The 2012 Aston Martin Vantage looks gorgeous, and the new versions with V-8 engines, Coupe and Roadster, put the marque in a price range affordable to a greater portion of the 1 percent. But a few good reasons exist not to buy one. First, everyone and his brother, not to mention sisters, aunts, nephews, and third cousins, will make some reference to James Bond at the mere mention of the car.
Second, the specter of Lucas, the British company famous for faulty parts, inhabits the electronics. The parking brake, despite its classic-looking lever, is electronically actuated, and proved troublesome to release. The radio display occasionally got stuck in phone mode, and the only way to force it to switch to the audio interface was to plug an iPod or USB into the car.
However, those issues make little difference when gazing upon the tight, roadster body with its classic proportions, or when listening to the rough growl of the 4.7-liter engine when the revs climb. Pushing the button labeled Sport and pointing the stiff-bodied Vantage into a turn, feeling its tail happily slide out, will emphasize the view out the windshield, sidelining any concern over tuning in a satellite radio station.
The new Vantage incorporates Aston Martin design quirks, such as the row of buttons on the dashboard that serves as a drive selector. In the midst of these buttons sits the slot for the crystal ignition fob. Drivers will also need to get used the counter-rotating speedometer and tachometer. Much of what puts the V8 Vantage Roadster's price well over $100,000 is the coachwork, which favors leather and metal instead of plastic.
V-12 engines power most of Aston Martin's models, but the company downsized the engine for the V8 Vantage to make it more affordable. This new 4.7-liter V-8 engine, with its massive intake manifold, looks powerful, but is not all that special. Its output of 420 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque comes in under that of the latest V-8 Ford Mustangs.
Despite the power, the V8 Vantage hits 60 mph in a very respectable 4.7 seconds. And it does it with a thrilling exhaust note, a throaty growl that rises and falls with the gear shifts. The naturally aspirated engine delivers its power easily, and the Sport button makes the accelerator even more responsive. Fuel economy, 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, is about average for an engine of this size.
But those gear shifts are a problem. CNET's car came with Aston Martin's new single-clutch automated manual transmission, and it is only good at high revs on a track. On public roads in full automatic mode, steady acceleration led to big power dips during gear changes. The car literally slowed enough at each change to throw my head forward.
Using the paddle shifters to row through the transmission's seven gears did not help, either. Asking for a gear change up or down lead to similar dips as the transmission took its time to engage the next gear, disengaging the engine from the wheels. In traffic, this behavior could be particularly frustrating, as I occasionally needed power for a lane change or merge right when the transmission was changing gears. These power dips were not as much in evidence when I could keep the revs up, racing the car through a set of turns.
However, I'm not counting the transmission as a reason not to buy the V8 Vantage Roadster simply because it is only an option. The six-speed manual base transmission will make the car much more drivable in everyday circumstances.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage|
|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|
|Price as tested||$148,395|