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Oh, what a soundtrack

 

If you like cars, you can’t help but like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster.

Sure, it’s not cheap, but you only have to listen to the engine
to understand its appeal – and nothing lets you listen to an engine better than a Roadster does.

Not surprisingly, considering the brand and the $285,500 price, this particular one is designed to make you feel special whether you’re wuffling along at a relaxed pace, or in maximum attack mode.

That wuffle was best appreciated at the car’s launch in Provence, France.

During a cold snap at the end of the northern hemisphere winter – and climbing up above the snowline – we could appreciate the beautiful wind control within the cabin and the fact that, sitting so low, you barely extend into the plebeian buffets and chills of the atmosphere.

It’s a beautiful cabin, too – well set out, slathered in expensive leather and
nicely finished off with rows of neat, body-coloured stitching and precision instruments – as you’d expect, at this price. But the best bit is the soundtrack.

Aston has not only carefully tuned the on-song engine note, but also that
throttle-off wuffle that reminds you of the idle of an expensive launch. With the rich tones of Monte Carlo’s marina in your ears, a slow cruise is a positive pleasure.

Then put your foot down and you certainly know there’s a V8 under the bonnet.

There’s a joyous bark from the engine that raises the hairs on your spine and eggs you on – a bark particularly appreciated as it bounced off the cliffs and rocky walls of our launch location.

Luckily for buyers, that wonderful engine note is well matched to the rest of the car. Designed alongside the coupe, but subject to a delayed release to allow each version its full moment in the sun, it has been subjected to fewer changes than expected – stuff like the fuel tank’s central position was planned into the coupe, with the roof’s folding position for the roadster in mind.

Many of the stiffening measures aren’t actually visible. The inside of the hollow sills reveals extra bracing and thicker sill walls – but the outer profile is the same. Both Roadster and coupe get the engine bay braces; the Roadster adds a stronger cross-car beam to mount the dash and steering column, an innovation likely to make it into the coupe in due course.

These additions, plus the roof mechanism, add 70kg to the car’s weight.

The suspension has been retuned to suit, with stiffer springs, retuned dampers and softer front suspension bushes.

It all works well offering cosseting ride as the car eats the miles, yet keeping the rubber to the tarmac when the road gets rough.

Frost heaves, slumps and ripples, all seemed grist to this car’s mill, the
suspension impressively compliant, cushioning the worst of the hits.

Meanwhile, though this isn’t a race car it’s more than capable of a spirited approach to even these winding roads. Good brakes, too, as we found on rounding a corner and encountering a panicked herd of deer.

Best yet, there was no scuttle shake and the car is clearly as stiff as promised.

The steering was well weighted, the manual gearbox requiring firm, but not too firm, an action. But manuals aren’t the preferred option for most buyers of sporting GTs.

They want a self-shifter, if possible one that lets them release the beast on occasion.

Hence the introduction of the $10,000 Sportshift. I didn’t expect much from it, to be honest. An auto, with this engine?

But in fact it works very well. The Ferrari-style system’s standard protocol is sporting – though you can opt for comfort. Effectively it’s a clutchless manual. The Graziano-sourced manual gearbox is activated via a Magneti Morelli hydraulic and electrical system.

Tap a steering wheel mounted paddle and power cuts, the clutch opens, the gear shifts, the clutch closes, and the engine again engages. It all happens as quickly as in a manual – at least, if it’s slower, few people will be able to tell.

Hit traffic? Another button makes it fully automatic.

Frankly, with either gearbox I preferred to self-shift, if for no other reason than to hear the fantastic engine note.

Real world comments? This Roadster is more practical than most; the 144-litre boot not affected by roof position, a shelf behind the seats handy for bags or coats, another roomy cubby swallowing your valuables.

In short, Aston Martin has managed a rare feat – a GT that’s sporting, if not as hard-core sporting as some, and a Roadster that makes so few compromises it’s
worthy of serious consideration, especially for fans of this engine.

It’s such design success that has taken Aston Martin from 40 sales in 1994 to 7000 last year; from dramatic losses to healthy profit.

The company’s sale by Ford isn’t expected to make too much difference to immediate plans, or personnel. Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez retains the helm; indeed he sees this move as freedom.

But the move should work. Ford effectively saved the brand, but fitting mass-market principles to a profit-making luxury car isn’t effective.

“Money is not a problem,” Bez says. “It’s more how we develop the car and the brand.” He says that without independent ownership, he could not have done the Rapide and the proposed four-door.

“But we can now confirm they will be built by 2010.”

“In five years we will be the most successful prestige brand in the world.”


Auto Trader New Zealand