Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster | road test

Posted on Sep 13, 2007 by

Immensely Pleasing

is the quintessential British grand touring car. Except that, from a day in March this year, has been majority owned by finance companies from Kuwait. The £479 million purchase from the Ford Motor Company (owners since 1989) will not, we are assured, make any difference to the cars and where and how they are built. And the new chairman is David Richards, the owner of Prodrive, one of Britain’s most successful automotive entrepreneurs.

An immediate change was already planned before the takeover. The last example of the Vanquish flagship has
emerged from Aston’s ancestral home in Newport Pagnell. All manufacturing will be transferred to the palatial headquarters at Gaydon and the Vanquish’s place at the top of the range will be taken by the DBS, the star of the James Bond film Casino Royale and a roadgoing cross between the DB9 and the DBR9 racer.

Ulrich Bez, the German ex-Porsche engineer who remains chief executive under the new ownership, had made the
separation from Ford easier by championing a dedicated Aston chassis structure in bonded aluminium. This VH (vertical-horizontal) platform is the successor to the chassis structure used for the Vanquish and is adapted for all its current models
– the V8 Vanquish, the DB9 – and the DBS. This is not only a sensible use of engineering resources but is also a very stiff structure suitable for convertibles as well as coupes without much modification.

And this year’s main event for Aston is a – the V8 Vantage Roadster. It was launched just days after the announcement of the company’s sale and Bez was revelling in welcoming Aston’s enthusiastic new owners and expounding the virtues of the new model.
‘It’s bloody good,’ he said, with a smile – the German playing the Englishman representing his Kuwaiti masters.

The V8 Vantage Roadster is good. Not perfect, but immensely pleasing to look at, to travel in, and, most important of all, to drive.I should say straight away that in my days of thinning hair and the era of efficient air conditioning I would choose a coupe against a convertible. But among those who buy expensive cars like Astons there is a preference for open-topped models. Aston expects the

Roadster to account for more than half of the 4,200 annual V8 Vantage sales. That said, I could be persuaded by the Roadster because there are few disadvantages – restricted luggage space, poor rear quarter visibility with hood up – and it provides a sound track that is positively life-enhancing. Driving with the top down on a mountain road, accompanied by the wonderful bark of that exhaust, when the regulation noise-reducing flap is open after 4,000 rpm, is one of the great motoring experiences.

Mechanically, there is little difference from the V8 Vantage coupe but the Roadster coincides with the introduction of electro-hydraulic Sportshift transmission as an option.

Coupe and convertible were developed at the same time but without the hard roof some chassis changes were necessary for the open car: the walls of the extruded box section chassis members are thicker, there are structural underpans front and rear, a new cross
beam supporting the steering column, and extra gussets at the door posts.

The fabric hood retracts electrically under a neat twin-domed cover and there are two safety hoops that pop up if there is a danger of rollover (they have strengthened tips to break the rear window if the top is up at that critical moment).

The result is 80 kg extra weight compared with the coupe and a car that feels just as stiff. That’s a considerable accolade for a convertible; only Mercedes and Porsche manage it as well (with the SLK and the Boxster).

Apart from its stirring music, there is nothing new about the engine, a Jaguar-derived 4.3 litre V8 producing 380 bhp and not a lot of low-speed torque; no matter, it is an excuse to keep the revs, and the exhaust valve, above 4,000…

The car that I drove had the Sportshift, which adds £3000 to the £91,000 UK price. Astons expects most buyers to specify it. Sportshift is the Graziano six-speed manual gearbox with the same Marelli robotized shift system as used by Ferrari and Maserati.
Shifting gears with the steering column paddles is not as quick as a Ferrari but smoother as a consequence and just right for this car. There is a ‘comfort’ setting for more relaxed shifts and it can be left to change gear automatically though the sporty driver won’t find that very satisfying. The only snag with Sportshift seems to be some jerkiness as the clutch slips while manoeuvring at low speed.

Like the V8 coupe, the Roadster has lots of grip and corners with supreme confidence. The spring rates are actually stiffer than the coupe’s and yet the ride does not seem to be affected. The body is well-controlled and the steering’s power assistance is linear rather than speed variable which makes the handling predictable – though a little more steering ‘feel’ wouldn’t come amiss.

Aston has improved the V8’s seats with the introduction of the Roadster – they now have more side support – but space in the cockpit is tight for taller and bulkier drivers. The smart cabin layout with its beautiful but unreadable instruments and fiddly switches is as
the V8 coupe and, indeed the larger DB9.

Everyone compares the V8 Vantage with the Porsche 911 and there is general agreement that while the Porsche may be a better all-rounder, the Aston is more special – and that can justifies its higher price. In fact the Roadster’s strongest competitor on paper is the
Jaguar XK-R, with which it shares its basic engine. The XK-R Convertible is bigger, more spacious, more powerful, and cheaper but that, Aston will tell you, misses the point. It’s not an Aston Martin.

Roadster

Vehicle type:     front-engine, rear-wheel drive,
2-passenger, 2-door convertible

Base price:       £94,000 (In UK)

Engine:             DOHC 32-valve V8, 4,280cc

Power:             380 bhp @ 7,000 rpm

Torque:            410 Nm @ 5,000 rpm

Transmission:    Sportshift 6-speed robotized manual

Wheelbase:       2600mm

Length/width/height: 4380mm/ 2025mm/1265mm

Kerb weight:     1710kg

Performance figures

0-100km/h       5.2 sec

Top speed:       280 km/h

 

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