Aston Martin may have been spun out of the Ford orbit, but a decade's worth of Ford investments in the British brand reveals itself the instant you open the doors to the 2009 Vantage roadster, an anti-Porsche 911 sports coupe or convertible with finesse and verve equal to its gorgeous custom-built aluminum body.
Aston provided a new Vantage for us to drive in Southern California recently, and within a few cloud-covered miles tooling away from LAX, the differences with other vaguely competitive supercars drew themselves neatly. The 911's heft, the Maserati Gran Turismo's lushness and the Nissan GT-R's raw ambition contrast heavily with the Vantage, down to its airliner-style bonded-aluminum body, to the LED lighting on the glovebox button. The Aston's unique in the group--a little less expensive and a little less fast than the 911 Turbo, a little pricier than the Maserati and the Audi R8 supercar. More a testament to exclusivity and understated details than unadulterated power, it's classically British, reserved but only to a degree.
There's plenty of power and great handling on tap, for the times when that reserve runs out. An upgraded 4.7-liter V-8 generates 420 hp of thrust, through a manual six-speed or automated manual gearbox. The Vantage's 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds trails 911 Turbos and GT-Rs, but makes sensual whirring noises to compensate. Our tester had the latter--and it's a half-step behind the times, like the old BMW SMG gearboxes that are being superseded by better dual-clutch trannies. While waiting for that upgrade, we're happy with the Aston's blend of user-selectable settings for steering, throttle, suspension and shifts. In either Comfort or Sport mode, the Aston bends pleasingly into canyon curves and needles through traffic with a fluid grace that's missing from just about any of the other cars in the range.
The Vantage's cabin is yet another point of proof for British good taste. When it's in full force, as it is here, sumptuous piano-black trim and metal accents and red stitching turn a two-seat cabin into a sort of Gaultier space shuttle. You'll want to touch the lustrous trim--and wipe it off since it grabs fingerprints like a CSI agent. The seats grip where they need too, maybe a little too high in the lumbar area, but nicely support whatever kind of driving you'll encounter. The trunk isn't really interested--it's small, can hold a couple of bags and mostly exists to give the rear end some interesting cutlines and a discreet winged Aston badge, a place to live.
No federal official has the audacity to suggest crash-testing a Vantage, but Aston fits the usual airbags and electronic helpers in the name of crash protection. The Aston Vantage has standard rear parking sensors, and we'd recommend you order the fronts, too--and hold out hope for a rearview camera, unavailable as of now and a real need, what with the low seating position of the Vantage.
Our test car had a base price of $136,500 and a mandatory gas-guzzler tax of $1,700 for its low 13/19 mpg fuel economy. Coupes start at $119,000. Both include automatic climate control, iPod controls and leather trim. You can ring the register up and above the $152,465 of our test car by custom-ordering additional trim and a 700-watt audio system, and really, who's counting once you're past $100,000?
The bottom line? The 2009 Aston Martin V8 Vantage carves a distinct niche in the ultra-luxury sportscar class with panache and power.
If you're in the market for a classic British sportscar with modern looks and construction, click over to our model-intro page for 2009 Aston Martin Vantage pricing, specifications, photos, and connections to local Aston Martin dealers.