SAN DIEGO — I was driving north on I-5 towards Orange County when a maniac pulled up next to me and began waving frantically.
I wondered if the rear end of my car, a brilliantly yellow Aston Martin Vantage Roadster, was on fire and he was trying to let me know about it. But no — instead, he showed me his Dodgers cap, and I began laughing, gave him a thumbs-up, and goosed it. Easy triple-digits quickly put space between me and my new fan.
Clearly, with my long red beard, red hair, and my stunning Aston Martin drop-top, he thought I was World Series champion Justin Turner of the LA Dodgers. I wasn't, but I was happy to give the fellow a thrill.
Giving thrills is precisely what the Vantage was built for, and the recipe is simple: Take one part heart-stopping exhaust note, a splash of jaw-dropping lines, a dash of eye-popping yellow paint, and shake vigorously. Aston Martin has done this to perfection and charges $203,886 for the privilege.
Several years ago, an Aston Martin exec told me their internal customer surveys revealed that 87 percent of Aston buyers said James Bond played a role in their purchase decision. This meant, he said, that 13 percent of Aston buyers were clearly lying.
You can't separate the iconic British spy from the iconic British sports car, and that's just how Aston likes it, thank you very much. It's the greatest marketing tie-up in history.
I was at the Geneva Auto Show in 2017 when the new Aston Martin DB11 was introduced. Aston had hauled a DB5, the car that Sean Connery drove in Goldfinger (and was later resurrected for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale), out of storage and had it on stage next to its newly-unveiled descendant.
The DB5 is automotive royalty, and everyone flocked to pay their respects. I saw senior management from countless competitors come over to check out the old beauty and take selfies with it. Nothing brings the various factions of the car world together like a universally beloved classic.
My favorite part of the prior Vantage was that while it was designed for a lovely Aston Martin V8, the company was in dire straits at one point and needed a new product but didn't have the money to build an entirely new car.
So Aston's engineers put their heads together and somehow shoehorned the company's much larger V12 engine into the same engine bay. Poof, V12 Vantage. I drove one a few years ago around LA. It had a seven-speed stick-shift and a wild orange-and-white paint scheme and was magnificent.
I'm afraid this Vantage isn't quite so extraordinary, but it's a far better car for one straightforward reason: Mercedes-AMG built an awful lot of it.
It has a hand-built AMG 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 under the hood pumping out 503 horsepower through an 8-speed AMG transmission. That old Aston V12 was a glorious thing to behold when it worked, which was only some of the time.
With this beast, which also sits under the bonnet of Merc's own AMG GT, Aston gets access to AMG's massive economies of scale and production know-how. The result is a much more reliable engine that has billions of euros of German R&D budget plowed into all eight of its cylinders, both turbos, most of the dashboard and central stack, and the buttons on the inside, and it's all the better for it.
I'm sure some folks scoff at the tie-up, but they're wrong. Without the Mercedes money, this car and Aston Martin would not exist. Thanks to an infusion of German cash and hardware, not only is Aston building excellent sports cars again, but they're building ones that will probably keep on chugging for years to come. It even comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty.
My test Vantage was bold and brash in Yellow Tang, and it had $53,800 of (likely very profitable) optional equipment fitted. That includes $5,000 for the paint, $10,600 for the exterior carbon fiber, $3,100 for some carbon fiber hood vents, and $1,600 for some yellow brake calipers.
And the Vantage Roadster has the fastest convertible roof in a car today, closing in 6.8 seconds and opening in just 6.7 while moving at up to 31 mph.
It's everything you'd expect from an Aston Martin: gorgeous as hell and with interior electronics from the last decade, but it generates smiles and thumbs up (and frantic waves from Dodger fans) like nothing else on the road. Like so many high-end sports cars, the Vantage Roadster is a happiness generator.
Just drop the top, soak up the sun and point that Yellow Tang nose towards the open road. Then go wherever that road takes you. It's the best $203,000 you'll ever spend.
The as-tested window sticker:
Special bonus Aston Martin photo: The V12 Vantage