Sean Connery's Bond, James Bond, would punch you in the face while kissing your girlfriend. His Aston Martin DB5 was beyond cool. By the 1990s, Bond drove a range of product placement-mobiles, and Astons looked like Jaguars (and vice versa). While devastatingly quick, Astons handled like trains. And then the Vanquish, DB9 and V8 Vantage restored a sense of dignity. But– the Vantage's 4.3-liter V8 stumped-up "only" 380 hp. When critics questioned, Aston did the English version of flipping them off: nodded their collective head and shrugged their shoulders. But now, finally, Aston unleashes the 2009 Vantage with a 4.7-liter V8. Power jumps from 380 to 420. Torque is up, and the dashboard is new. I recently exercised the convertible version, the Vantage Roadster, for a few hours on a sun-drenched day to see if Bond's whip is suitably… nasty.
The Vantage coupe is the best looking car on sale in North America. Aston’s engineers admitted to a British newspaper that they designed the Vantage by morphing Adriana Lima and a clone of Leonardo Da Vinci: a blend of emotionally irresistible and mathematically precise curves and planes. Like the Brazilian model, the AM Vantage is much smaller in person than you’d expect– about the size of a Porsche 911. Only while the 911 is the same as it ever was, the Vantage is burning down the house.
I’m inclined to knock convertible sports cars as “less serious” than their tin-top progenitors. But the Vantage Roadster is tight, right and outta sight. It doesn't suffer from the popular "fat ass convertible" syndrome. My only gripe: with the top up, the Vantage's side window shape is imperfect– and that's unacceptable when the rest of the car actually is perfect. So, we won't be seeing an Aston Martin Vantage Roadster resting on its laurels in MOMA. But then again… with the top down, it’s a twelve out of ten.
Sitting in the Vantage is an occasion worthy of Farago's 50th. Fellow writers warned me that the Aston's cabin was far too brittle and cheap for a $100k+ Texan-Saudi-British automobile. They were right– in the past. For 2009, the Vantage gets an interior refresh that brings it in line with the excruciatingly exquisite DB9. All the Vantage's ancillary parts– switches, knobs, panels– have been kicked-up to first class.
The Lima's-thigh-soft leather smells like money. The parking brake is a long hand lever on the floor, to the left of the driver. The wood is real wood without 3 inches of polyurethane shellacked on. Sexual metaphors aside, it's a MacBook Air in an old school wrapper.
This is the part where past reviews of the Aston Vantage get into letdown mode. The drive can’t match the looks, it's underpowered and not the finest track handler. This time out, it's not entirely true. And. Misses. The. Point. Yes, the 2009 Vantage is significantly quicker than the 2008 model, but it's not as quick as its competitors. And I have no doubt whatsoever that an Evo would trounce it on a track. But it’s of absolutely no consequence.
Above 4000 rpm, the Vantage's exhaust flap opens. Top down, what was a wonderful chamber orchestra concert is now an all-out assault on your senses. The sound of the Vantage's engine at WOT is in a league entirely of its own. This is different than a GM V8 burble, or the power ballad of a Mercedes AMG, or a motorsport-emulating Ferrari V8. In the Aston, the engine and exhaust sounds are in an amazing contradiction. The engine is refined, and screaming. It’s pure as the driven snow, but dangerous and thrilling. It’s motherfucking opera.
As it happens, this sound is the reason you don’t buy the manual transmission. Because one day you’ll mash the pedal and the sound of the engine will curl your toes. Now how are you going to shift, with your left foot contorted and numb? At least you thought ahead and bought the Roadster, so you can have that cigarette you will so desperately need.
The handling is absolutely bloody mahvelous. Oh sure, it can’t match the deus ex machina handling of a four wheel-drive Porsche Turbo. But that’s computers trumping physics. The Vantage Roadster is a proper sports car, with limits to find and exploit. The steering feedback is more direct than a Brit from oop north. The suspension certainly is hard, but you never have that brutal, jarring moment of falling into a pothole.
The Vantage Roadster is Aston's long-awaited return to form. It's a car that identifies its owner as a suave sybarite, from a long line of eyebrow archers. At the same time, it's got a genuinely dangerous edge. Although the Vantage's horsepower is still laughable compared to its direct rivals, it's no longer a deal-breaker. Lest we forget, Ian Fleming's Bond was, in fact, a Bentley man; a company that used to describe its horsepower as "adequate." Indeed.