The V8 Vantage Roadster is 80 kilos heavier than the coupe and the only reason I thought that was a good place to start was because I knew I'd go overboard with the way she looks. I could have started off saying that the Vantage is the smallest supercar that Aston Martin has ever manufactured. Parked in my friend Rahul Divekar's driveway in Hunslow a suburb of London, the Vantage is small enough to snuggle in comfortably yet its aura is so immense there just isn't enough space left for another car to share the box next to it. And then there is another reason I started off with its weight.
Almost every other critic or reviewer in the world began from almost that point, its weight. As if being 80 kilos heavier made any difference at all to the way it looks. The Vantage Roadster isn't a woman going through menopause, concerned with the pounds piling up around her waist and an increasing lack of libido. For all practical purposes those 80 kilos are in a place you'd never lay your eyes upon, unless you were an absolute idiot and went and crashed it so horribly the underbody would get exposed. There, is where most of those 80 kilos have gone and sat.
That weight however isn't fat, it's hard unrelenting muscle to offset the reduction in stiffness due to the lack of a roof. If this were the Vantage coupe, the aluminum roof would be an integral component adding stiffness and enhancing stability. So without the roof the only place Aston Martin's engineers could find the much needed stiffness was in the body. The undertrays have thus gotten stronger. They are made of thicker aluminium and are attached at more points for further stiffness with stronger cross beams placed right behind the dashboard. Even the sills and the cross panels at the front and rear have been strengthened and the body panels also act as structural members unlike the coupe where these are just aerodynamic bits.
So what you get is an incredibly rigid car that feels taut and shudder free. And while I didn't really get to push the Vantage hard around the sleepy little stud farm peppered hamlet of Godalming, the fearsome exhaust note of the Vantage's V8 was loud enough to neuter the stallions cantering in their paddocks. And that exhaust note is specifically tuned to match the dynamism and pace of the Vantage. It's a unique tone, easy at low revs but crisp and loud above 3000rpm and you won't find anything like it on any other Aston Martin.
This note begins at the Vantage's V8 engine which is faintly based on the Jaguar AJ-V8 architecture, though in present guise it has received several upgrades focused at improving performance compared to the older Vantage. The engine capacity has increased to 4.7 litres (from the older 4.3-litre) by increasing the stroke length and the bore width. It now generats 426PS of peak power and 470Nm of torque which is roughly an 11 per cent power hike and a 15 per cent torque improvement. This is good because the older car while much appreciated was noted for a lack of sufficient firepower to complement its dynamic styling. Aston Martin found the additional horsepower by tweaking several internal components. Inlet manifolds and ports have been modified for improved breathing, the crankshaft has a new design to improve engine efficiency and a revised oil sump improves cooling and therefore reduces power losses.
The interesting bit about this engine which sits midships, that's above and a little behind the front wheels, is that in town it's perfectly civilised, with no histrionics, and will cruise along smoothly and of course when needed delivers a massive surge of insane V8 gratification that could end in a massive powerslide if you're not careful with the pedal. The Vantage is a car you tend to have a lot of respect for thanks to its immense flexibility but do you enjoy driving it around town. Well, not actually because this is a proper supercar. Its engine is best sampled when the revs are high, the exhaust screaming and the wind furiously giving you all sorts of hairstyles. At cruising speeds the 6-speed manual gearbox on my car was a bit stiff and trying to get it into reverse was even tougher. I had to use both hands to shove it into reverse. It's not a simple one handed technique. Fortunately demand in India should be higher for an automatic in which case you'd get the Sportshift transmission which is actually a clever bit of work. The details though I will reserve for when we actually get to drive one.
At full clip the Vantage engine and manual transmission are silky and highly potent. You get into triple digits in just 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 290kmph should be a stress free effort. On UK's heavily screened roads where camera signs especially when you drive closer to London get denser than the cars themselves, attaining ridiculous speeds even for a short lived thrill is quite a challenge.
Nonetheless the blistering pace of that engine is complemented by a fairly adept chassis and suspension that has been tweaked to match the increase in power and torque. Those tweaks are not just restricted to keeping the car in line but to also provide a better ride quality. That however is what Aston Martin claims. By Indian standards the ride is terrible. It's hard and certainly not a car you'd drive comfortably on our roads. In most parts of the UK, except those areas populated by Indians and which reflect the standards back home (perhaps to make the Indian community feel more at home), the Vantage is a fairly comfortable car to drive. The front and rear spring rates have been stiffened keeping in mind the handling required from the Vantage but the Bilstein dampers offer a good mix of high speed stability and low speed comfort.
