First Drive: The Aston Martin Vantage Roadster is Charming and Evocative

Text by James Wong; Photos by James Wong, Justin Huang and Horizon Drivers' Club
4 Jul 2022
 

Being able to enjoy the car going slow is also very important in this day and age.

Australia is a massive country, and you’d think there will be many good driving roads, but you’d really have to be intentionally looking to find them. Most of the time, the strict speed limits make you focus more on keeping to it than actually enjoying the drive, and the landscape is largely flat and gentle so roads are straight and uneventful.

But there are some really, really good drives. The Royal National Park that stretches from south Sydney to Wollongong, culminating at Stanwell Tops is one such rare find.

But first, we start from the day before which was pretty much spent taking glamour shots of the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster in Sydney. It was no hardship, though. Getting the top down in 6.7 seconds (the fastest folding automatic roof of any convertible in the world) puts one front and centre of the naughty exhaust note emanating from the quad exhaust pipes.

Driving through the tall skyscrapers of the city only emphasised the muscle car-like roar from the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 from AMG, made even more apparent as one drove in Sport mode. Mind you, this was not even driving the car fast. That’s part of the appeal, I think. Being able to enjoy the car going slow is also very important in this day and age.

Of course, the car drew many admiring stares along the way. It’s an Aston Martin, and in Zaffre Blue no less! The front end receives an optional ‘vane’ grille, resolving its looks, if it isn’t already one of the most petite, elegant sports cars around. The rest of the car is left unchanged, but there’s really nothing to tinker with. Its compactness only amplified its uniqueness further. It’s a stunner.

What I didn’t like so much was concentrated on the inside. I’m talking about the interior, which somehow doesn’t feel as special as it should be. The leather stitching is not quite sophisticated, while the centre console design is not very intuitive to operate. I found myself searching for buttons more often than once, that were located in totally random places. The leather smells and feels good, but at its segment, I’d be expecting a little more. Perhaps the game has moved on a little since the Vantage was released.

This was none more apparent than from the infotainment system. Adapted from Mercedes’ old Comand system, it would be far more user-friendly if it could be operated from a touchscreen. Unfortunately, everything works through a scroll controller, and the software looks a tad outdated. It took more time than expected to key in destinations into the navigation and to go through the menus to get things to just work.

But I guess that’s always been the weak point of Aston Martins which people, including me, are more than willing to overlook. I’m more keen to find out if the Vantage Roadster still engages and tugs at the heartstrings like Astons of old.

To find a definitive answer we go back to the morning where I embarked on my journey to Stanwell Tops. As skyscrapers gave way to flatter estates to forests, it felt like I was racing against the sun in the Vantage Roadster. Google informed me that the sunrise would be 7:03am, but at 6am the sky was already getting bright.

Thankfully, I got to Stanwell Tops precisely when the sun broke the horizon. It was a pretty special feeling to be experiencing that, but I looked forward even more to what came after. Like a good old British B-road but with towering trees, the roads within the Royal National Park are the perfect environment for the Vantage Roadster. The car straddles a unique niche in being a rather good GT car within a body that is one size smaller than usual. And so, handling is impressive, its short wheelbase playing wheel to the twisty roads that laid onto the landscape like spaghetti. The 60 kg weight increase of the Roadster didn’t seem to foil any of this agility at all, perhaps due to the bespoke tuning the Roadster received, like revised rear dampers, the adaptive damping software and ESP calibration.

The 510 PS and 685 Nm from the V8 offers breathtaking pace for the Vantage Roadster, perhaps a tad too much to deal with on the slightly damp roads that morning. But it is a perfect dance partner to the ZF 8-speed auto transmission, which is quite probably the best gearbox for the Vantage Roadster. It is quick and snappy, yet so refined, playing to the strengths of the car and allowing the driver to manage the ferocity of the engine so deftly.

I had plenty of fun that morning. Having the roof down only accentuated it further. On the way further down south plying the Sea Cliff Bridge, I pondered about the Coupe and how different the experience would be. The Roadster offers amazing looks whether the top is up or down, yet when the roof is folded it doesn’t eat into the boot space at all, which at 200-litres can stow a full-sized golf bag. Best of all, with the top down, you get all of your senses engaged to a staggering degree, which is what driving a sports car is all about, right? I think it’s clear which one I’d pick.

As for the Vantage in general, I think it’s a good car that still offers some of that old-world charm of a stonking V8 in a svelte rear-wheel drive body, with little complication or digitalisation. That’s something that should be celebrated.

 

In Summary

We Like

Powerful and reasonably efficient V8, peerless gearbox, knee-weakening looks, fast roof operation.

We Don't

Interior feels a tad dated, as does the infotainment system and instrument graphics.

Verdict

Its old world charm still wins hearts.

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