The V8 Vantage roadster is a classic case of love at first sight. Its unique mix of color and trim, of leather and metal, of cool and casual has you hooked. And that's before you touch the concealed door handle, catch a whiff of hide and mohair, or hear the engine fire for the first time.
Beneath the handsome skin, Aston Martin's familiar Vertical Horizontal (VH) body structure provides torsional stiffness almost on par with cast iron. On the debit side, the V8 Vantage roadster tips the scales at 3771 pounds, some 450 pounds more than the comparatively anorexic Porsche 911 Carrera S. Thanks to its front-engine, rear-transaxle layout, though, the Aston puts most of its meat within the confines of its generous 102.4-inch wheelbase.
The 4.3-liter V-8 is both user-friendly and charismatic, although a little more grunt wouldn't hurt. Most customers likely will eschew the standard six-speed manual for the new automated gearbox with steering-column-mounted paddleshifters. We tried both and prefer the more intuitive and fun fingertip controls on the optional SportShift.
While other sports cars have a sport button that can be pushed to initiate quicker throttle and transmission responses, the V8 Vantage roadster defaults to the sport setting. If the driver should want more relaxed gearchanges, there is a comfort button on the instrument panel.
On Provence's Mont Ventoux hill-climb, the Aston's handling is fluid and progressive instead of razor-sharp and instant-on. Turn-in is quick but not overly so, and when you need more lock, you consciously wind it on instead of just flicking the wheel. This slow calibration provides more depth and better feedback, but it also makes you work that little bit harder. When the tail overcomes grip and comes around under power, it takes a hardy armful of opposite lock to control the slide and very self-confident timing as you prepare to exit.
The brakes are reassuring rather than riveting. Like the steering, they call for a positive input before they will start to perform. Equipped with grooved rather than cross-drilled rotors for more staying power, the stopping apparatus requires you to explore the full length of pedal travel for optimum modulation and effect.
On rough roads, where a 911 would pitch itself into a frenzy, this British roadster is impressively compliant. While it doesn't float over the obstacles, it soaks them up with skill, surefootedness, and self-assurance. With the exception of light lateral deflections through very quick corners, this car knows how to carve an accurate yet effortless flight path.
The Vantage is a precision tool--not clinically hyperefficient but very communicative. Now that the Vanquish is gone, this car is the most desirable model to wear the double-winged badge.