2008 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

The sight of an Aston Martin may not be quite as rare as that of, say, a whooping crane, but it's fair to say that you don't see one every day--or even every month--unless your neighbor happens to own one. In fact, since the company was founded in 1914, only about 35,000 Aston Martins have been built. That's one reason why, even in the rarefied air of the over-$100,000 price bracket, Astons are special. Besides its exclusivity, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage roadster offers precise handling dynamics that make you feel like a hero when you're carving through mountain roads, luxury accommodations that allow you to drive in a relaxed and confident manner through busy traffic, and a sensuous shape that begs you to caress its tapering flanks.

The Vantage roadster is powered by a 4.3-liter V-8 that produces 380 hp. That's a comparatively modest figure, but you forget about that when you push it past the 4000-rpm mark and hear the sharp exhaust bark that is reminiscent of a Lamborghini Gallardo's. A six-speed manual and a SportShift automated manual transmission are available; both are exceedingly capable, but we prefer the SportShift with its column-mounted paddles. With that transmission comes one rather odd feature--buttons on the dashboard (rather than a shift lever) for selecting Drive, Neutral, and Reverse.

While the roadster is intended for top-down motoring, the automated, fully lined fabric top fits snugly and lets in little road noise in inclement weather. The interior is hand-assembled and hand-finished in a manner that one would expect from a high-end British sports car, and yet the V8 Vantage costs substantially less than the Gallardo Spyder or the Bentley Continental GTC. What price exclusivity? In the V8 Vantage's case, the cost is $126,400.

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