Some sports cars value outright performance over any other attribute. Others emphasize driver involvement and precise feedback in a bid to win a vote for lightweight purity; some put aesthetics first and fall short in the performance department.
The Aston Martin Vantage Roadster, while performing admirably in all of these disciplines, puts none of them first. Instead, this car is all about character. From its drop-dead-gorgeous looks and angry, burbling V8 soundtrack, to the plentiful performance and top-tier brand value, the Aston gets under your skin from the moment you see it. I would even argue the name is all it takes to win you over. Aston Martin Vantage Roadster. There’s no mucking about with numbers and acronyms from this one.
Before lowering yourself behind the wheel it’s worth noting the new and much improved front grille and bumper design. Now an option on both the coupe and convertible flavors of Vantage, the mouth is more wide-set aggression than gaping ocean dweller.
The rest needs little introduction; it’s a muscular but not intimidatingly large two-seat, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a big V8 ahead, a folding soft-top roof behind, and a trunk large enough for golf clubs (and the included Aston-branded umbrella, naturally). It’s the quintessential sports car recipe and one that I’d argue the Aston Martin badge suits better than any other.
The Roadster shares the same Mercedes AMG-derived 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 as its coupe sibling, producing 503 horsepower and 505lb ft of torque. The 0-62mph (100km/h) time is a tenth down on the coupe but still plenty quick enough at 3.7 seconds, while the top speed is a thoroughly hair-ruffling 190mph.
The car is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox that, when the mood takes you, can be controlled with a pair of oversize and wonderfully tactile paddles behind the wheel. The coupe is also offered with a seven-speed manual, so it can be assumed that option will come to the Roadster at some point too.
Given I’m based in the UK, another key stat is just how quickly the Aston can raise and lower its roof between the changeable British weather – just 6.8 seconds to open and 6.7 seconds to close, both while driving at up to 31mph.
The Vantage Roadster is priced from $147,000 in the US and £126,950 in the UK.
Settle into the low driver’s seat and the cabin is also the same as that of the coupe, and that means buttons. Lots and lots of buttons. In a world quickly becoming used to dashboards featuring little more than a touch screen, stepping into a brand new car with its infotainment controls seemingly applied via machine gun is a surprise. It all takes a bit of getting used to, especially the Mercedes-sourced, laptop-style trackpad used to navigate menus and enter street addresses with letters drawn clumsily with an index finger.
While it is easy to snipe at Aston for its old school cabin, I grew used to it over the course of a weekend. It’s not the last word in interior tech, not by a long stretch, but you won’t care one jot the moment you thumb the starter button and the V8 erupts into life.
In Sport mode, which is the default and most reigned-in setting on offer, the engine quickly settles to a quiet idle. Set off and the eight-speed gearbox shuffles through the cogs so quickly you’ll be up into fifth or sixth before the end of your road. Sit in traffic and the stop/start system will save pedestrians from the V8 rumble while stationary. So far, so sedate.
But as relaxed as Sport mode is, you’ll want to press the steering wheel button beneath your right thumb as soon as you get out of town, switching the drivetrain to Sport Plus and uncorking an entire orchestra of noise from the twin tailpipes.
Compared to every hot hatchback and pumped-up SUV peacocking its way through town with artificial histrionics – a series of identical pops and bangs delivered via computer with every gear change – the Vantage feels brutishly, unapologetically genuine.
Yes, it is probably tuned to have a bit of fun squirting unburnt fuel at the hot exhaust, but each snort, bang, crackle and eruption made me laugh and grin like a child. It’s a thuggish sound track for sure, but one emitted from a car with more than enough charm to get away with it.
Track mode is perhaps where things get a touch silly, with what sounds like a shotgun going off between each full-throttle up-shift, and a near-constant volley of artillery fire when coasting downhill. Spot Plus is where the Aston sounds its best.
And unlike much of the auto-tuned pop-and-bang brigade, the Vantage has the performance to match the sound track. Not as delicate or precise as a Porsche 911 – perhaps even a little uncouth by comparison – the Vantage has a character all of its own. It’s more of a British muscle car than track-day champion, and in soft-top Roadster guise that role suits it perfectly. It’s still plenty quick enough for the public road, has quick if slightly numb steering and will quickly step out of line if provoked, but you feel it is best suited to cross-country jaunts instead of hunting down apexes.
Just as the drivetrain can be adjusted through three modes with a button on the right of the flat-sided steering wheel, so too can the suspension with a button on the left. The default Sport mode makes most sense, with perhaps the occasional use of the firmer Sport Plus for a more tied-down ride on smooth roads. Track, as the name suggests, is too much for the public highway. And while that mode is intended for billiards table-smooth racetracks, the Vantage, especially in Roadster guise, is unlikely to ever be your first choice for a track day.
Instead this is a grand tourer of a car. One that can charge to 60mph in well under four seconds, almost crack 200mph, emit the most spectacular soundtrack and entertain on a twisty road, granted. But also one that is most at home on a sunny weekend cruise; wind in your hair, summer sun on your face, and that V8 burbling away.