2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster review:

2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

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Besides looking good, the V8 Vantage Roadster's best attribute can only be experienced in a set of turns. The steering wheel offers a good amount of weight and road feel. The rigid body leads to flat cornering, and Aston Martin mounts the transmission just ahead of the rear axle for better weight distribution. The most enjoyment I got from the car was in sets of tight turns on backcountry roads.

Well, that and listening to the stereo. The sound system in the V8 Vantage Roadster delivered excellent reproduction for music, and this was only the midlevel system. The base system's amp puts out a measly 160 watts, while the Aston Martin Premium Audio option brought that up to 700 watts. This system was a little heavy on the bass, but I found it enjoyable. It produced music with rich tones, highlighting the detail in tracks from a variety of genres. The only disappointment was that the system did not seem to have an open-top equalizer mode. Driving with the top down, I found the music quickly succumbed to external noise.

There is an even better audio system available, this one from Bang & Olufsen. The company has been doing excellent things with car audio recently. At the recent International Motor Show in Geneva, I got a survey of Bang & Olufsen audio systems in three cars, and I walked away very impressed with the sound reproduction. The Bang & Olufsen audio option for the V8 Vantage bumps the watts to 1,000 and uses 13 speakers.

Despite the fine audio systems, Aston Martin does not offer much in the way of audio sources. The V8 Vantage Roadster came with the usual USB port and iPod integration, along with satellite radio, but did not offer Bluetooth audio streaming or HD Radio. There was also no onboard music storage, something commonly found in higher-end cars.

The Garmin navigation system shows traffic and lane guidance, but no 3D maps, and doesn't read out street names. Josh Miller/CNET

And now I come to the V8 Vantage Roadster's biggest fault, the cabin tech. The car's monochrome radio display shows stereo and phone system menus, and a Garmin navigation system lives under a hatch at the top of the dashboard. A control knob sits at the bottom of the center stack surrounded by buttons for navigation, phone, and audio.

Garmin makes excellent navigation systems, so it would seem Aston Martin found an inexpensive way of equipping the V8 Vantage Roadster with navigation. The first problem with this system is that Garmin designed its software for touch control, yet the control knob is the only way to use the system in the V8 Vantage. There is no way to zoom the map, and entering addresses is extremely tedious.

This Garmin navigation unit does not seem like the most up-to-date device, either. There are no 3D maps, and route guidance does not include text-to-speech, two features common in modern Garmin devices. The only customization for the car seems to be a change to the menu graphics, making them monochromatic to match the radio display.

With the Garmin screen dedicated to navigation, the car's radio display handles phone and stereo control. I appreciated that the car's Bluetooth phone system showed my phone's contact list on the display, also making it available through voice command. Using the display to select music from an iPod was a little more difficult as it could only show three artists, tracks, or albums at a time.

In sum
The 2012 V8 Vantage Roadster's cabin electronics suffer from the fact that Aston Martin is not a large company, and does not have the development resources of a BMW or Volkswagen. That aside, there is little excuse for a car costing well over $100,000 not to boast some cutting-edge, or at least well-integrated, electronics.

From a performance perspective, the V8 Vantage Roadster feels well-engineered, except for the automated manual transmission. The engine makes a nice sound and the car handles very well. But every potential buyer should opt for the manual transmission, or be in for a world of frustration.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Trim Roadster
Power train 4.7-liter V-8, 7-speed single-clutch automated manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 15.8 mpg
Navigation Standard flash memory-based system with live traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list integration
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system 700-watt system
Driver aids Park distance sensors
Base price $136,820
Price as tested $148,395

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