Handcrafted in Gaydon, England, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster is a convertible variant of the fixed-roof V8 Vantage Coupe. The soft-top made its world debut on the heels of its sibling, unveiled the following year at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show. Now in its seventh model year, the non-S Roadster is one of the automaker's least expensive offerings (remembering that we are not subjected to the Scion iQ-based, but Aston Martin-branded, Cygnet on our shores).
As an entry-level Aston Martin, the V8 Vantage Roadster hides in the shadows of not only the higher performing Vantage S models, but the One-77, V12 Zagato, Rapide, DB9 and new Vanquish, just to name a few. The glitz, glamour and bright lights are bestowed on the more spectacular siblings, while the standard Vantage Roadster is left in the shadows.
But don't be fooled into thinking that its relative position in the family extinguishes its style, performance or British character. The 2013 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster not only holds its own ground, but it has significantly more appeal after a slew of recent updates.
The two-seat Roadster, like all other Vantage models, is constructed on the automaker's renowned VH architecture - a lightweight bonded aluminum framework chassis with aluminum, magnesium alloy, composite and steel body panels. To compensate for the loss of rigidity with the roof removed, Aston Martin added a stiff cross member to the platform and made other minor tweaks (the convertible weighs about 200 pounds more than the coupe). The power-operated folding soft top, with a heated glass rear window, opens and closes at the touch of a button in about 20 seconds. It may be actuated at speeds upwards of 30 mph and it tucks cleanly under a hard tonneau cover when stowed.
The power-operated folding soft top opens and closes at the touch of a button in about 20 seconds.
Bolted up front, but aft of the front axle (mid-front engine placement), is an all-aluminum naturally aspirated 4.7-liter V8 developing 430 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 361 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. Customers are offered a choice of transmissions. A few opt for the rear mid-mounted six-speed manual gearbox, but the more popular transmission, and the one fitted to our test car, is the rear mid-mounted Sportshift II seven-speed single-clutch automated gearbox that is fed its mechanical energy through a carbon fiber propeller shaft. (The Vantage was launched with the first-generation six-speed Sportshift, but it was upgraded to the seven-speed box in 2012.) A limited-slip rear differential is standard, driving only the rear wheels. According to Aston Martin, the powertrain is strong enough to launch the 3,770-pound V8 Vantage Roadster to 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 180 mph.
The front suspension features independent double wishbones incorporating anti-dive geometry, coil springs, anti-roll bar and monotube dampers. The rear underpinnings utilize independent double wishbones with anti- squat and anti-lift geometry, coil springs, an anti-roll bar and monotube dampers, while the spring rates and damping are fixed. The brakes were significantly upgraded and the tires widened by 10 mm for the 2012 model year. The standard stopping package now includes ventilated and grooved two-piece floating discs (15 inches in diameter) with six-piston monobloc calipers up front and ventilated and grooved discs (13 inches in diameter) with four-piston calipers in the rear. The 19-inch alloys on our test car were wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires in staggered sizes (245/40ZR-19 in the front and 285/35ZR-19 in the rear).
Aston Martin also made subtle styling changes inspired by the upmarket Vantage S and V12 Vantage.
Aston Martin has also made subtle styling changes to its Vantage, all inspired by the upmarket Vantage S and V12 Vantage. Keen observers will note that the lower intake has been increased in size to feed more air into the radiators and front brakes. In addition, race-derived side sills and a rear diffuser add a more aggressive appearance to the sides and rear profile of the compact Aston Martin.
Inside the two-place cabin, the layout is mostly unchanged. This means the now-familiar smorgasbord of buttons and switches, only logical to an Aston Martin engineer, are carried forward. The cockpit is ergonomically challenged - and that's about as succinctly as it may be stated. We suspect few will care where the secondary operating controls are located, as they will already be intoxicated from the aroma of yards of full grain leather upholstery (with tastefully executed contrasting stitching) and spellbound by the gorgeous piano black trim at the top of the dash. The cabin appointments are exquisite.
The cockpit is ergonomically challenged - and that's about as succinctly as it may be stated.
Hand-built British craftsmanship comes at a premium. The 2013 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster (with Sportshift II) starts with a base price of $138,200. Our test car, with its handsome Tungsten Silver exterior over Obsidian Black leather interior, was wearing more than a few options. These included 10-spoke silver diamond turned 19-inch wheels, upgraded audio, carbon fiber and silver-painted brake calipers for a grand total of $155,991.
