Tuesday 21st December 2010


DRIVEN: ASTON MARTIN N420 ROADSTER

400 'sub-zero' miles with the roof down. Whose idea was PH Open Season anyway?


'Hello gorgeous' cooed the OH as I awoke the other Sunday, slightly the worse for wear from the night before.


Rolling over blearily, I opened both eyes in time for Goose (the dog) to stick a slobbery tongue deep into the left socket. And with only the right peeper serviceable, the apparently amorous Mrs-R was nowhere to be seen.

Until I clocked her standing by the bedroom window that is, face pressed against the glass and positively leering at the black Aston N420 roadster on the drive. The regular Vantage roadster is pretty compelling in standard form, but with extended sills and funky carbon bits, riding on those wheels, and all in glossy black... Suffice to say there was ice on the windowpane, and I'd not be at all surprised to learn the missus had her tongue stuck to it.


There was no time to find out there and then, because when you've been lent an Aston Martin for a weekend the daylight hours are too precious for ordinary messing about. Scant minutes longer than it took to slurp a coffee and fill a hot water bottle (and open a tin of Butcher's Tripe), we were hatted and gloved, snuggled low into the deep-set cockpit, and the hood was whirring into its compartment under the tonneau cover. It was bloody chilly though, with the external temperature gauge showing -5. Brrr...

Or rather BRRRR-RAAAPPP! It wouldn't have been only the immediate neighbours who heard our early morning departure for the PH Sunday Service at M-B World, as the Roadster's war-like exhaust rattled tiles across Brighton's suburban rooftops.


The exhaust is one of the N420's many endearing features and is a so-called sports system. (Isn't showing-off in cars more of an art than a sport in the traditional sense?) It has a revised muffler designed to 'muffle' less efficiently, and the exhaust bypass valve map has been tweaked to allow full noise to develop from around 3500rpm. The re-set bypass also allows more popping and crackling on lift-off. As a result you get the aural benefit of the richly vocal 4.8 litre, 420hp V8 without the need to pile on too many revs through the town centre. Looking good successfully being inversely proportional to the effort expended on the cause, this upgrade is greatly to be welcomed.


Feeling good, however, is a different thing altogether to looking it. And while a regular Vantage Roadster should warm the cockles of any enthusiastic driver's heart, the N420 is guaranteed to raise the temperature by a good few degrees.

Forget the exhaust (not that you could), and those eye-catching sill extensions and carbon-fibre bits, because the N420's raison d'etre is to showcase the advantages of the Vantage sports suspension package.

Damper, spring and anti-roll bar rates have all been subtly revised, and there's 1kg less un-sprung weight at each corner thanks to those super-light (and spectacular) alloys. (In fact there's a 27kgs weight saving overall thanks to the adoption of carbon-backed sports seats, but that's a benefit easily lost to a few good lunches as some fellow PH 'gourmands' might attest.)


On the road it's all highly engaging, with a little more of the road surface feel communicated to the driver through the steering wheel than by a standard Vantage, while the suspension upgrades giving a reassuringly tighter feel to body control.

Road conditions were intermittently slushy or frozen when we had the car, and with nearly 400 (roof down - yay!) motorway miles to squeeze into a weekend the opportunities for pushing hard were limited. Still, I managed to find a few hours for a glorious wintry blast around some of our local lanes and was impressed at the suppleness of the N420's ride over the sort of twisty undulating sections of tarmac that can prove so unsettling to less sorted machinery. Aston really does seem to have found a great balance of ride and refinement with this car, and the wickedly strong (but not outrageous) power delivery helps create a sense of completeness around the N420 package that's really hard to fault on the road.


Indeed, with a smooth-changing six-speed manual gearbox to play with, the N420 makes the sort of fast, fluid cross-country progress that makes you want to drive it until the road runs out. The traditionally bespoke qualities of Aston Martin's materials and finishes makes any of their products a joy to behold in my opinion, but charging around the countryside on a bright winter's day, roof-down with the engine's bark reverberating off the hedgerows... pure, unadulterated bliss.

It may not be the most expensive (from circa £107k), fastest, hardest or most exotic supercar on the block, but I reckon that if an open-topped Aston Martin N420 and the open road doesn't take you as near as it's possible to get to the undiluted joy of motoring - well, it's hard to imagine what might.







 

Winter tyres - or not?
Never having sampled a supercar on winter tyres in the UK before, I was looking forward to trying the N420 so-equipped to see whether it made using the car in winter a more practical proposition. Winter rubber features wider grooves and extra sipes in the tread to disperse water, but is also made from a different compound so 'stickiness' is improved over standard tyres in temperatures below 7 degrees.


Having been briefed the Aston was fitted with a set of Pirelli Sotto Zeros, I was very impressed at both the level of grip they provided under acceleration and the lack of any apparent ride comfort compromise. In fact, I was pretty surprised at how much confidence the tyres inspired altogether, having expected the 420hp rear-drive Aston to provide at least the occasional unnerving moment. Far from it, the car seemed fairly glued to the road - albeit we did drive with an element of caution to suit the weather.

Yet when I took a look at the tyres, it was to discover the car was actually running its standard summer rubber (Bridgestone Potenzas). Rather than being out of their depth, they seemed perfectly viable in about as tough a set of conditions that I'd want to take an Aston out in. It would be interesting to hear other drivers' views.

Author: Chris-R