2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster
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When you get to a vehicle at the level of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster it becomes as much about individuality as it does about performance. This is, to a certain extent, why models from the British brand command such a premium.

FAST FACTS

1. New 4.7-liter V8 engine introduced last year gives plenty more power with 420hp and 346 ft-lbs of torque.

2. The Roadster retails for roughly $135,000, but you can get into the Coupe for $120,000.

3. $3,785 Sports Pack worth every penny and delivers a tangible increase in handling with new shocks, stiffer springs and light weight forged aluminum wheels.

During a recent trip to Southern California I had the chance to get behind the wheel of Aston’s drop top Vantage and it was this particular locale that allowed me to understand just how important automotive individuality is. While the Vantage may seem overpriced to some, for those who have the means and the desire to stand out in a crowd, it’s practically a bargain.

If you only consider the hard and fast facts when buying a premium sports car, you might wind up at a Porsche dealership with all the other fact-lovers. On a ratio of horsepower to dollars spent, an Aston Martin is not a wise choice. The Vantage Roadster starts at $134,800 – a $15,000 premium over the coupe. At that price it’s close in line with the MSRP of the significantly more-powerful Porsche 911 Turbo.

What the Vantage offers for the money, however, is exclusivity. During my time in the car in some of the country’s most exclusive zip codes, not once did I see another Aston Martin. I saw Bentleys. I saw more Porsches and Mercedes than I saw Starbucks. I even saw three Rolls-Royce Phantoms in one day.

LARGER 4.7-LITER V8 DELIVERS 420 HORSEPOWER

All this isn’t to say that the Vantage is not a performer. On the contrary, it performs exceptionally well when called upon. Starting in 2008 Vantage models (both Coupe and Roadster) received an increase in displacement and, therefore, in performance. Replacing the 4.3-liter V8 is a new 4.7-liter unit and having had some time behind the wheel of the old model I can say the difference is significant.

Previously, engine output was 380hp. That number is now 420. Torque is up even more drastically, with a 15 percent increase from 302 ft-lbs to 346 ft-lbs. In the past the Vantage always felt fast, but it never really wowed. That has changed. Now the car flies, and even the 4.7 second 0-60 mph time (down from 4.9 sec.) doesn’t express how quickly it bolts up an on-ramp when called upon.

The feeling of speed is further heightened by the Aston’s raucous exhaust note. While tame at idle and around town, once you get about half way up the tachometer all that changes. The sound takes the best of American V8 muscle and adds in a nice raspy Italian note. I haven’t heard a V8 sound this good since the SLR!

F1-STYLE PADDLE SHIFT TRANSMISSION

My Vantage tester came equipped with Aston’s paddle-shift Sportshift Transmission, which helped add to the experience. It can be operated in a pure automatic mode or switched to a manual mode for maximum fun.

Pressing the C button on the center stack activates a Comfort mode with smoother throttle reaction, or you can just leave the car in its default Sport mode. (You have to love a company that puts the Sport mode as a default).

On that note, the Vantage may looks like a luxury cruiser but it’s a genuine sports car. The transmission is lightning fast and the car uses a carbon fiber driveshaft and a transaxle layout with the tranny out back for optimum weight distribution. Also helping to keep the car well balanced is the fact that almost the entire engine is located behind the front axle in what is known as a front/mid-engine layout.

The F1-style gearbox might not be quite as good as Ferrari’s, but it’s not short on thrills. It actually has a very organic quality to it as you can feel the clutch inside working as you pull away from a stoplight. This isn’t to say it’s crude however, as only a company like Aston Martin could combine pure luxury with a down-to-earth mechanical feel.

SIMPLE AND ELEGANT INTERIOR, BUT ODDLY PLACED CONTROLS

I can’t, however, say I’m a fan of the location of the transmission controls. Located at the top of the center stack are the D, R and N buttons for drive, reverse and neutral. They are just too far away from the driver and even with my long arms required me to lean forward when performing a three-point turn. The center console would be a better location.

Then again, Aston’s are somewhat notorious for putting things in odd locations. The seat controls are on the side of the center console, while the e-brake is to the left of the driver.

Another gripe is that the digital display inside the speedometer has unreadably tiny numbers to tell you which gear you are in when in manual mode.

As for the rest of the interior, it is simple, yet luxurious and certainly sporty – especially the well-bolstered seats. The red-stitching on my tester really set off the interior, although I would have liked to have seen some of that red thread on the steering wheel – which was noticeably plain.

The audio and climate control functions are easy to use, as is the optional ($2,655) navigation system, which pops up from the dash when needed.

The optional Piano Black Veneer interior ($750) is a must-have, as it really sets off the center stack. Located in the middle of that stack near the top is the Aston’s ignition port where the key, aka, the Emotion Control Unit (ECU) is inserted to start the car. It might not have the ease of use of a no-touch system but it gives a real sense of occasion to starting the Vantage. And the highly-stylized key is a piece of jewelry any man would want.

The importance of a quality interior is particularly important on the roadster model because it not only matters to you, but as it more visible by others, it has to maintain the quality of the exterior design.

PERFECT CAR TO BECOME A ROADSTER

Outside, there’s no denying the Vantage is one of the most beautiful cars ever made. The long snout gives a real grand-touring look to this roadster and the headlights that sit up next to he hood allow for a massive front grille.

The elongated front makes the Vantage an ideal candidate for a drop-top and it almost looks more natural than the coupe. Aston even did a great job ensuring the car looks its best with the top down by having the soft-top fold completely away under a rear tonneau cover.

Dropping the top does seem to be an overly lengthy process, however, taking 18 seconds from start to finish. Thankfully it can be done on the move at speeds of up to 30 mph.

SURPRISING SPORTSCAR PERFORMANCE BEHIND THE WHEEL

As for how the car drives, well, as mentioned before, it may look like a luxury two-seater but this roadster is a British sports car in every sense of the word. Better yet, it’s a British sports car that has been refined on the Nürburgring… and it shows.

With a wicked-fast transmission and gobs of power the Vantage Roadster has incredible driving dynamics to boot. The steering is precise and its ability to go through a corner will surprise and delight you over and over again.

You wouldn’t expect it, but if you were so inclined, the Vantage Roadster would make an excellent companion for a weekend lapping day – and depending on your skill level it wouldn’t be hard to show a few of those fact-lovers what a British sports car with soul can do.

Some of this is no doubt due to the optional ($3,785) Sports Pack, which includes different springs, shocks and a set of lightweight forged aluminum wheels.

The Bilstein shocks have been retuned and the springs are 25 percent stiffer (45 percent stiffer on the coupe). Body roll is now imperceptible and thanks to those lightweight wheels the steering is direct and the car changes direction on demand.

Arguably, you wouldn’t be able to get this high level of performance unless the original platform was already very good, but forget stock – this package is more than worth the asking price.

The same can be said for the entire vehicle.

THE VERDICT

The V8 Vantage Roadster is pricey but it delivers with a new and wickedly powerful engine, incredible driving dynamics and a design that is as beautiful as it is original. The Roadster in particular delivers the experience of two cars in one: a comfortable, luxurious and stunning grand touring convertible combined with a purebred sports car.

PLUS

Exclusivity Sports car drive with grand touring look Sport Pack worth every penny That V8 sound!

MINUS

Interior too simple Need larger readout for transmission gear display Odd location of many interior items

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