Driven: Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

On a freezing, star-lit November night, with a two hour ride ahead of me, I'm the sort of bloke who'll still want to take the roof off a convertible for the journey home.

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 by no means a new shape, the Vantage, but like most Astons, it has a timeless quality that somehow speaks to pedigree and breeding in a way that few other cars can muster. Who cares that many may be driven by cads and posers? It's fantastically beautiful, and turns plenty of heads to prove it.

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...)

The Vantage that Aston loaned us for the weekend of the PH annual bash features what is apparently a typical 'average' spec for buyers of the vehicle. (Albeit since our drive news has emerged of a lightly modified version of the Vantage that's on the way in 2010.)

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,

The car runs the standard Vantage chassis set-up, but that was also revised last year to improve body control and ride quality - largely through stiffer spring rates. Steering feel was improved during the same round of tweakery with mods to the geometry and bushing as was a set of upgraded Bilstein dampers all round. (This isn't the optional Sports Pack, which stiffens things up further for a harder sporting edge.)

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.

That said, I definitely felt able to snuggle down further in the seat of the Jaguar XK cabrio I drove recently, and was more sheltered from the wind-rush too. In spite of the Aston's wind-break behind the seats (which snagged annoyingly on the automated hood mechanism), the back of my neck and shoulders felt just a little too exposed to the elements at times - whereas in this important comfort area the Jaguar really excels.

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 downside of enjoying this comfortable fast touring gait is that you rarely get to enjoy the raging bellow of the engine, as at less than 4,000rpm it's barely audible with the roof down. Higher up the rev-range it sounds deliciously rude, thanks to a valve opening in the exhaust system, but there's an on/off feel to the sound-effects that leave me wanting to hear a bit more of the car's personality at everyday road speeds. (If you want to be rude at lower revs, apparently it's a simple matter to remove the relevant fuse, but I wasn't about to try that on our loan car.)

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.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (51) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Dagnut 30 Dec 2009

    I definitely wouldn't spec those wheels.

  • Neil1300R 30 Dec 2009

    Can't believe Aston supplied it with Fuse 22 in!
    Only ever heard (literally) one Vantage with the fuse in. Makes the exhaust so much better - all of the time.

  • Zod 30 Dec 2009

    It was having a Vantage Roadster for a week last year that removed the scales from my eyes and made me want an Aston. I was horribly busy at the time, but one memorable drive wiu my hen two year old son alongside me and he roof down sealed the deal. When you go through a tunnel and have to turn round and do it again at the demand of a two year old boy, you revel in his pure joy.

    The gearshift is fluid once the transmission warms up.

  • soad 30 Dec 2009

    Would take a coupe instead as it looks better imho. I just love that slippery roofline.

  • MrTappets 30 Dec 2009

    A brilliant car to be sure, but i can't help feeling more drawn to the XKR coupe.

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