DRIVEN: ASTON MARTIN V8 VANTAGE ROADSTER
Chris-R exits BTaP in more decorous style than most...
Especially when I'm sporting black tie rig (well, it was BTaP night), and the convertible in question is an Aston Martin Vantage V8 Roadster. Unless you're Daniel Craig you don't get closer to living the 007 fantasy, and I wasn't missing the chance to milk it. Even if it meant staying uncharacteristically sober, while all around me succumbed to the lure of the evil drink. (Oh yes they did!)
Even Pussy Galore (a.k.a. 'the missus') seemed taken in by my dashing new style, and was all over me like a rash that weekend. Well, if I'm honest she was all over the car, but that's half the secret isn't it? Either way, I get far less of a look-in when I'm driving the office Clio...
It's not just the car's lines that catch the eye, with elegantly swooping prow and powerful hunkered-down haunches, but the fit and finish of the few external embellishments and the exquisite quality of the paintwork is evident from a mile-off.
And well, it's an Aston Martin, isn't it? And therefore the very essence of English good taste, even if the company boss is a German who sports trainers with a suit at company parties. (Oops, there goes my invitation to the next one...)
On this current (just) production model, 'typical spec' means a lustrous but silkily subdued Tungsten Silver paintjob, a set of the standard issue 20-spoke 19ins alloy wheels, Black fabric hood and Obsidian Black interior. The spec list also includes a 700watt audio set-up, which I forgot to turn on all weekend, cruise control, sat-nav and heated seats. (Without which I wimpishly admit my open-top getaway from BTaP would have been pretty much unendurable.)
The recently enlarged 420bhp, 4735cc V8 (which is 11 percent more powerful than earlier 4.3 litre cars) is hooked up to a manual transmission that has a revised flywheel and clutch for faster engine response and a lighter clutch pedal,
As such, in its latest standard configuration, the Vantage Roadster is a fine driving experience, particularly on a cold winter night when its charms seem at their most visceral.
Astons are supposed to be a 'manly' drive, if it's still OK to say that, and the Vantage definitely feels beefy with the gear change for the rear transaxle requiring deliberate, if not quite ponderous movements. But hey, I've driven so many flappy-paddle shifts recently that I'm feeling a sort of retro-charm.
The steering is decently weighted with proper feedback too, and with excellent brakes the all round sensation of driving the Vantage is one of truly tangible pleasures. The only slight fly in the ointment is that the cockpit is a little cramped, but at 6'4" I've only myself to blame for that - and with the roof down headroom is never an issue.
On the road, the Aston's V8 engine pulls strongly, but never alarmingly so, which is perhaps a tad disappointing at times. You'd think a potential 4.7sec 0-60mph time and 180mph maximum would indicate a bit more drama, but the car's terrifically upmarket demeanour (and a gearshift you have to think twice about) does tend to seduce its driver into a sort of brisk touring mode, rather than encouraging you to wring its neck in every gear. Or perhaps I should have been trying harder.
The ride while firm-ish, is comfortable with it, soaking up imperfections while maintaining decent body control through some challenging country lanes, where the traction control intervenes early to reign-in any hooligan tendencies. Switching it off for a brief responsibility break reveals predictably lurid (or luridly predictable) responses to a welly-full of throttle.
Next year's Vantage revisions are minimal and essentially cosmetic, with new side sills and clear rear lights being offered, alongside a new 10-spoke wheel option. The ECU has apparently been remapped in pursuit of better CO2 figures, but that's unlikely to make a difference to the car's feel on the road.
Having got the recipe pretty much spot-on with the changes introduced in 2008, it's no surprise that Aston's designers and engineers are reluctant to meddle with the ingredients. The Vantage is going to be a hard act to follow.