Cigar Aficionado

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

When it comes to convertibles, there are fans, and there are true aficionados. If you're among the latter group, you're likely to raise the roof for only the most inclement weather—like the mixture of rain and snow we are experiencing during a couple days of test driving the new Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster during a late spring jaunt through France.

We ignore a fine mist as we head from the picture-postcard ville of Gordes, in Provence, and climb into the surrounding mountains. By the time we reach 5,000 feet, vapor has turned to snow and the temperature has dropped to near zero, with a stiff wind blowing up from the valley. OK, it pays to know your limits—and to have a top that opens and closes in just 20 seconds.

You expect the world to move a little faster in an Aston Martin, and the two-seat, open-air version of the Vantage is no exception. Low and sleek, with oversized grille and menacingly muscular appearance, it has hard-to-match visual stopping power. The designers have also maintained the coupe's dramatic lines.

The Roadster's interior is tastefully outfitted with plenty of leather complemented by suede-like Alcantara accents. The navigation system tucks itself out of sight when not in use. We just wish there were a bit more storage space for everything else. This is a true two-seater with no back perch for luggage and groceries.

Even so, you're likely to make this your daily driver. The roadster is a real confidence builder, crisply charging into corners as we dart back down the mountain. It's hard not to smile as the 4.3-liter, V-8 emits its throaty roar. When you squeeze the throttle a little harder, the 32-valve, all-aluminum engine resonates with a "brap" that echoes halfway to Paris. That marks the 4,000-rev transition in the variable inlet cam timing system designed to improve breathing at higher RPMs. With 0 to 60 times of 4.9 seconds and a rated top speed of 175 miles an hour, the Vantage isn't the fastest car in its class, but it's comfortingly close.

The V-8 in our Vantage Roadster is mated with Aston's Sportshift transmission. Don't confuse this with the paddle-shifted automatics that have gained popularity in recent years. Sportshift is an electronically shifted version of Aston's six-speed stick. It's blindingly quick yet notably smoother than similar, sequential manual gearboxes offered by BMW or Maserati. No wonder the British marque expects Sportshift to be the option of choice.

While Aston isn't well known in the United States, its newest model could change that. At $126,400, the Vantage Roadster is squarely positioned against the new Porsche Turbo, making for a tough choice. The German offering is a bit quicker, but when you're spending this sort of money, you've likely also put a premium on exclusivity, distinctiveness and style, as well as performance. Porsche's Turbo will turn your head, but top down or up, Aston's V8 Vantage will make your eyes pop.