Aston Martin positions its Vantage as a true sports car. And, even as many other models in the family are faster and more powerful, the Vantage chassis is the automaker's famed racing platform (an Aston Martin Vantage won the GT class at Le Mans in both 2007 and 2008 and just won the final round of the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship's Six Hours of Shanghai to finish second in the highly competitive GTE Pro championship standings). This is one reason why the automaker offers both a traditional manual and a clutch-based automated gearbox - citing that a traditional torque converter transmission as found on several of its other GT models (e.g., DB9, Virage, Rapide and DBS) would not suit the Vantage's character.
Even as many other models in the family are faster and more powerful, the Vantage chassis is the automaker's famed racing platform.
Driver and front passenger will find their seats, with fixed head restraints, very comfortable and supportive (adjustment controls are inboard, on the center console). The riding position is low, and the feeling of being encapsulated by the vehicle is amplified when the doors are shut and belts snug tight. Outward visibility is excellent, as the automatic pop-up rollover protection system is tucked completely out of view behind the passenger's heads.
There is no start button on the V8 Vantage Roadster. Instead, the crystal key is inserted into a slot high on the center console, immediately below the center vents, and pressed firmly until the engine fires over with a loud V8 roar.
While most automakers have settled on some sort of stalk or lever to operate their automatic gearboxes, Aston Martin decided many years ago that pushbuttons were its calling. As such, there are four quarter-sized buttons mounted high on the center console, two on each side of the key slot. On the left is a "Sport" and an "R" button, while the right side features an "N" and a "D" button (as there is no Park setting, the Roadster is put into neutral and the manual handbrake, located on the floor down at the driver's left side, is cinched upward).
Many owners will lazily run their V8 Vantage models in "D." Sadly, this is far from optimal.
We worry that many owners will lazily run their V8 Vantage models in "D" (Drive). Sadly, this is far from optimal. Even as it requires no work from the operator, the single-clutch gearbox is clunky and frustrating in this setting as it requires a slight lift of the accelerator to be perfectly smooth (assuming one times it perfectly). After experimenting, we found manual mode with the "Sport" button engaged to be best suited to our enthusiast driving style. In this configuration, the transmission does not automatically grab its next taller gear at redline. Even better, firm tugs on the column-mounted paddles (traditional F1 configuration) dictate lightning-fast shifts when the engine is over 5,500 rpm and there is more than 80 percent throttle opening. Mirroring the behavior of a masochist, SportShift II seemed to be more jubilant the harder it was pushed. We were more pleased, too, and never went back to D mode again.
We've always found the Vantage family especially entertaining in the canyons, and the V8 Roadster is no exception. The aluminum chassis feels very stiff, and the fixed suspension works overtime to ensure the fat contact patch always made contact with the road. A tight wheelbase, two short overhangs and excellent outward visibility provide all the information needed to know exactly what the Aston Martin is up to. It's easy to have a blast listening to its brawny exhaust note reverberating off the rock walls, literally tossing it around each bend (recovering from tail-happy action in the corners is a breeze).
The free-breathing V8 instantaneously spins its white indicator around the tach, albeit backwards.
Even though 430 horsepower doesn't read nearly as sexy as the prodigious outputs of some competitive offerings, the heavily massaged engine delivers plenty of power whether coming off a tight corner or tooling casually around town. The lack of forced induction is a benefit for throttle response too, as the free-breathing V8 instantaneously spins its white indicator around the tachometer, albeit backwards (the Brits calibrated the needle to move counter clockwise). Braking is also a strong suit, again helped by well-sorted suspension tuning, a stiff chassis, good overall balance and the upgraded rotors and calipers.
If you are getting the feeling that we really enjoyed driving Aston's entry-level roadster, your hunch is spot-on. While the droptop Vantage doesn't read supercar impressive on paper, driving the well-sorted chassis is pure automotive bliss. And, even as its performance is admittedly only considered mediocre in its segment, it is bursting with a much more important trait - we enthusiasts call it "character."
It is bursting with an important trait - we enthusiasts call it "character."
Many of today's exotic sports cars have been over-engineered to the point of being sterile (thanks to overzealous engineers chasing perfection), but this aluminum-bodied British two-seater has quirks, idiosyncrasies and genuine mannerisms. The unconventional parking brake operation, distinctive behaviour of the automated gearbox, bewildering ergonomics and even the backward sweep of the tachometer needle all contribute to its very alluring personality. Toss in its drop-dead gorgeous appearance, rich interior and the velvety V8 exhaust note, and we've swallowed the Roadster's disposition, hook, line and sinker.
The 2013 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster may rarely earn the showroom spotlight and infrequently grace the front cover of a magazine, but don't ever accuse it of lacking competency or charm - it's an underappreciated gem.