Road Test: 2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster
If ever there was a place to take rarity and hype out of a vehicle, it would be Miami's South Beach. Take a Lamborghini, Ferrari or an Aston Martin in just about any other American city and the car will attract hoards of attention. In South Beach, NOT seeing an exotic supercar is almost more surprising. So when we had the opportunity to take a 2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster for a spin in one of Florida's hottest cities (figuratively and literally), we knew it would be a great opportunity to look past the glitz, glamor and attention that the car would normally attract to see exactly what this car is all about. Miami actually proved to be a great place to test the Aston Martin, as it seems the Vantage is marketed toward customers looking for a vehicle that is flawless in both design and performance but doesn't stand out everywhere it goes. The unique experience of driving one of the world's most understated supercars makes it easy to see why Aston Martin is synonymous with the suave super spy, James Bond.
Considering its low six-figure price range, there is actually quite a bit of competition including the Audi R8, Porsche 911 and the Maserati GranTurismo, while cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette and BMW 6 Series are probably also in the running. The starting price to get into a 2009 V8 Vantage Roadster is $134,800, but after a long list of accessories and a $1,700 gas-guzzler tax, the model we cruised South Beach in had an as-tested price of $154,035. In most cities, that kind of money can buy an average house, but, then again, Miami Beach is not most cities and the Aston Martin V8 Vantage is certainly not most cars. Although a hardtop coupe is also available for almost $20,000 less, it would be almost a shame to experience this car in Miami without the drop top option.
2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Exterior
When it made its debut in 2005, the V8 Vantage had a look that was gorgeous from every possible angle and a bullet-shaped design that blends the classic, timeless designs of past Aston Martins with a modern, elegant look shared with the brand's contemporary lineup such as the DB7 and DB9. Unlike most convertibles that sacrifice styling and originality for the open-air experience, the Vantage Roadster manages to offer the same sleek design as its hard-top counterpart either with the top up or stowed beneath the leather-bound hard boot. For most cars, we try to stay away from silver hues, but the Aston's Titanium Silver perfectly accented the dark blue top (when it was up) or the stitched leather tonneau cover (when the top is down).
Every aspect of the Vantage is handcrafted in England and helps give it an unassuming supercar look from the signature Aston Martin grille, which dates back to the automaker's early days, to the hard body crease that cuts through the butterfly doors and back to the dual exhaust outlets that rest perfectly in the rear fascia. Up front, self-leveling high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps are trimmed with LED running lamps, and the split taillights are also LED complete with a body colored accent. The look of our test vehicle was finished off with the optional ($3,785) Sports Pack that features numerous suspension upgrades in addition to the large five-spoke alloy wheels which show off the slotted rotors and large, Aston Martin-emblazoned calipers.
2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Interior
Aston Martin doesn't disclose exactly how many cows it uses to produce each Vantage, but the sea of Aurora Blue leather in our test car is more than enough to reward occupants who know how to appreciate a luxurious cabin and will most certainly manage to anger more than a few animal rights activists. The revised interior also gains Aston Martin's 'Emotion Control Unit' (ECU) that was introduced in the DBS consists of the $2,000 ignition key with push button starting, the gear selector buttons and the comfort/sport switch. Considering the sport nature of the Vantage, the seats are amazingly comfortable on long drives, but they can't completely cancel out the roughness associated with the stiffened suspension package.
Despite the car's low, wide stance and the fact that it doesn't offer conveniences such as a backup camera or a blind spot monitoring system, the Vantage Roadster is still easy to drive and park even with the top up thanks to generously sized mirrors and tone-based parking sensors (standard in the rear and optional in the front). The pop-up navigation system makes the past parts sharing between Aston Martin and Volvo very apparent and takes a few attempts to get the hang of the system. If we were to complain any aspect of the Vantage's cabin, it would be the execution of the navigation system in size, positioning and controls.
2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Performance & Handling
Designed to provide as equal amounts of performance and comfort, the layout of the V8 Vantage's drivetrain is unique and helps give it almost 50/50 weight distribution. New for 2009, the Vantage received a significant power increase thanks to an all-aluminum front mid-mounted engine with an increased bore and stroke which equated to a 4.7-liter displacement for the V-8 that produces 420 horsepower and 346 lb-ft of torque. In normal driving conditions, those expecting a thunderous exhaust system will be severely disappointed, but get on the throttle and rev the engine over 4,000 rpm, and the V8 Vantage further cements itself as an everyday exotic.
Anybody that says a true sports car needs a clutch-operated manual transmission has A) never driven in South Beach, and B) never tested out Aston Martin's six-speed automated manual transmission similar to what Lamborghini and Ferrari offer. This gearbox is a little quirky at first (with the layout of the gear selecting buttons), but it proved to be a great way to roll in Miami's stop-and-go traffic. Once on the interstate, though, the transmission shifts are a little harsh but, like the R8 we recently reviewed, it just added to the car's sporty, racing heritage. For those wishing to manually control shifting duties, the Sportshift transmission utilizes shift paddles mounted to the steering column. Aston Martin claims that the V8 Vantage can run from 0-60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, and justifying the gas-guzzler tax, the V8 Vantage with the Sportshift transmission has EPA fuel economy estimates of 13 miles per gallon in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. For those looking for a little more power under the hood, Aston recently introduced the V12 Vantage with a 510 horsepower engine that drops the 0-60 time to almost four seconds flat.
As much as Miami proved to be a great place to show off a car such as the V8 Vantage, the city is plagued by two major problems - low speeds and straight streets. Not that we had much opportunity to test out the handling capabilities of the optional Sports Pack, but the V8 Vantage still felt very balanced in the few tight corners we managed to find. The main factor giving this Aston an almost perfect 51/49 weight distribution was the placement of the engine and transmission. The engine is mounted completely behind the front axle (hence the 'front mid-mounted' label) and uses a dry-sump oiling system allowing it to be mounted lower to the ground, while the transmission is mounted in the rear of the car similar to a Chevrolet Corvette. In addition to being about as inconspicuous as a $150,000 convertible can be, it also proved to be one of the easiest to drive when comparing it to sport coupes in this price range. When pushed, the 3,770-pound V8 Vantage proved to be one of the most exhilarating cars to drive without sacrificing its everyday drivability, and even during a typical Florida downpour, this sports car felt safe and confident when navigating puddles in the road and traffic.
2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Safety
As much of a shame as it would be to see a car as beautiful as an Aston Martin get banged up, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) must also agree as neither company crash tested the V8 Vantage (or any other Aston Martin for that matter). That's not to say that this car doesn't focus on safety since it comes with just as much safety equipment as one would expect. Standard safety features include four-wheel, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, traction control, dynamic stability control, four airbags and automatic pop-up roll bars that deploy instantaneously in the event of a rollover.
In our short time behind the wheel, we were impressed at the overall ease to pilot the V8 Vantage in everyday driving whether it was trying to park, navigating rough and bumpy roads or just trying to keep a low profile around town. In just four short years on the market, the V8 Vantage will most likely prove to be the most successful vehicle in the history of Aston Martin thanks to its well-balanced practicality that probably offers the most complete package with a luxurious yet sporty cabin, powerful yet responsive drivetrain, firm yet comfortable suspension and an absolutely stunning design.