2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster
Beauty on four wheels
*New car introductions are like birthday parties. There are those you go to because you have to, and there are those you can't stop checking the calendar for. This trip definitely belonged in the latter category. Aston Martin has been in the news lately, but mostly due to the dire financial state at Ford Motor Company. Then came the announcement that a group put together by David Richards of Prodrive would be taking over as soon as the papers were inked. Enthusiasts of the fabled firm from Gaydon breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Prodrive-built DBR9 now simply becomes an extension of the rest of the line-up.
Aston Martin's incredible turnaround can be attributed to one man. In the latest act of the British motoring industry's playhouse, Our German is Better Than Your German, the current leading man is Dr. Ulrich Bez. More than just a CEO, and better than your average engineer, the time Bez spent at Weissach with Porsche paid off handsomely, although it took years for his ideas to come to fruition.
There are very few cars built today as visually satisfying as a DB9 or Vantage. They exude confidence in such an overtly sexual way they're reminiscent of the great Pininfarina designs of the '50s. On the narrow roads of South France's Rhne Valley, the Vantage's visual impact was evident. People stopped to stare, much in the same way I imagine they did when the Tour De France was an automobile race. The Aston Martin induces the kind of lust that could make someone steal it just to experience the thrill. Rides like this end relationships and break up marriages.
A few rounds in the Roadster may just have you doing things that normally you'd think twice about. That blind corner on the narrow French lane you're heading toward at a buck ten? No problem; slap the tranny down a few cogs and let the fat Bridgestone Potenzas carry the all-alloy box tub through the turn. A lumbering Peugeot van up ahead? Blip the throttle and grip is there without effort. Straight-line acceleration is good, but not rocket-like. The all-aluminum, 4.3-liter V8 only puts out 380 hp, but it's what the Roadster does with the power that's most remarkable. Too many modern cars give pure straight-line speed and suffer when the suspension is called upon. Aston Martin has done its homework. Traction control is unobtrusive and does its function quietly and efficiently while allowing the driver the illusion of being in total control.
By good fortune, my driving partner on this journey would be Greg Brown, who some of you might know. He and I employ different driving styles, and the Vantage offered each of us insight into what truly makes a driver's car. Personal preferences are really brought in to focus by how you approach the optional Sportshift transmission. Brown favored lots of paddle use, constantly up- and downshifting. Sportshift does not carry any lurking, violent feel unless called for. When it was my turn, I left the lever in D and let my foot do the talking. I was far more comfortable entering a corner at a high speed and letting the torque and suspension carry me. It's a matter of preference-but this Aston has that rare ability to make the driver feel like he's not compromising in either shift mode.
Having made that argument, we were up earlier than the rest next morning so we could clock seat time in one of the few six-speed-manual Roadsters on hand. A whole different exhaust note emanates from the do-it-yourself stick version. Toss out all those electronic throttle blips-you can't program the human element with a manual-and the Vantage Roadster becomes less docile, more raw, more dangerous and alive. This is how it should be. I don't care if Sportshift is faster than I can work the clutch and the perfectly positioned shifter; the six speeds are there to be used and enjoyed. Perhaps it's inappropriate for London, New York, Paris, and certainly Los Angeles. Aston Martin marketing is aware of this, as Sportshift-equipped models are expected to make up the bulk of Vantage Roadster orders.
For all its strong points, the latest Aston Martin is hardly a flawless car. A cramped interior, questionable dash layout and seat adjustments all come to mind. Interestingly, these are things that we would rip a German manufacturer for and give no mercy. The Vantage, like all classic British sports cars, has to have a few flaws to make you feel truly connected to it. In this case, I'm more than willing to overlook them.