Angeles Crest Highway is one of the world’s greatest roads for several reasons, one of which is the way large sections of it have been built. Rather than paving on top of the undulating peaks that flow up the mountain, the prison laborers who built ACH blasted through them. They didn’t create tunnels per se (though there is a big one about 40 miles up), but instead dozens of little canyons. On one side is a rock wall perhaps 20 feet high. On the other, a 40-foot sheer cliff face. Normally, the 1930s-era construction choices would be the last thing you’d notice while piloting a fast car up The Crest, as it’s known. But in the 2021 Aston Martin Vantage Roadster, with its bombastic, Aston-tuned, twin-turbo 4.0-liter AMG V-8, all you can pay attention to is the sound of drum-sequenced thunder ricocheting off the mini-canyon walls. Color me enchanted.
Yes, I need to resort to percussion terminology—the rudiments—to even attempt to describe what it’s like. Sometimes you get a flam, two strikes to the snare drum at almost the exact same time, the right and left pairs of pipes throat-clearing nearly in unison. Other times there’s a definite paradiddle, a left, right, left, left. Do we have a double-ratamacue in there? Yes, and possibly even a triple.
But the sound isn’t simply the normal burble and pop that many manufacturers are programming into engine software these days. It’s not a single crack of the bullwhip, but dozens, stacked on top of each other. The Vantage’s sound is the layering of vocal tracks. Think of Iron Maiden choruses when there’s suddenly a dozen howling Bruce Dickensons running up through the octaves. I’m loath to ever say anything is “the best” at anything, but right now I can’t think of a better-sounding car, let alone roadster.
Is it as good to drive as a Porsche 911? That’s the obvious question, the important question, and the admittedly awkward-to-answer question. No, the Aston Martin Vantage is simply not the precision machine that Porsche’s brot-und-butter rear-engined all-worlder is. But while the Vantage Roadster might not be quite as sharp as king 992, well, sometimes you don’t need a scalpel. Sometimes what you need is a crowbar. Put slightly differently, there’s no 911 that’s as angry and grizzled, that goes as bombastically as this Aston with its crimson roof stowed. It’s just so, so good. But turn the wheel, and there isn’t any 911 I can think of that is suddenly so lost at sea. Maybe a bone-stock 993.
Blame the damping. Since the 991 made its debut way back in 2011, it has been my firm belief that no car is as well damped as a Porsche 911. They just aren’t, and neither is this Aston. In Sport Plus mode (activated via a handy thumb toggle on the steering wheel) the Vantage turns in just fine, but then the dampers compress, and the Aston’s nose becomes a bit unstuck. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s just not sharp, not so polished. It’s a bit wallowy, as if the body is chasing your steering inputs. Click one setting further to Track (you’ll also want the traction control and stability control set to Track, as the nannies are too controlling otherwise), and the body roll does catch up to the front wheels. However, by this point, the dampers are so firmed up that the Vantage is now bouncy. You can’t maintain a smooth line because the car keeps pogoing all over the place. Is the car terrible as a result? No, absolutely not. It’s just not as good through corners as the best there is. But again, going straight, it’s “Porsche who?”
Red Headed Aston
Then there’s the fact that the dang thing is so good-looking. I’m nearly alone in liking the “Hunter”-style mesh maw grille, but I’ll acknowledge that the optional vaned grille looks a bit better and is worth the extra $2,300. All that said, the face of the Vantage Roadster is no doubt its weakest angle. From the side or the rear? Pour something on me to cool me off! Muscular, sculpted, elegant, it’s as gorgeous as a car gets. The interior is also lovely, especially since a good chunk of the $50,000 in options on our test car went into snazzing up the joint. The quality of the leather is something you just don’t see in the competition (especially Porsches). It’s thick-cut, well stitched, and just a pleasure to sit on and be surrounded by. Yeah, we know, they know, the infotainment system is from an old Mercedes. That said, I reviewed numerous Mercedes with this system, and I don’t remember complaining about it. If not having a touchscreen will prevent you from buying an awesome convertible sports car, that’s on you.
The most important thing to know is the top folds in less than 7.0 seconds. Literally 6.8 seconds. I timed it. The roof goes up just as quickly, too. Even better, you can drop or raise the roof at speeds up to 30 mph. This makes the Vantage Roadster so much more viable as a convertible. If you’ve ever owned a convertible, you know how often you find yourself stuck at a light on a nice day thinking you really ought to lower the top. But you become paralyzed by fear and indecision because the light is going to turn green at any second, and you’ll be caught with your figurative pants halfway down. Not here. Almost a game-changer, as far as convertibles go. Yes, a Mazda MX-5 Miata’s top is even quicker. But then, well, Miata.
Let’s get down to brass tacks: how does this British beastie perform? Rather well! AMG’s masterpiece of a motor churns out 503 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque, all of which flows to the rear wheels by way of a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. The Vantage Roadster hits 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. It runs the quarter mile in 11.9 seconds at 119.3 mph. Braking from 60 to 0 mph happens in a shockingly tidy 98 feet—anything less than 100 feet is rarified supercar air. The topless Aston then runs around our figure-eight track in 24.1 seconds, pulling a maximum of 1.01 g. That’s not bad for a relatively heavy car—the Vantage Roadster clocks in at 3,938 pounds.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, we couldn’t test a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, so I can’t comment on how this car stacks up. But here’s how a hardtop, over-600-pounds-lighter, 2020 911 Carrera S manual performs: 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, quarter mile in 12.2 mph at 119.9 mph, 94 feet to stop from 60 mph, and a figure-eight lap of 23.3 seconds with a max lateral grip of 1.08 g. A PDK-equipped 911 Carrera S is much quicker, but since the Aston is an automatic, I tried to even this out a bit. Also, the PDK car is a coupe, not a heavier, flexier cabriolet. Point is, there was a time when an 11.0-second quarter mile was the stuff of supercars, not well-trimmed luxury convertibles. Yet here we are. And here you could be, too. After a week living with and listening to the Vantage Roadster, I can assure you it’s a place I’d love to be.
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