would create the VH platform that today is the basis of every single model, Jaguar has its own technique of building aluminium subframes using a sort of exoskeleton technique.
But all that metal, plastic and leather somehow do not matter when your hear them go. The exhaust baritone will either make you weep or wet your pants or leave your hair standing. And it’s all thanks to those beautifully honed V8s under their hoods. The Aston Martin Vantage feels like it benefits from a free-flowing exhaust through and through; the only other cars I can think of that exhibit such orchestral tendencies are Ferraris and Maseratis.
The Vantage in stock form sounds straight out of Lake Placid – it’s booming. It looks the European Union bureaucrats in the face and tells them to sod off, sound regulations be damned. Out on Mumbai’s streets the 4.7-litre, 420 bhp V8 on a lovely morning just resonates off the walls of post-independence built buildings, threatening to shake their foundations. It’s so loud that the cops turn a blind eye, as if any attempt to silence it is pointless. With every shift of the sequential gearbox, you are fighting to keep it clean. The Vantage S has a regular automatic box, but the stock V8’s gearbox is a throwback to an era when Astons were built by Ford, not by a bunch of Kuwaiti investors in conjunction with a British company known for making winning rally cars. Every shift is fun in its own way, though at some point, especially in traffic, the constant lashing of the neck may test your patience.
No such problem with the XKR. The 5.0-litre, supercharged V8 is new. It also has more power and unlike the Vantage that feels like it sounds faster than it actually is, this one will pull you closer to the next traffic light quicker than you can say ‘Gor blimey!' The supercharger helps produce so much torque low-down and in the mid-range that you literally could pull a banyan tree from its stump on just half-throttle. Okay, that is an exaggeration, but you do get the drift. With 503 bhp and 63.7 kgm of torque available from as low as 2500 rpm, the XKR even on regular Indian fuel is bloody quick. Strapping on the VBox for a bit of fun with the traction control switched off, the XKR pulled away like a herd of stampeding Indian elephants. Kicking its tail out ever so slightly, it hit the tonne mark in just 4.9 seconds. The dash to 200 kph was so quick that it is unmentionable on these pages. The gearbox feels like it is light years ahead of the sequential job on the Vantage, and despite the use of forced induction, the engineers at Jaguar have managed to tune the exhaust rather well to give you a deep throated note that turns into a bark when you downshift in a tunnel. Sure, the downshifts are a bit slow and not as intuitive as you would have liked the gearbox to be, yet it’s a lot gentler on the bit that joins your head to the rest of you.
Still, it’s the Vantage that feels like it could give a Porsche 911 a run for its money. On a twisting-turning track, the Vantage hunkers down, squats into position and attacks corners like you run your tongue through whipped cream. The steering feels properly heavy and there’s so much weight that you muscle it through corners at times yet because of its smaller dimensions and an even smaller wheelbase, you feel the centre of gravity is right under your seat and you are merely driving a jet propelled go-kart, but with very large anti-roll bars front and back.
The XKR on the other hand is proper GT material. You may want to think that it can turn a corner in a blink, but it won’t. Sure, it will out-handle many poser GTs from Germany, but it’s too tail-happy at times. Even with traction control on, there isn’t an absolute feeling of surefootedness. Give it too much throttle and you may spend more effort than required to bring it back into shape. The steering is lighter at lower speeds and weighs up as speeds increase, but somehow there is a strange feeling of being disconnected from the road after a spin in the Vantage. You learn to respect the limitations of the XKR when you have something as sorted as the Vantage for company, but you wouldn’t crib otherwise.
And while both cars will mesmerise you with bagfuls of chrome, rich leather and all-that-jazz on the inside, it’s the XKR that feels slightly better built while the Vantage is more pleasing to the eye. The Vantage feels like an occasion, what with its crystal key that costs the better part of ` 2.25 lakh (imagine losing one or even cracking the crystal), the dollops of aluminium and chrome bits, the dials that move in opposing ways (they do look gorgeous) and the way the oddly placed handbrake is covered in high quality leather. The Jag on the other hand feels better finished, the plastics are slightly better quality and because it is a proper 2+2, it has a bit more space on the inside to breathe.
The gearshifter is a sight to behold, the touchscreen isn’t all that great but the stereo, despite that loud exhaust, is a work of art. For all practical purposes (even considering kit levels), the Jag is the place to be in, but the Aston somehow makes you feel you’ve paid top dollar for its inconsistencies.
In the end, you may want the Jag because you get more power, more kit, more space and a price tag that will leave you with enough change to throw in a Land Rover Freelander 2 as a support car for the price of a basic Vantage. Yet, the Aston will work its charm through your bloodstream and leave your synapses numb. It doesn’t do ground clearance well and will be a nightmare on your parking lot ramp but you will be left with a smile so wide, you might just forgive it for all its shortcomings. It’s Gaydon’s perfect creation to solve all kinds of traffic problems.