Encouragement, kiddies, ref. your English homework:
We would very much like to invite you to drive the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster on some challenging roads in the Mont Ventoux area of Provence in France”.
The itinerary goes on: “the fabulous spa Jouvance… wines… 5-star restaurants… truffle hunting….”
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s June 2007 issue
Clearly, it is time to shoulder my share of the research load. And I don’t mind. The Vantage, after all, is my favourite Aston, being the first of them to brave the 911-belt – the upper end of the daily-usable
market – where poise, not pose, rules.
And if, at the scratchy limit, the Porsche coupe shades its English rival, it’s a different game altogether among drop-heads: the open-car owner is looking for more than simply nose-clearing cornerwork. The prize here goes to the total package.
On first sight, the Aston’s off to a good start. Few coupes cut well, as the rumpy 911 cabriolet shows. But, having been designed as both coupe and roadster from the off, the Vantage Roadster works easily as well as its roofed relative. Granted, the ragtop’s rear window’s a bit slotty, but we don’t buy a roadster to run it closed, do we?
Classic MOTOR: 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet v M3 Cabriolet
So, the minders press the drop-top button and I spend the next 18 seconds anticipating a much-improved interior that truly warrants revealing. Sadly, however, it seems that the wait will be somewhat longer: the cubby is largely unchanged.
Not, of course, that it’s unpleasant to view – that was the principle objective. And there are some new details – the flow between seats, tonneau and (removable) breeze-blocker – that are masterful. But style still trumps design, resulting in poor ergonomics, sub-optimal instrumentation – particularly in daylight – and inadequate accessible stowage.
Still, the boot space is constant, regardless of roof position, and rated at two golfbags. Ish.
I score a manual to get my eye in. It’s familiar, but with first and reverse having imperfect lock-out between them, what you get at the traffic light could be either blast-off or big-eye, and requires care. As do the sinuous, narrow roads of rural Provence.
However, early appreciation of both the Aston’s competence, and of local skill, grows steadily until we retire in Gordes, among beautiful, ancient stone structures built without timber or keystones to preclude fire and/or swift disassembly.
This is a caution that took much longer to root in British auto-making. But these are bygones: the Vantage already promises to be of a New Order, and tomorrow’s long drive will test it further. But now to research the restaurant. Ditto massage. Children, I suffer these things for art alone.
The cars steam awake in watery light and I choose one with the Sportshift automated manual transmission for two immediate advantages; the more pleasant paddle-shifting, along with the resultant console stowage. Underway, the entertainment bonus appears as both the six-speed box and its automated shifter are Italian-sourced, and, ergo, filled with monkeys.
Accordingly, every gearchange is accomplished with double-clutching whooomps and whaps and my strongest advice is to take something else in the funeral parade. Alternatively, you can take over with the paddles and even attempt to calm the bugger by pressing the ‘Comfort’ button on the dash. It may not do much, but you tried.
Paddles are surely the go on the open road, giving arcade-game attack on every corner and much surer overtaking response than waiting for the auto-change to song-and-dance a downshift by itself. And the pure joy of paddling along is magnified by the World’s Best Exhaust growling with ever more urgency until 4000 rpm when it suddenly erupts in a rising, raging cry that crackles at each upchange and snarls at each lift with an animal ferocity.
But then, but then… come ye into the villages, press the Auto Drive button and the brute comes over all civilised as we gaze in wonder and ponder stopping for the Fête du Fromage in the churchyard. Mais, non. We have no time now to praise cheeses.
The roads soon open, flowing sweetly through vineyards that show just how lovely a landscape can be with a few millennia of attention, and just how effectively Aston’s VH architecture lends itself to roadster construction.
The tub is impressively rigid, without scuttle-shake, rattles or steering play even when pressed, despite spring rates being up 10 percent on the coupe’s.
Accompanying changes to damping in bump and rebound and a softening of bushes (all of which may soon benefit the coupe) civilise things and work remarkably well. Ride quality is firm but fair and, even when punted way beyond sensible speeds, the package has considerable merit. As does the route map that requires a stop at the Chalet Reynard to analyse its berry pies, meringues and coffee while the Aston Martin minions remain outside and clean the car. I actually prefer this to reality.
Which returns soon enough. We are now on the ‘Giant of Provence’ – Mont Ventoux, a (literally) killing 21km Tour de France climb peaking at a 10.5 percent gradient and rising nearly 2km into the sky. Sadly, its many highlights are road-signed in foreign, and the exclamation marks add little to their clarity. But none of them mention “la edge de la world”, so research continues apace.
Essential to this, in an open car, is comfort, and despite temperatures plunging below 4 degrees C, I remain completely at ease with the combination of breeze-blocker, heater, sensible clothing and treasured cap.
Of course, the electrically deployed top could be raised, even at speeds up to 50 km/h, it is claimed, but no convertible has ever been improved by closure, and several of my experience (and ownership) have been revealed as creaking defectives without the cover of wind noise. Not so the Vantage.
The top seals and silences effectively and, FYI, wind noise above 140 km/h is noticeable but not painful. Enough.
Top down is how you hear the motor’s music… and play it while discovering the rest of the package. It plays well, too. Claims of five seconds to 100 seem reasonable (we’ll confirm that in Australia, hopefully, vs Jaguar, vs Porsche) and, God knows, it sounds even quicker when stirred – which is just as well as it’s more flexible than torquey. But, get it on the boil and distance disappears in a wonderfully satisfying manner.
I already know that its steering is not as tactile as Porsche’s, but it’s damn near as responsive, helped by the unchanged roll-resistance and the 49:51 front/rear weight distribution that the light-alloy, front-mid-mounted V8 allows. That balance is mirrored in the handling, so neutral that provoking either end to mischief would be either an act of skilled forensic curiosity or unforgivable clumsiness.
And, at the end of the climb at Mont Ventoux, it’s that sense of balance that appeals most about this Aston. It appeals to the eye, the ear and the rear in equal measure; touch and good taste being, also, honourably served.
Below us now, beautiful in every direction, is the wonder of Provence. We will further explore it tomorrow, hunting for truffles and tasting ambrosia… but for me, the main research is already done. And, if I find nothing tastier down there than this musical Aston Martin, I’ll not complain. Au contraire.
The Vantage Roadster achieves the wonderful balance that only the very best of open cars, always and essentially romantic, can hope for: in that no part of it (save the song) is outstanding. But the whole of it truly is.
Blast down memory lane on Classic MOTOR
2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster
BODY: 2-door, 2-seat roadster
ENGINE: 4280cc V8, DOHC, 32v
POWER: 283kW @ 7000rpm
TORQUE: 410Nm @ 5000rpm
BORE/STROKE: 89.0mm x 86.0mm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual/Sportshift sequential
0-100KM/H: 5.0sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED: 280km/h (claimed)
SUSPENSION: double A-arms, coil-over dampers, anti-roll bars (f&r)
TRACKS: 1570mm (f); 1560mm (r)
BRAKES: 355mm ventilated/grooved discs (f); 330mm ventilated/grooved discs (r), ABS, EBD, DSC
WHEELS: 19 x 8.5-inch (f); 19 x 9.5-inch (r)
TYRES: Bridgestone Potenza 235/40ZR19 (f); 275/35ZR19 (r)
PRICE: $269,000 (m); $277,250 (a)
PROS: Stunning looks, engine, noise, presence... the list goes on
CONS: Erm... I suppose you’ll have to clean it at some point
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars