Aston brings the expected convertible version of the excellent Vantage sports car to market and, while it goes under the Roadster name rather than Volante, it remains a superb execution of the open-top luxury machine - albeit minor interior niggles hold it back from true greatness, considering the robust asking price.
In the metal
There aren't many Aston Martins about that you'd say are in any way ugly, but even by the lofty aesthetics standards of this proud marque, the new Vantage Roadster is a stunner on the outside. Proportionally spot-on and deeply attractive from all angles, it's a car sure to turn many heads wherever it goes - even among those who might have ostensibly grander open-top vehicles with bigger price tags. So, we might as well turn our attention to the main change from the tin-topped Vantages here: the roof. A compact, lightweight Z-folding mechanism means it is the fastest fully automatic soft-top in the world, claims its maker, taking ever-so-slightly-less than seven seconds to raise or lower. This can be done from in the car with a switch in the driver's door, on the move at speeds of up to 50km/h, or it can be done via the key fob, but it's a near-soundless and suitably rapid procedure, and brilliantly the car looks just as wonderful with its top up as it does with it folded away.
The loss of half a star in this department, then, pertains to the interior. It is, once again, beautifully built and rather nicely appointed, with typically high-grade leather, some nice stitching, quality seats and a smattering of tidy details - like the metal door pulls, the gorgeous large paddle shifts and the push-button glass controls for the eight-speed ZF gearbox. You therefore know you're sitting in something special, a fact the Aston Martin winged logo on the steering wheel's boss won't let you easily forget... but there are also things that aren't perhaps in keeping with a car that, like our test example, will exceed a quarter-of-a-million Euro if you get loose with the tick boxes at ordering time.
Mercedes infotainment, for instance, is clearly not bad, but the fact the system in the Aston isn't the touch-capable, latest-generation stuff from the Germans stings a bit. Elsewhere, you get the same solitary column stalk as you'd find in an A-Class and there's a profusion of buttons all over the transmission tunnel and for the climate controls; sure, lots of people prefer physical switchgear to the overt and often-baffling digitisation of car cabins in the 21st century, but the Aston goes the other way - it's a tad confusing searching for all the relevant functions and the rotary dials for the climate controls are somewhat (whisper it) cheap-looking.
However, the thing we don't like most of all - although we appreciate this will be entirely down to personal taste - is the squared-off steering wheel. You'll find this in the DB11 Volante too but not, weirdly enough, the DBX SUV, and we'd much rather Aston bit the bullet now and just went with the DBX's item going forward. This square thing doesn't look nice, it feels too big and bulky in your hands and it isn't quite natural when you're midway through a corner that requires a considerable amount of lock and you encounter a strange, knobbly edge to the wheel's circumference.
While we might not like the physical steering wheel itself, we've got absolutely no qualms with what it's connected to. The three-mode steering of the Vantage Roadster, as well as pretty much everything else its chassis does, is superb. Never too loose in Sport or too annoyingly glitchy and sticky in Track, it feeds back appreciably different sensations to the driver across the settings and so there's genuine reward to be had in pressing the 'S' button atop the right-hand spoke of the steering wheel to cycle the Aston through Sport, Sport+ and Track.
Of course, doing so also liberates the naughtiest of notes from the exhaust and this is one area where Aston Martin has gone to town, rampaged all through the centre of it and then painted everything red, just for good measure. This car sounds scandalous. It is phenomenal. It sounds phenomenal when the V8 growls into life and then settles into a menacing idle. It sounds phenomenal as you burble about town below 3,000rpm with the Vantage in its most docile settings. But it sounds really, really phenomenal when you dial it up into Sport+ or Track, and you decide to go beyond 3,000rpm. Whereupon the assorted cracks, barks and rumbles from its quad pipes, jutting out of that aggressive diffuser array, are utterly deafening. The first time we did a full-bore upshift from second to third in Sport+, the resulting artillery fire from the back of the Aston was probably loud enough to be heard from Malin Head to Baltimore and all points in between. If you're one of those people who laments the restraint of the acoustics on some modern V8 performance machines, give the Vantage Roadster a try. You will not be disappointed with its sensational histrionics in the slightest.
The outrageous noises of the 4.0-litre unit and its exhaust only enhance the speed of the Aston Martin, which is considerable in the extreme. The weight gain over a Coupe has been kept to a mere 60kg and so the Vantage Roadster is still capable of 0-100km/h in less than four seconds, with a top whack in excess of 300km/h. It feels every bit capable of these strong numbers and then some, the epic traction of its 295/35 ZR20 Pirelli P Zero rear tyres and the whipcrack responses of the flawless eight-speed ZF gearbox ensuring you can effectively hook the V8's prodigious muscle up to the tarmac with the minimum of fuss and delay. That transmission, by the way, is fabulous to control with the metallic shifters on the steering column, just as much as it is effortlessly unobtrusive in full 'D' automatic mode.
With impressive structural integrity (there's little evidence of the windscreen's header rail bobbling about at the edge of your vision as you traverse rough ground) and all the exceptional body control of the Vantage Coupe, plus the skills of the adaptive dampers (also with three modes, Sport, Sport+ and Track) and the electronic rear limited slip differential, the Roadster is a convertible that sacrifices precious little, if anything, of its source material's dynamic abilities in the transition to open-topped motoring. Hood down, the driving experience is a thrilling one to be truly savoured and then, when you no longer wish to throw the Aston about as if you were on one of the world's more expansive race track, the ride and refinement are both magnificent. Indeed, the passenger compartment is a pleasant place to be, even when it is exposed to the elements - there's little uncomfortable wind buffeting to report in the Vantage Roadster, and that applies at both low and high speeds.
What you get for your money
You're paying for the Aston Martin badge, in the main, but the pricing of the Vantage Roadster places it in and among the thick of the action, when it comes to its exalted rivals. You can find more practical cars than the Aston at this level (its boot space is hacked from 350 to 200 litres as a result of the folding roof, for instance), but you won't find any that look as good as this and only one (it's the vehicle with exactly the same engine; see below) that plays a tune that is anything like as good to listen to.
If there was a little more polish and care afforded to the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster's cabin, it'd be a near-perfect open-topped sports car. As it is, it remains a hugely charismatic, thunderously loud, indecently quick and drop-dead gorgeous two-seat convertible with a truly prestige badge on its nose. That will be more than enough for most people to sink their money into this V8 beauty - and we don't blame them in the slightest for making that choice.