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2021 Aston Martin Vantage Roadster first drive review: New look, same thrill

If you're all about that wind-in-your-hair feeling, you could do worse than Aston Martin's new Vantage Roadster.

2021 Aston Martin Vantage Roadster front three-quarter view
Like all of Aston Martin's sports cars, the Vantage Roadster is gorgeous.
Aston Martin

As much as I'd like to tell you the Roadster is far more than just a Vantage with the roof chopped off -- some new, sun-drenched take on Aston Martin's little sports car -- really, it isn't. From the way it looks, to the way it drives, to the way it feels when you're behind the wheel, everything about the 2021 Vantage Roadster is totally familiar for those who have driven the hardtop. 

Removing a coupe's roof is the quickest way to weaken a body structure, so Aston has added some structural braces, strengthened various chassis components and adjusted the rear adaptive dampers to account for this loss of rigidity as well as the extra 132 pounds this Vantage lugs around, thanks to its folding roof mechanism. Otherwise, mechanically speaking, the Vantage Roadster is no different than the Vantage Coupe.

That means power comes from the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 you'll find in Aston Martin's other models, not to mention a number of AMG-badged Mercedes-Benz cars. Here, it produces 503 horsepower and 505 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Aston Martin claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.7 seconds for the Roadster, -- one measly tenth of a second slower than the Vantage Coupe. If you want to brag about quickness, impress your friends with this factoid: The Vantage Roadster's power-folding roof can retract in just seven seconds, making it the quickest-operating fully automated convertible top on sale today. So yeah. Take that.

The AMG V8 is a doll. It's as happy to deliver a wave of low-end torque as it is to rev to high heaven, and it sounds fan-freaking-tastic. That said, I do wish the Vantage had some kind of manually selectable loud/quiet setting, since the engine only sings when you're really digging into it. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to do so, but it'd also be cool to enjoy some hearty V8 rumble without second-gearing my way around town.

You can adjust the powertrain and chassis settings independently of one another via drive-mode buttons on the steering wheel. But not only do these toggles occasionally refuse to accept inputs (bizarrely, this has happened on literally every new Aston Martin I've tested in the past few years), they only move in one direction. In other words, say I'm in the default Sport mode and then I decide to get crazy and step up to Sport Plus. If I want to go back to Sport, I have to go up to Track before it comes back around to Sport again. And, of course, then the transmission will downshift when I get into Track and the car will jolt a bit, and the buttons won't respond, and... why the hell did I even bother changing drive modes in the first place? Ahem. Anyway.

The Vantage looks great with the top up, though I definitely recommend you drive with it down.

Aston Martin

Thankfully, you shouldn't need to switch between the modes all that much. The chassis is comfortable enough to handle long stretches of highway cruising but also taut enough to keep the Vantage flat and composed in tight hairpin turns. The standard adaptive dampers smooth out crappy road imperfections on the fly, and the driveline's torque-vectoring tech sends power to the wheel that needs it most, the wide, 295/30-series summer tires offering oodles of grip. Sure, you can get the Vantage to slide when provoked, but this thing is largely unflappable, even when driving fast on California's challenging canyon roads. Solid steering helps communicate what's happening at all four corners with a nice amount of weight at turn-in regardless of driving mode. The brakes are similarly good work, delivering strong initial bite and progressive pedal feel. Aston's chassis engineers should be damn proud of what they've accomplished with the Vantage, Coupe and Roadster alike.

If there's one area where the Vantage kind of suffers, it's the transmission. The ZF 8AT is a bit too lazy when left to its own devices, and seems to be tuned for efficiency above all, which doesn't make sense in a sports car. The eight-speed will work its way up to its top gear quickly, and you can't reliably provoke a downshift just by kicking the throttle. Happily, Aston Martin offers huge, metal paddle shifters mounted to the steering column -- where they belong -- so the proper gear is always just a tug or two away. If you're looking for a manual transmission, however, that's only available in the Coupe.

The paddles are set behind a squircle steering wheel with a whole lot of redundant controls, but that's the same as what you'll find in the standard Vantage -- for better or worse. Fine leather wraps nearly every surface, and the beautifully stitched seats offer a wealth of comfort and support. But spend some time in the Vantage, and it doesn't take long for the cabin's faults to reveal themselves.

The Vantage's center stack is kind of a mess.

Aston Martin

For starters, the center stack is... a lot. The clear gear selectors are arranged in a pyramid-like shape with the engine start button at the top. Above that, there are little toggles for the door locks, dome lights, etc., with climate controls at either end. The metal trim around the air vents looks and feels great, but then the actual innards you move around to direct airflow are made of flimsy plastic. The whole layout is just messy. I can't imagine it'll age well.

But that's nothing compared to the infotainment system. The Vantage's multimedia duties are handled by Mercedes' two-generations-old COMAND software. It's not terribly laggy, it's mostly just clunky to use, with basic fonts and graphics on an 8-inch screen. This is normally where I'd say to just let Android Auto or Apple CarPlay do the heavy lifting, but neither are offered, even as options. I know no one is buying a sports car for multimedia greatness, but come on. At least the 12-inch LCD gauge cluster looks pretty nice.

My big issue with the interior is that the belt-line is super high, creating a sunk-in-the-bathtub vibe. It's weird to think that a car with unlimited headroom (when the top is down, anyway) can still feel claustrophobic, but it can. A final bit of frustration: The convertible top toggle works in the opposite direction of the window switches, and they're right next to each other. You push the window buttons to lower them, but pull the roof toggle to make it go down. No, I don't know why.

Notice the revised front end? It's a $2,300 option.

Aston Martin

Regardless of roof position, though, the Vantage Roadster looks awesome. Maybe it's because of the Aston's relative rarity -- even where I live in Los Angeles -- or maybe it's just that attractive. I'm a fan of the Spirit Silver paint with the contrasting red roof, though I'd personally prefer a different set of 20-inch wheels. Really, the only design demerit isn't entirely Aston's fault: It's those stupid rear bumper protuberances required by US regulators, which Aston conveniently removed or Photoshopped out of its photos. (I tested the exact car pictured here, so here's what it looks like with the ugly guards installed.)

This Roadster also has a new exterior appearance option that Aston offers across the Vantage range for 2021: the vaned grille. It costs $2,300, and I'm not quite sure if I prefer it to the standard mesh treatment, but I do like that it brings more of the body color around to the lower front fascia. This car also has smoked rear tail lights ($800) and their flowing shape reminds me just how much I love this car's backside. (I certainly prefer it here on the Vantage than grafted onto the much larger DBX SUV.)

Those are just two of the many, many options available for the Vantage Roadster, and it's sort of surprising how much stuff isn't standard. Blind-spot monitoring and parking sensors are part of the $3,000 Tech Collection, and those are the only driver-assistance systems available. Heated front seats are part of the $2,500 Comfort Collection, which adds 16-way power-adjustability to the chairs, too. Cooled seats are another $1,600, and pretty much all of the interior leather and embroidery options will cost you. Even that Spirit Silver paint is a $7,600 add-on.

There are more vibrant colors available, but this Spirit Silver looks great -- even if it costs $7,600.

Aston Martin

The 2021 Vantage Roadster's base price is $150,086 -- including a hefty $3,086 destination charge -- but the car pictured here costs $193,886. That's $8,000 more than a Vantage Coupe, and about average for two-seat luxury roadsters of this caliber. However, with the Aston's competitors, you're getting similar or better performance with more interior refinement and far superior infotainment tech. Think Audi R8, Porsche 911 or even the Mercedes-AMG GT C, which uses the same 4.0-liter V8 as the Vantage. These are all arguably better all-around buys.

Just like the Coupe, the Vantage Roadster is an emotion play; you buy it because you want it and because of the statement it makes. The Aston's competitors are more rational purchases, but luxury-performance roadsters are irrational buys to begin with. The Vantage Roadster definitely isn't perfect, but it's certainly a standout.