By Simon Hacker, additional reporting by Amit Benjamin
Having graced the silver screen for decades as 007’s vehicle of choice, Aston Martin is no badge for the publicity-shy. But things get even more conspicuous when the car it graces is a gorgeous drop-top, with a soundtrack that can shake your teeth off their mountings. That’s the V8 Vantage Roadster for you.
The current model is being phased out to make way for a revised version, but we thought we’d give it a whirl to see if it’s still a good buy.
For starters, the Vantage is a cruiser. It may look and sound sporty, but it’s definitely not a Porsche 911 Turbo rival in terms of performance. Then again, it looks miles better than the ol’ Turbo.
Die-hard sports car drivers insist cutting the roof off a car butchers its dynamic credibility, but this model suggests they might like to get out more.
The technical dossier alone is a true page-turner: Weighing just 80kg (or an average bloke) more than the standard car, this version shares the coupé’s 380bhp, 4.3-litre V8, putting 100kph within a mere 5.0 seconds and surging on to a top speed of 280kph.
The killer criticism of topless tearaways is that they wallow like warm lettuce when driven casually and — worse still — don’t deliver any true precision when driven hard. But none of that happens here; indeed, the Vantage Roadster feels remarkably solid and is — despite the nose and rump’s considerable girth — very careful where it puts its toes.
Dynamically speaking, it’s nearly as rigid as the standard car, but has markedly stiffer front and rear springs. Over bumpy roads it can exhibit ‘scuttle shake’ with the rear-view mirror vibrating into a fuzz.
Before you zoom off though, a vast array of sensory delights serve as starters. Few cars are as beautifully proportioned. From every angle, the Vantage is Mayfair-posh with a hint of LA bling thrown in, thanks to the complex string-of-diamonds effect headlights, those huge alloys and the sculpted air intakes. Think confident, rather than brash.
The new bonnet only adds to the opulence — a neat, three-layered feature that cocoons against turbulence even at ultra-high speeds, its highly compact design demands so little stowage space that the boot capacity remains the same as the Coupé’s (ie not huge, but enough for two weekend bags). In 18 seconds, it opens and shuts at speeds up to 50kph, making it perfect for shower-dodging.
Inside, forensic care has been taken to keep the atmosphere rarefied. The instruments and much of the interior trim are textured aluminium, the dials featuring neat Swiss watch needles. However, I’d still prefer less Ford bits in the cabin.
The seats adjust electrically in just about every conceivable direction, as does the steering, though there’s one precursor to a possible shortcoming at this point — the driving position. If you’re much over six foot, the very low- raked windscreen may stop south of your cranium, while, if you’re far shorter, you may discover that the fairly prone position leaves you relying upon the parking sonar in a tight spot. Whatever your size, it’s hard to judge the bodywork’s limits, in stark contrast to the shrink-wrapped ease felt at the wheel of Porsche’s 911.
The main reason for spending all this money, however, must be for the sheer pleasure of driving it. And you won’t be disappointed. There’s skin-prickling excitement to be had once that lazy-sounding V8 stirs from its sub-2,000rpm slumber and angrily begins its post 4,000rpm growl. It’s a primeval sound revealed here in Technicolor glory; a machine gun meets electric drum roll.
Children of all ages, however, will enjoy this car’s sense of occasion, not least the ostentatious ‘engine start’ button in the middle of the dashboard. If you’ve opted for the standard manual set-up it’s plain sailing from here, but the optional Sportshift demands more attention: Drive, reverse and neutral settings are all dashboard button-operated, too, and if you want to control the gears manually, you engage them through the steering-set paddles. The latter work perfectly, but when accelerating in fully automatic mode the transmission can lunge between cogs. The system also burns the clutch a touch when negotiating a tight parking spot.
So having turned the page for a new chapter in its 92-year history, Aston Martin’s latest model suggests yet another classic in the making. The new Vantage crosses the Ts on the maker’s 21st century signature with a characteristic flourish.
It might be a future heirloom, but the appeal is bang up to date.