Yet you do get this sense of latent hardness and stiffness, both from the steering and in the seat of your pants. In the case of the former there is a deliberate stiffness engineered into the system further compounded by the fat rubber both front and rear. The effort to steer though isn't inconvenient. It is effortless enough to ensure you don't step out of the Vantage biceps straining your sleeves yet there's just the right amount of weight to give you control at all speeds.
As far as the the seats are concerned, the leather wrapped Recaros aren't hard though they're made for a slimmer and fitter body shape. I fit into it quite snugly but not without having to tuck in my excess bits that spill over the edges. And I'd like to mention here that I've trimmed some amount of body fat and yet could feel the bracing around the edges dig into me at times. This tends to make longer journeys uncomfortable unless you keep stopping for breaks, to stretch out and allow your body to breathe.
Yet somehow I managed to overlook my discomfort because the Vantage has without a doubt the most spectacular cabin to be in. It's full of shiny mirror finished bits that are every bit as luxurious as they are stylish. If you look at Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini interiors they are either sporty, clinical or just plain aggro. In the truest sense, the Aston Martin interior package offers what none of the others have - power, beauty and soul. Those you realise are not just three fancy words that show up on the small screen between the speedometer and tachometer when you push the key into the ignition fob. They aptly describe the very essence of an Aston Martin. This is a delicately handcrafted cabin that very subtly uses the most premium materials money can buy. You don't realise for instance that the hide comes from Sweden, where there aren't any barbed wire fences to scar the leather or that every metallic embellishment, shiny or dull, on that dashboard or the door pads and steering wheel is aluminium. It saves weight yet looks utterly gorgeous.
But where this cabin is more stylish than Victoria Beckham, it isn't even remotely practical. Space is at a premium. This is strictly a two-seater because keeping proportions in mind is one of the design platitudes at Aston Martin. So the width of the centre console is a complementary ratio to the depth of the dashboard but that means it eats into passenger space. And the electronics, why can't the British just accept that the Germans are the masters of convenience and source their entertainment and navigation systems from them? Getting the satnav to operate shouldn't be attempted if you are in a hurry to get somewhere. Neither is trying to get your music player or phone to dock with the entertainment system and initialise communication between the two.
It's the one drawback of an otherwise spectacularly designed car. And that's what the purists at Aston Martin have always driven after, a car that is at its very core a style statement more than anything else. The modern day Aston Martins pride themselves on being works of art, sculptures in motion and it's quite plain to see just why these cars tug at the heart.
The minimal use of lines is an exquisite foundation for the design of the Vantage. As famed British designer Ian Callum recently told me at a Jaguar design briefing, "Elegance comes from a single line that should stretch from the front of a car all the way to the rear. That single line is the base that should hold your attention. " Callum should know the importance of that line. After all he is the father of the modern day Aston Martin language having designed the DB7 in the early 90s. That timeless, undeniably sexy form is inspiration for the rest of the range churned out of Aston's facility at Gaydon, Warwickshire. If you look close enough, you'd notice that not much has changed from the design of the DB7, though minor detail changes keep the cars fresh.
The Vantage then which is the smallest car in the Aston Martin range, is also one of the most well defined. It isn't sinuous like the DB9 or the DBS but that's also because its compact dimensions give it a slightly stockier appearance. Its stance is accentuated by its short wheelbase and wide track, it's a ratio that appeals to Aston Martin's sense of balanced proportions. This along with a low ground clearance, large 19" wheels and the louvres on the hood and fenders gives the Vantage an aura of powerful dynamism. It makes everyone from 8- to 80-year-olds stare. With the top down (it takes just 18 seconds to do this) that visual is just as appealing though I dare say I did like it better with the top on; it just sort of gives a completeness to the Vantage form.
The Vantage which is Aston Martin's highest selling car globally even though it just sells around 10,000 units per year is now available in India at around Rs 1.40 crore. Will that make it inaccessible? Not really, with the kind of brand recall it enjoys thanks to its association with the B
ond flicks it should attract the well heeled in droves. And then it is also an alternative to the 911 or the Gallardo or the R8, with just a lot more sex appeal.