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.