Road test: Aston Martin Vantage has gone topless with Roadster
The Aston Martin Vantage gets the top-down treatment with the Roadster variant. - By Nick Francis
Have you checked the calendar? It’s been two years since the Aston Martin Vantage coupe was launched, so the convertible should be arriving any second…oh look. As if by magic. You can set your clock by Aston’s model release patterns, and right on time, the topless version of the rather lovely Vantage is here to attempt to squeeze a few more grand out of the fact we Brits, bizarrely, are the biggest consumers of convertibles in Europe. The Vantage Roadster’s main claim to fame? It has the fastest automatic retractable roof on the market. The roof goes from flat to full in just 6.8 seconds: fast enough to avoid the rain shower, or cover the mistress up before your wife spots her as you gurgle past her unexpectedly on the high street. No judgement.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact Aston has managed to keep the weight gain of the soft top to just 60kg. Adding a vanity lid is notorious for piling on the pounds, as the electric motor and efforts to dial in body rigidity tend to have the same effect as going on the fried cheese and Guinness diet for a month. No, thankfully the Roadster is still light enough to call itself a sportscar, and actually apart from its retractable roof, it’s every inch the regular Vantage.
So what does that mean? It means it’s powered by a 503bhp Mercedes-AMG derived 4-litre V8 twin-turbo engine which can catapult all 1,628kg from 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds, and onto 190mph with the roof up. There’s an eight-speed ZF gearbox marshalling the power, adaptive dampers, torque vectoring and electronic rear diff. Sharper eyed observers might notice that there’s a new grille option released at the same time as the Roadster, which has been added to celebrate 70 years of the Vantage, but the new ‘vane’ grille can also be optioned on the coupe too, so it’s not an exclusive design cue.
Occupant space is still limited to two, although for the first time NBA players will fit, if weather permits, but there’s 200 litres of storage in the back, which isn’t too shabby for a car in this segment.
The Vantage is one of those cars which you need to breathe in for a few minutes before even clicking the fob. Look at it, inhale deeply, feel the warm tingle rising up the spine. It’s an intoxicating blend of clean, sweeping lines which join up bulging, muscular haunches. From the snowplough-like splitter to the brutally large rear diffuser housing the quad exhausts, it’s a work of art. One of the best-looking cars on the market? For my money it is.
But if the exterior was created by the brush of Michelangelo, the interior is the work of Neil Buchanan (Art Attack, look it up kids). This parts-bin deal with Mercedes works when it comes to the noisy stuff, but it’s conspicuously out of date when it concerns the cabin. There’s the tracking pad which was infuriating six years ago when you found it in a Merc, and the eight-inch LCD infotainment screen looks like it’s been jimmied from the back of an economy seat on BA. And all the Alcantara in the world can’t distract from the fact the plastic on the air vents feels like it was made by Fisher Price.
The disappointment is mitigated somewhat by the fact in every other way the interior is a very pleasant environment, especially when a late hurrah of summer allows for alfresco driving. There’s no shortage of soft-touch materials with colour-coded stitching, the steering wheel feels like it was made for your hands and your hands only, and visibility is actually very good, even with the canvass over your head.
But you probably didn’t come here to hear me get grumpy about the fact that Aston has been shopping at myfirstinfotainment.com. What’s it like to drive? In a word, bonkers. But bonkers in a good way. The very fact the softest drive mode is called Sport – then Sport Plus and Track – gives a clue to how performance-orientated the Vantage is. While the Vantage looks large enough to bully a G-Class from the outside, once inside it feels compact and it’s easily wielded on the twister ribbons of Tarmac the Cotswolds offers. The first time you need to turn in sharply takes you aback, it wants to dart into the apex with such vigour you have to recalibrate your brain and remind yourself that, just because you’re driving on a road, this car’s natural environment is the racetrack. It steers like a Lotus (oh hey Matt Becker).
The ride is tight, very tight, but somehow doesn’t jar the spine like you might expect. Avoid potholes, obviously, but in Sport mode, the adaptive dampers do enough to make the Vantage pliant to the point you could live with it every day. In Sport Plus you start to feel your wobbly bits moving, and by the time you’re in Track mode you’re regretting every cheeseburger you ever ate, but boy does the Vantage bristle with energy. In Track mode not only is the throttle map turned up to 11, but it also becomes razor sharp in the corners. You struggle to comprehend how your tiny inputs are having such a profound effect on the car’s behaviour. It’s still your friend, it’s not tail-happy or heavy over the front, but it’s got such an edge that it demands your utmost respect. Like being mates with a cage fighter.
All the while the V8 is throbbing beneath you, and there’s little to no hint of turbo lag, certainly not in the sharper drive modes. We have Mercedes to thank for that though and its ‘hot vee’ engine configuration. Aston picked the right supercar supermarket to shop from. And the best thing about having the roof down? You can hear it all the better.
If I were to criticise anything about the driving experience, it would be the gearbox. While it’s not as infuriating as many auto ‘boxes, it doesn’t match the urgency of everything else in the Vantage. Downshifts especially can jolt, and the kick down can feel momentarily sluggish. But your frustration goes out of the window – or the open roof - when it finds its feet and delivers a sucker punch of power.
Sales of the regular Vantage haven’t been as good as Aston hoped, in fact, its slow burn has been cited by commentators as one of the reasons behind Aston’s financial woes. With cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo and Audi R8 fighting for deposits from the same pool of customers, it’s probably not surprising.
It’s a shame though, because in many ways the Vantage is at least as good as both of those cars, if not better, and from where I’m standing it offers more of a sense of occasion. Now one of the prettiest cars on the market has gone topless, perhaps it will find the attention it deserves.
Model tested: Aston Martin Vantage Roadster
Engine: 4-litre V8 twin-turbocharged petrol
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Max speed: 190mph