2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

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First Drive: 2008 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2014.
By Dennis Simanaitis of Road & Track

It made good sense that Aston Martin feted us in Provence at la Ferme le Viguier, from which many five-star restaurants get their truffles. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster, in a sense, is the truffle of motorcars.

Truffles are rare, very refined and not inexpensive bits of gastronomy. Their appeal lies in a wonderful earthiness, an affinity to the land from which they came. Likewise, Aston Martins are rare, very refined and not inexpensive. And the V8 Vantage Roadster is a true sports car with an affinity to earlier Astons, all the way back to their 1922 origin (the Aston part of the name deriving from the Aston-Clinton hillclimb).

The Roadster's all-alloy dohc 32-valve 4.3-liter V-8 is located sufficiently aft to justify the car's front-mid-engine nomenclature. Technical niceties of this silky-smooth 380-bhp powerplant include its dry-sump lubrication, variable inlet camshaft timing and a delightful V-8 braat that's particularly sonorous when exhaust-system bypass valves come into play.

And play I did, with both a manual version of its rear-mounted 6-speed as well as its optional Sportshift smart-manual counterpart, both sourced from Graziano. So well behaved is the paddle-shifter that I'd almost forsake the purity of my own heel-and-toe work for its computer-wrought blips on downshifts.

This playtime was enhanced by stowing the Roadster's top — "hood" in British parlance — under its hard tonneau cover. Taking around 18 seconds, the top's electrical actuation isn't particularly quick. Once stowed, though, I preferred it in that orientation, even for a sub-zero-Celsius run up part of Mont Ventoux, venue for the famous hillclimb rising from 971 ft. to a snowed-in and unattainable 6217 ft. (In my mind's eye, there's an Auto Union kicking out its dual rear wheels on the way up.)

Other driving — with less precipitous dropoffs — probed the Vantage's roadworthiness. Just about when I'd expect invoking its Dynamic Stability Control, the car would summon remarkable grip and motor on. At the other extreme, puttering through a village Provençal, the car was perfectly poised burbling along quietly at less than 2000 rpm. In fact, though its torque peak of 302 lb.-ft. is at 5000 rpm, fully 75 percent of this is on tap at 1500. This duality of personality is one of the Vantage's true charms: It's entertaining to drive — and completely competent — whether puttering about or pushing along Harry-Flatters.

All the while, one is surrounded by full-grain leather with lovely pronounced stitching, graphite interior trim and a gunmetal facia displaying handsome instruments and logical controls.

The V8 Vantage Roadster and its Coupé sibling, priced at $126,400 and $113,200, respectively, are the smaller and lighter of Aston Martin's offerings. The $165,750 DB9 and $179,250 Volante convertible are the large Astons of the moment. However, the company's recent purchase (for $848 million) by David Richards and Kuwaiti investors is said to have enhanced production possibility of the Rapide, the striking 4-door Aston first seen at the 2006 Detroit auto show.

It's a good time for Aston. The cars have well-defined character. And if my brief time with the V8 Vantage Roadster is indicative, their hand-built quality has never appeared better.

But what about truffles, you ask. Aren't they rooted out by pigs? Actually, according to our host, Monsieur Giardini, mixed-breed dogs possess better psychology for the task, as they're less stubborn. Like mushrooms, to which they're related, truffles grow from spores. However, whereas mushrooms pop up above ground, truffles are typically found anywhere from 2 to 15 in. beneath it. In our hour or so of tramping a flinty hillside, M. Giardini's dogs unearthed perhaps a dozen of them, several a bit larger than a golf ball, most somewhat smaller. He would test for their aroma. Those far from ripe would be reburied; those overripe would be crumpled back into the soil, their spores encouraging new growth. The good ones got pocketed, another pocket of treats keeping the dogs enthusiastically sniffing out new ones.

A favorite — and easy — truffle-enhanced recipe: scrambled eggs with a dusting of flakes of truffles. When almost done to your liking, toss with a pesto sauce.

Just the thing for a light brunch after an invigorating drive in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster. Top down, of course.

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BB02 - 7/12/2014 12:01:44 AM