A new Aston Martin convertible?
Indeed, but don’t call it that, or even a Volante: this is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster. Those five words will set you back £91,000, £8k more than the coupe. For this you get a stunning car that’ll do 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds before powering on to 175mph. However you’ll still pay more for options like xenon lights and 19-inch wheels. Read our 10-page first drive to see how the Roadster performs on the road.
So what’s new?
Well, the roof for a start. The lines of the coupe are slightly spoiled when it’s up, but overall it is very well executed. We especially like the leather-covered double bubbles on the rear deck, giving the car a speedster look. The electric soft-top roof will neatly fold away at the touch of a button in 23 seconds (at speeds of up to 30mph, no less), but the roof in its former cousin, the Jaguar XKR, is five seconds faster...
Any changes on the inside?
To the naked eye, no. The cockpit is shared with the coupe and is beautifully trimmed. You can just feel how special it is, knowing that a factory in Germany isn’t producing hundreds a day. You’ll only feel short-changed by the fiddly (and optional) sat-nav system. However, it’s beneath the leather-lined cabin that the significant changes have been made. To compensate for the loss of the roof there’s a new, super-stiff cross-member behind the dash, and - unusual this - the suspension is slightly stiffer than in the coupe.
So has the loss of a roof affected the drive?
Slightly, but torsional stiffness is down only a little compared with its hard-top brother: the VH platform was designed to spawn a convertible from the start. The Roadster doesn’t shimmy over crests or bumps, and the steering is better than anything BMW, Mercedes, or Jaguar has to offer. It rides comfortably, too, with a decent balance between stiffness for body control and softness for absorbing bumps. The brakes, 355mm up front, 330mm at the rear, bite hard despite sustained use on our test route. Constant revisions to the Vantage V8 since its launch a couple of years ago mean this car’s gearbox is also a lot slicker than in past coupes. And with the gearbox slung out towards the rear axle, the car has a 49:51 front to rear weight distribution.
What about the engine?
It’s still the rev-happy, Jag-derived 4.3 V8 producing 380bhp and 302lb ft. However, the engine is slightly at odds with the nature of the car: being somewhat softer than the coupe, the Roadster is more suited to cruising. And because the V8 lacks torque lower in the rev range, you really need to rev it to make good progress. Not that this is a bad thing. Put your foot down, watch the revs rise, and wait for the engine to reach 4000rpm. At this point, special valves in the exhaust open to let the V8’s true voice be heard: a hard, vocal bark with real venom. It's a fun exercise, but one that you might have to do too often - the torque-light Aston simply doesn't feel fast enough unless you absolutely rag it.
But what if I do just want to cruise around?
Well fear not, because Aston’s new Sportshift automated manual transmission is available. It even comes with a Comfort setting: yours for just £3000. We wouldn’t, though. If you want your Vantage V8 Roadster to be more serious, look out for the recent Prodrive tweaks to the coupe becoming available for this car in the near future. They include mods to the styling, suspension and engine, to perk up the drive.
How much do I have to pay for this ‘baby’ Aston?
Unfortunately not baby prices. Once you’ve selected a few choice options, the car will easily break the £100k mark. For this money you could also have Mercedes SL55 AMG, or convertible versions of the BMW M6 and Porsche 911 Turbo. But fret not, if you can justify the cost, the Roadster is a better sports car than either of the two big GTs, whilst the 911 is somewhat brash. And none will feel as exclusive either - this is an Aston Martin, after all.
But what about Aston’s future?
Despite the company only being sold last week, it has already announced it will be back at Le Mans this June. Aston is also making an endurance racing version of the V8 coupe, whilst the DBS and Rapide look set to appear next year. So the current four-strong line-up (above) is slowly expanding with a steady stream of new models. With the Gaydon-based company now being run by Prodrive’s David Richards and current Aston chairman Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin could go from strength to strength - if it gets its product mix right in the next few years. Here's hoping they do...
Let's not beat about the bush: the Roadster isn’t as good to drive as the coupe, but then convertibles never are. If you’ve got the money, then this will hardly be a rational choice and it remains an ultra-desirable rag-top. You can buy a lot of cars for £100,000, but none combines the charm and mystique of the Aston Martin brand with the spine-tingling noise, stunning looks and open-top motoring that the V8 Roadster delivers. It’s a very special car, if a bit pricey in this company. Read the full test of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster in the May 2007 issue of CAR Magazine. Call 0845 121 4000 for back issues.