Join Date: Mar 2001
First Drive: 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (Motor Trend)
First Drive: 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (Motor Trend)
Advantage Roadster: Aston Martins's V8 Vantage loses nothing with its top sliced off
First off, your humble servant is not James Bond. That's no Jaeger-Le Coultre Reverso (the watch from which the V8 Vantage Roadster draws its design inspiration) on the left wrist. There's no defibrillator in the glovebox. The drive isn't along the scorched-earth landscape of Iceland or to Casino Royale (though Provence's twisty roads to Mount Ventoux are no slouch).
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster most certainly isn't any manner of Ford Motor Company product nor a jazzed-up Jag or Porsche 911. You slice the iconic top off a 911, even if you're Porsche, and the car looks like an aftermarket conversion. When Aston slices the lid off the V8 Vantage, you get something that looks like its own piece of art. It's as masculine looking as the Coupe (though a couple hundred pounds heavier), the lines enhanced without the fastback roof, making this Roadster look equally at home cruising Beverly Hills or Miami Beach.
In fact, the Roadster has one clear advantage over the Coupe: its soundtrack. No need for a high-end hi-fi in the dash; the raspy WOOFLE! of the exhaust fills your ears with stereophonic sound when you've lowered the top. At speed and especially when exhaust-note-strafing a stone or cement wall alongside a two-lane in Provence, the Roadster's 380-horsepower 4.3 rumbles like a musclecar V-8 with whine added for a British accent. You'll work the gear change extra hard just to make your own music.
Speaking of gear changes, the three-pedal six-speed manual rules. Most Americans will choose the automated manual six-speed, with paddle shifters affixed to the column, just as more Americans will take the Roadster over the Coupe. Aston's automated manual is better than BMW's sequential manual gearbox, but it's not as good as Audi's DSG. Even with this tranny's built-in downshift throttle blips, it's not as smooth or as satisfying as when you row your own. The traditional six-speed manual is one of the best gearboxes extant. The clutch takeup is smooth and even, the gearshift smooth and positive.
No complaints about the engine or chassis, either. The V-8 actually feels stronger than its 302 pound-feet would indicate. With either gearbox, it pulls hard even in upper gears and gives you the confidence to fill any traffic hole with quick application of the right foot. All road imperfections make themselves known through the seat of your pants, and that translates into high cornering ability, but the chassis is at the same time silky smooth and rock steady. It informs you of the imperfections without making you uncomfortable. Steering is inspiring and quick, yet light to the touch. The Roadster is as tactile as the Alcantara placed inside the interior door pulls. Top up or down, the car is quiet until you lay into the V-8. You can keep wind roar to a minimum with the top down and the windblocker in place. Doing the nerdy thing and winding up the windows helps.
Biggest complaints concern the interior. It's snug for larger passengers. The bottom of the super-rakish A-pillar results in a front blind spot at intersections. The center stack is busy with buttons, making it hard to find such rudimentary items as the tripmeter reset. And, really now, a $127,000 car should have automatic-up power windows.
Dynamically, the only problem is that the front end feels just a slight bit light at speed on certain surfaces. Designers chose not to clutter the Vantage's muscular, tightly wrapped sheetmetal with a splitter under the nose. Form versus function.
Our impressions about the ride, handling, and steering read more or less the way Aston CEO and chairman Ulrich Bez describes the Vantage Roadster. You endeavor to maintain a journalist's skepticism, yet when the man who's been reinventing the company since 2000 tells you what the car's like and you go out and drive the thing, and it turns out that is what the car's like, you have to admit that Bez is a pretty smart guy.
It's easier to argue when Bez says Aston has no peers; that it's in a class all its own. With the Vantage, DB9, Vanquish, and, coming before the end of the decade, the Rapide four-door, Aston Martin fits in price somewhere between Porsche and Ferrari, and most people in this price range won't make a decision based on the 911's cheaper price. Rich buyers benefit because they have the choice of a number of distinct brands in this ballpark, from upper-end Mercedes and BMWs to Bentleys, the Porsches, and the "entry" Ferraris. Choosing the Aston Vantage is choosing the elegance of rich, harmonious materials nicely arranged to produce a relaxed luxury, but with feel and performance and low-speed ease of driving rivaling the more businesslike Porsches. It's a car for those who know how to wear a Brioni suit. Throw in a sense of style that a few years ago was known as "Cool Britannia," and you have a lineup far removed from the aging product that defined Aston from the time between 007's DB5 (or maybe a few years later, when Roger Moore drove one in "The Persuaders") to the day Bez took over.
You might also dispute Bez's argument that there are virtually no Jaguar parts in the car. The 4.3 V-8 has the same cylinder spacing as Jag's 4.3 V-8, but Aston casts its own block, Bez counters. Again, the proof is in the drive. Any Jaguar underneath the Vantage's body has been tightened or beaten into shape. There's none of the XK8's flaccidness, and roadster cowl shake is almost imperceptible. This is a tactile, aluminum billet, one with a fierce smile for a grille-nothing that would be mistaken for a Taurus.
In this new automotive world order in which it seems that even small automakers might be able to thrive independently, the consortium of Prodrive's David Richards, Kuwaiti money, and Texas Aston collector John Sinders has brought the independent British car industry back from the grave. The Vantage is prime proof in Coupe or Roadster form. PAG's Aston is dead; long live Aston Martin.
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster
BASE PRICE $126,400
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 4.3L/380-hp/302-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual; 6-speed auto-clutch manual
CURB WEIGHT 3800 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 102.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 172.5 x 73.5 x 50.0 in
0-60 MPH 5.4 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 13/19 mpg (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently