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First drive: A topless Vantage point from Aston

Sun-seeker: Vantage Roadster sticks with a soft-top, not hard-top, roof.

Aston Martin chases the sun-seeking sportscar set with its soft-top Vantage

3 Apr 2007


ASTON MARTIN will commence Australian deliveries of its new Vantage Roadster from June, three months after debuting at the Melbourne International Motor Show.

To be priced from $269,000 for the base manual version, the two-seater convertible is being billed as one-part focused, hardcore sportscar and one-part luxury grand tourer.

"A modern sports car should be like this," proclaims Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez, pointing to the evolving needs of buyers who are forced to spend more time in their vehicles as a result of increased traffic congestion, longer working hours and advancements in portable communications.

So while it is naturally aimed right at Porsche 911 Convertible heartland, any number of sports and/or luxury coupes and drop-tops - from the Honda S2000 to the new Bentley Brooklands - fall within the Aston Martin’s net.

Former chief program engineer and, since January, Aston Martin’s new head of product communication and motorsport David King admitted that while the 911’s capabilities were Vantage benchmarks, others, like the Ferrari F430 and latest Maseratis, were also studied.

As with the Coupe, the Roadster utilises a bonded aluminium structure ensconced within an aluminium, steel and magnesium composite alloy body.

An electrically folding three-layered fabric roof was chosen for its lightness, aesthetic qualities, ease in maintaining the Vantage designer’s desired shape and space efficiency when opened – virtues a folding hard-top cannot match overall. Deployment is possible up to 50km/h and takes 23 seconds.

The roof mechanism was developed by Edscha in Germany, and is signed off to 20,000 roof cycles – the equivalent of about eight years of using the roof twice a day.

Aston Martin reveals that the Roadster was designed with the Coupe from the project’s outset, with the VH (Vertical/Horizontal) architecture devised with enough space behind the fuel tank for the convertible roof to fit into, while reinforced A-pillars on both variants employ high-strength steels for greater rollover protection.

To compensate for lost stiffness from its transition from coupe to convertible, the sill extrusions were thickened and strengthened (a quick and cost-effective process thanks to the VH’s cheap-to-tool extrusion dyes).

Aston also incorporated thicker-gauge front and rear subframe sheer panels with more attachment points to the body a hefty cross-car beam was added behind the dashboard between the A-pillars, to which the steering column is mounted, to quell steering shake while extra fillets were added into the rear section.

Total body structure additions for the stiffness modifications add around 15kg to the body, while the roof and its mechanisms and pumps put on an extra 55kg or so, for a 70-75kg weight hike over the Coupe.

Factor in all the available options and the lightest 1600kg Vantage Coupe can soar to a 1710kg Roadster.

While torsional stiffness is down from 27.5 to 21Nm/degree, Mr King was keen to point out that it compares extremely favourably with other convertibles (including Aston’s own DB9 Volante, which is rated at 16Nm/degree). "It’s as good as it gets as far as convertible stiffness is concerned," he said.

Boosting the pillars is a pair of rollover hoops incorporated into the ‘speed humps’ that sit just aft of the head restraints.

Weight balance is virtually 50:50, with a slight rear bias due to the extra roof weight compared to the Coupe’s, while the Roadster’s 0.345Cd drag coefficient is also similar to its sibling’s, but rises when the roof falls, to 0.39Cd.

Other figures that are shared between the two Vantages are top speed (280km/h) and claimed 0-100km/h acceleration (five seconds flat).

Mounted between the front bulkhead and front axle is the same 4.3-litre all-alloy quad overhead camshaft 32-valve V8 boasting variable inlet camshaft timing and dry-sump lubrication.

The German-built engine, which shares virtually nothing with the petrol V8s found in some Jaguars and Land Rovers, delivers 283kW at 7000rpm and 410Nm from 5000rpm.

Besides the six-speed manual, the Roadster offers another Graziano-supplied gearbox: the new Sportshift automated manual transmission, with steering wheel shift paddles.

Retaining the rear axle layout precluded the use of a conventional torque-converter automatic gearbox (such as ZF’s popular six-speed unit).

Mr King admitted it was not an impossibility but then Aston would have to resort to prohibitively expensive body repackaging that would also bring an unacceptable weight hike of at least 30kg, as well as a mismatch of gear ratios to the V8’s peaky torque characteristics, since the gearbox would not be bespoke, and funding gear ratios to suit a model as low-volume as the Vantage is uneconomic.

"It would have blunted the performance of this car significantly," he said.

44 center imageMeanwhile, the arrival of some sort of DSG-style dual-clutch transmission is still "a while away" and "horrendously expensive", according to Mr King, who nonetheless admitted Aston Martin is watching their developments "very carefully", since the Audi TT V6 is currently the most powerful dual-clutch application in mass production.

Momentum is harnessed via Brembo callipers actuating 355mm front and 330mm rear ventilated steel discs, ABS, traction and stability control systems, and Aston’s Positive Torque Control device that prevents wheels locking during engine-braking situations.

The brake’s boost ratio has been changed for extra bite when first actuated, following criticism of the Coupe’s braking feel. This change has since filtered across to all other Aston Martins.

Hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering, offering three turns lock-to-lock, turn the front 18x8.5-inch alloys shod with 235/45 ZR18 Bridgestone Potenza tyres, while the rear set are 19x9.5-inch rims and 275/40 R18 rubber.

Suspension is independent all round, and consists of double aluminium wishbones, coil-over-monotube dampers and front and rear anti-roll bars.

Compared to the Coupe, the Roadster actually has 15 per cent stiffer suspension, when the opposite is usually the case for convertible transformations.

Yet ride quality is completely unaffected, claims Mr King, calling the calibrations reached, with the help of softer bushes for greater wheel compliance and retuned dampers with altered rebound settings and bump stops, a comfort "sweet spot".

The convertible also stands some 5mm higher off the ground than the closed car.

Other important Roadster stats include length/width/height/wheelbase measurements of 4380/1865/1265/2600mm, a boot capacity of 144 litres, an 80-litre fuel tank and a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 358g/km.

Leather upholstery is standard, as are electrically adjustable seats, climate-control air-conditioning, reversing sensors, dual front and side airbags, an alarm, tyre-pressure monitors and a 160W six-stack CD changer.

However, buyers must fork out extra for cruise control, Xenon headlights, heated seats, memory seats, auto-folding mirrors, Bluetooth preparation, satellite-navigation and a particularly effective wind deflector.

So, besides the driving experience, what are the ex-chief engineer’s favourite bits on the Roadster? Three things spring to Mr King’s mind: he points to the integrated design of the fuel filler cap that not only forms part of the bootlid aperture, but reflects many of the Vantage’s stylistic flourishes the way the rollover speed humps are externally finished in the cabin’s leather trim, melding interior and exterior elements together and a patented ‘glass breaker’ nib on the top of the deployable rollover hoops, that guarantee their effectiveness in breaking through the hood’s rear window with brilliantly simple ease.

Around 40 Vantage Roadsters are expected to arrive in Australia in 2007, compared to 70 Vantage Coupes. Of the other Aston Martins on sale, the company predicts around 20 to 25 buyers each for the DB9 Coupe and Volante (convertible).

On the subject of names, Aston Martin says that engine-related nomenclature is being dropped, so no more ‘V8’ in front of Vantage, while the ‘V12’ prefixes vanishes with the Vanquish later in the year.


IMAGINE if, in an alternate reality, the Porsche 928 of 1977 succeeded in replacing – instead of galvanising fans into embracing – the ageing 911 it was eventually designed to supersede.

Today, Porsche would probably be offering a front-engined rear-drive two-seater sports car, combining brutal performance and fabulous dynamics with luxury-car levels of comfort, refinement and quality.

Indeed, in all likelihood, this alternate-reality, sub-928 Porsche might still wear the hallowed 911 moniker (although we think the Germans would never have looked back if they were successful in making a clean break from rear engines).

But it would probably be quite similar to the Aston Martin Vantage (the ‘V8’ nomenclature is being dropped, as is the ‘V12’ prefix on the Vanquish and its DBS successor) we know in the real world today.

Quite, that is, but not the same, as the Vantage’s deliciously intoxicating detailing lend it a distinctly aristocratically English taste that is worth getting punch-drunk on at every opportunity, particularly when shadowing several as we did on spectacular sun-lit roads.

Head-on there’s the striking Copperhead snake shape reminiscent of Honda’s seminal S2000 (and the similarities don’t stop there either, as a quick visit to the upper rev range soon reveals, but that’s for later on), while the sinewy profile and beautifully realised proportions prove that Aston Martin did in fact design the Vantage from the outset to be as much a convertible as it is a coupe.

The roof is snug, swathed-in-suede and fully-automatic, and also has the desired upshot of visually separating the Roadster from the look-alike styling the Vantage Coupe suffers alongside its Vanquish, DB9 and new DBS stablemates.

The 1989 Lotus Elan-evoking rear profile completes this car’s blatant Britishness, which of course is a cornerstone of any Aston’s appeal, along with luxury, exclusivity and grand-touring capabilities.

So there’s no use expecting a raw, Porsche 911 clone, is there? And this should be no disappointment either, even if – for some people – terms like refinement, luxury and relaxation are anathema to what a sports car like the 911’s priorities should be.

We drove the Roadster over some marvellously varied roads in Southern France, and have come away hugely impressed with the speed, ease, determination and driver intimacy with which the Vantage drop-head moves across the ground.

Speed first: if the 4.3-litre quad-cam V8’s 283kW power peak at a heady 7000rpm seems a little high, then most of the Vantage’s 410Nm of torque feels like it is building like a sea swell well below the official 4000rpm peak.

Past that point, a spine-tingling exhaust warble accompanies the fast-rising revs like a set of jet-plane afterburners, soaring up high – along with your speed – to create a wonderfully unique soundtrack.

Soon enough, blipping that throaty throttle through narrow village streets to create the Roadster’s very own wall of sound became our favourite game. We reckon it will for Roadster owners too, as they choose to forgo the cocooning silence and security of having the roof up, even in the rain, in order to immerse themselves in the mechanical sonar symphony bouncing off the buildings.

Step-off acceleration is extremely – though not shatteringly – fast, but soon the V8’s dual party trick of having a huge wad of mid-range torque and a hunger for the power-populated upper regions of the rev counter quickly convince you of this sub-supercar’s scorching turn of speed.

It is at these times that Aston’s Porsche Carrera S-stripping Nürburgring lap time claims ring truest.

On the subject of wild and wonderful corners, the Roadster’s finely fluent steering – no, it is not quite as sharp or as edgy as the 911’s – is so perfectly weighted and responsive anyway that, out on real roads in the real world, few drivers could really ask for anything more.

Point the Roadster and its steering reacts without twitching, and is backed up by outrageous amounts of roadholding grip that remains unmolested by bumps, irregular cambers or rough surfaces. Seamless sums up this car’s progress at speed.

Compared to some of its competitors, you could say that the Roadster’s overall dynamic balance will stir and not shake – which appears to be Aston Martin’s desired blend.

So what of the dreaded robotised six-speed sequential manual Sport Shift gearbox? The jury is still out on this one.

It seems perfectly suited to the snaking country roads, where the driver can carve up corners with lightning speed and scalpel-like precision. If this is the only environment that the Roadster had to live in, the Sport Shift’s immediacy is in tune with Aston Martin’s sportscar ambitions for the Vantage.

However, in built-up areas, heavy traffic, or low-speed scenarios, a degree of hesitation and inconsistency exists – especially in ‘Drive’ – when all we want is to maintain a slow and steady pace.

Which is why we absolutely loved the six-speed manual gearbox, with its weighty, positive lever and clutch actions and beautifully spaced ratios, which can be used anywhere and anytime by anybody.

The manual also involves the driver better than Sport Shift, even if there is more physical exertion required. The latter simply requires too much concentration too much of the time.

Once you’ve decided which gearbox is for you, the Roadster will make a powerful play for the rest of your senses, with an interior that sets a new standard for restrained style and refinement in its class.

Rich stitched leather upholstery swathes most of the place, leaving only expensive metal surfaces, the aforementioned suede roof lining, a smattering of crystal (starter button, coin tray) and glass, and a whole bunch of Ford/Volvo-sourced switches and controls, just to let you know who used to own Aston Martin.

It smells superb, the seats feel great, the driving position is spot-on and the build quality seems second-to-none. This is a pukka British luxury car cabin.

Cock-ups include the tachometer’s mirror-image operation to the speedometer, which requires far too much concentration to read.

We also find the instrument cluster isn’t as cleanly presented as it could be (there are four different numerical fonts assaulting the poor driver’s eyes), the glovebox capacity is rubbish, reversing vision is next to useless thanks to a shallow window and high rear haunches, and the annoying exterior door handles can break long fingernails.

Boot space isn’t sensational either, although a full-sized set of golf clubs will fit inside.

On the other hand, struts keep the doors exactly where they are open to, even on an incline. That feels special, as does the well-oiled opening of the fuel-filler cap, the mechanics of the roof operation, and the look and presentation of the ‘speed hump’ rollover hoop housings.

And how refreshing it is to find a proper great big old-fashioned handbrake lever, jutting between the driver and door like an HQ Holden Kingswood’s, and connecting the old 1960s muscle-car Aston era with today’s super high-tech supercar. Best of all, it allows for sneaky handbrake turns, since your passenger can’t see you going for the lever. Wonderful stuff.

The Vantage Roadster is a two-seater convertible for all your senses, from the V8’s performance and soundtrack, exquisite handling and roadholding, and relaxing ride quality, to the sumptuous interior and supermodel styling.

It doesn’t feel like a Jaguar or drive quite like a Porsche, but this Aston Martin can mix it with Maseratis and Ferraris for not too much more than BMW M-car or Mercedes money.

Cast your mind back to 1977 and a similar conclusion could have been applied to the 928. Whether the Vantage succeeds where the front-engined Porsche failed against the 911 will be very interesting indeed.

2007 Aston Martin Vantage pricing:
Coupe $236,300
Roadster $269,000
Roadster (a) $277,250

Read more:

Crowds flip over latest drop-top Aston

First look: V8 Vantage loses its head

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