First Drive: 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster First Drive

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2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Coupe

(4.3L V8 6-speed Manual)

The new 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster is delivered with a potent message: business as usual.

Less than 24 hours after the announcement that Ford would ell Aston Martin to a consortium led by British motorsports entrepreneur David Richards, we were in France to drive a model that will be crucial to the company's future.

Aston Martin hopes to sell about 4,500 examples of the V8 Vantage each year, of which around 2,700 will be the Vantage Roadster. If Aston Martin is to succeed as an independent concern, this car needs to be good.

It's a roadster, stupid
A sure way to wind up any Aston Martin employee is to describe the soft-top Vantage Roadster as a Volante. This is the term reserved for the DB9 convertible, which boasts two token rear seats, a V12 and a more relaxed demeanor. The DB9 is a tough car, but it's meant for the more mature, affluent gentleman. By contrast, the Roadster badge implies a hint of attitude. The V8 Vantage Roadster is the car for the serious driver.

It's an image that's reflected in the styling. This is a strict two-seater, and there are two sleek, speedster-style blisters posing behind the leather-wrapped seats. These form the tonneau cover under which the electrically powered fabric roof is stored, and they also hide the pop-up safety bars that provide rollover protection. The Roadster retains the enviable proportions of the coupe, and the car succeeds in looking good with the roof up or down. It's a more considered, carefully integrated design than the rival Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet.

The Roadster's interior is shared with the coupe, which is no bad thing. Some of the ergonomics are eccentric — the trip reset button sits next to the navigation system's controls on the center console — but the cockpit succeeds in feeling special. There is little evidence of parts-bin plundering, as most of the visible surfaces are wrapped in high-grade leather, while the stylized aluminum-trimmed instruments remain a delight.

For the 2007 model year, the seats have been redesigned to accommodate customers who might have had one cheeseburger too many. They look terrific, although those of a slender build might find they now want for a little support. The driving position is good and the Roadster's practicality is boosted by a good-size trunk.

The power and the glory
Anyone who drove an old Aston Martin DB7 Volante will remember the soft-top convertible shook and rattled on rough surfaces as if possessed by its own private earthquake. Structurally rigid it was not. The DB9 also suffers from a case of the collywobbles when shown a bumpy road, but Aston's engineers have worked hard to stiffen the V8's structure, which is derived from the same all-aluminum VH architecture that underlies all of Aston Martin's cars.

A number of structural reinforcements within the chassis have produced a torsional rigidity of 15,500 pound-feet per degree, which is less stiff than the coupe's rating of 19,900 lb-ft per degree, but massively better than the DB9's stiffness of 11,400 lb-ft per degree.

The trade-off is an increase in mass. At the curb, the Roadster weighs in at 3,770 pounds, some 176 pounds (the equivalent of an unwanted passenger) more than the V8 Vantage coupe. By comparison, a 911 Carrera S Cabriolet tips the scales at just 3,263 pounds.

As always, weight has a negative effect on performance. The raw statistics reveal that the 4.3-liter Aston Martin V8 delivers 380 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque, powering the car to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 175 mph. But the Roadster never feels as fast as the figures suggest. You never escape the impression that the engine is working hard to pull the car's mass, and the relative lack of low-down torque means regular forays into the upper reaches of the V8's rpm range.

Thankfully, this is made more satisfying by one of the finest exhaust notes in the automotive world. Employ a modest throttle opening and the engine sounds cultured and relatively quiet, but at full throttle and above 4,000 rpm, a trick bypass valve opens to deliver a sonorous crescendo. It's the same rich, exhaust-led note as that employed by the coupe, but its effect is amplified by the absence of a roof.

Suspending belief
The Roadster uses the same double-wishbone suspension as the coupe, but it's been retuned to suit the car's weight and rigidity. Surprisingly, the spring rates have been increased front and rear, but changes to the bushings and damping have resulted in a setup that feels appreciably softer.

The low-speed ride feels more compliant than that of the coupe, making the Roadster a more comfortable choice about town. The compromise is a loss of sharpness in the way the car turns into corners when you're out on the road. The coupe pivots about its nose and is exceptionally reactive, while the Roadster needs more deliberate inputs. Whereas the coupe can be flung, the Roadster needs to be guided.

This car does feel less structurally rigid than the coupe. Attack a challenging road and you'll feel a subtle but definite shake through the steering wheel. It's nowhere near as bad as some soft tops, but it's there all the same.

Inevitably, there are some compromises to pay for chopping off the roof, but they shouldn't be overstated. This V8 Vantage Roadster feels much better than the DB9 Volante and it's fun to drive hard. There's plenty of grip from the Bridgestone Potenza tires — 275/35ZR19 at the front and 235/40ZR19 at the rear — and there are times when the standard stability control feels superfluous, especially in the dry. The brakes also have a nice, positive feel.

A tale of two transmissions
The Roadster, like the coupe, is available with a choice of two transmissions. The six-speed manual transaxle is familiar and offers a quick, positive and satisfying shift action. New to the V8 is the Sportshift option, which uses an automated sequential gearbox with shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel, the same ZF-built unit also featured in the DB9.

We had a sneak preview of this transmission before Christmas, and changes to the calibration since then have improved its performance. You still need to work with the gearbox and measure your throttle inputs to achieve a smooth shift, but patience pays dividends. The speed of the Aston's shifts is slower than those of some other automated manuals — 240 milliseconds compared with 100 milliseconds for a Ferrari 599 — but using this gearbox is no longer a chore. Aston reckons that 70 percent of customers will choose this option.

Searing good looks with a soundtrack
In the U.S., the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster with a conventional manual transmission will cost $126,400 compared with $113,200 for the coupe, while the Sportshift transmission adds an extra $4,000 to the bottom line. This is a huge jump above the $92,800 that Porsche charges for the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, but Aston customers are guaranteed greater exclusivity. Aston is planning to sell just 1,500 examples of the V8 Vantage in the U.S. each year, of which around 900 will be Roadsters.

When you drive the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster, you get to enjoy a car that blends searing good looks with an emotive soundtrack and a healthy dose of everyday practicality. A Porsche 911 Cabriolet offers more accessible performance and marginally more driver interaction, but this Aston can stand toe to toe. Aston Martin's new ownership can breathe a sigh of relief, because the Roadster looks set to be one of the must-have cars of the summer.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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