SO MUCH is going on at Aston Martin it’s hard to keep up. The superlative-busting One 77, the all-new Vanquish, the big step forward with the latest DB9; all reason to get excited about this very British brand. But even further down the range there is good news.
For the latest model year the Vantage range has benefitted from a series of enhancements and detail improvements to build on its existing talents and deliver even more of the thrills of the original car. The first thing you notice however is that the Vantage Roadster is not short on presence. Roof up or down the curves of its bodywork are both graceful and aggressive, with flowing curves leading into sharp creases resulting in a body that appears to have been poured over its wheels.
Under the bonnet lies the thrilling 4.7-litre V8 naturally aspirated engine. With 420bhp on offer there is certainly no shortage of performance, delivered to the rear wheels either by a six-speed manual or seven-speed Sportshift II automatic that combines both smooth shifting in traffic with paddle-activated rapid shifts on demand.
Arguably of even greater benefit are the chassis alterations, comprising of a heavily revised steering which has a new power assistance set-up and a quicker steering rack, dropping the ratio to 15:1 for sharper response. The high specification tyres have been increased in width by 10mm to give even greater grip, while the brakes have been upgraded 380mm discs with six-piston callipers for unshakable braking performance.
Unlock the Vantage and you push then pull the flush door handles and swing open the swan-wing doors, opening outwards and upwards at the same time to give a large aperture whilst taking up less space in a car park. You are greeted by a cabin that instantly smells of rich leather and welcomes you in.
To start the Vantage, like all Astons, you slot the key (or Emotional Control Unit as Aston dubs it) into the top of the dashboard. Do so and there is an instant burst of noise as the V8 snarls, letting you know right from the start that it means business. Push the firm clutch down and first gear engages with a meaty positivity as you roll forward.
That V8 up front is always busy, always vocal - but not loud - and is a constant encouragement to explore fully the performance on offer. But the Vantage is far from hyperactive: a commute to work would be no bother whatsoever. The seats are highly adjustable and very supportive, noise levels sit comfortably between limousine and hardcore sports car and the ride comfort is good despite the firmness of the overall set up.
Roof down the experience is equally impressive. For the full wind-in-hair experience you can have all the windows down but even then buffeting at high speed is well within an acceptable range, yet with the windows up and the impressive wind deflector in place there is hardly a breeze at all and only the slightest increase in noise.
Slip it out of its cruising gait, drop down into second gear then squeeze the throttle wide open and the full transformation takes place. The engine reaffirms its presence with a delicious warbling bark, the whole car lunging forward instantly. As the revs build the sound rises in tempo and volume to culminate in a terrific howl as you approach the red line and slot the next gear.
0-60mph takes a very brief 4.7 seconds and the top speed of 180mph is never in a moment's doubt. This is a genuine performance car, despatching any section of open road in a matter of moments and it is a complete delight to fully exercise the performance. Yet you can haul it down from those speeds effortlessly, the strong brakes delivering effortless performance time and again.
The chassis completes the performance car portfolio too. The upgraded steering impresses right from the start with improved weighting and snappier reactions that pay dividends even in town. But on the open road you feel everything that is going on, and you are constantly keyed-in to the car's grip levels - of which there are plenty. You have to work hard to get near to the Aston's limits, the near-perfect weight distribution helping enormously and the result is a car that wants to play along with you do. The two-stage ESP system is always there to help too, should your enthusiasm get the better of you.
One thing the Vantage Roadster is not short of is rivals: everyone wants to join in the sports car game. But when you pull up on your driveway, lock and walk away, there aren't many that demand you stop, turn around and take one last look before you go.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster,
Engine: 4.7-litre petrol producing 420bhp and 346lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 180mph, 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds
Economy: 20.5 mpg combined
Emission: 321g/km of CO2