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Test Drive: Convertibles - Ladue News: Diversions

Test Drive: Convertibles

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Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:28 pm | Updated: 4:04 pm, Thu Apr 26, 2012.

With the beautiful weather we’ve been having, everybody’s trying to find ways to take advantage of the sun and warm temperatures, and for car lovers, the best way to do so is from the seat of a convertible. Ranging in price from about $20,000 to six figures and then some, convertibles these days come in many shapes, prices and sizes.

If you’ve got the bank account for the ultimate fun-to-drive, good-looking two-seater convertible, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster is hard to beat.

The first thing that has to be said about the Vantage, like all Aston Martins, is that it just looks fantastic. With its classic long bonnet (hood), sharply raked windscreen, short rear and classic Aston grill surrounded by sleek cat’s eye headlamps, it’s simply gorgeous. It’s not coincidence that James Bond drives one.

And like James Bond, the Vantage isn’t all about good looks. It’s also got the goods under the hood to perform. Its heart is a front/midmounted 4.7 liter V-8 engine that pumps out 420 horsepower to the rear wheels through a precise shifting 6-speed manual transmission. A 7- speed automatic transmission is available, though I’m not sure why. Mileage is 13 city, 19 highway. With its manual transmission, tight, precise steering, neck-snapping acceleration, handling like it’s on rails, almost-perfect balance, powerful brakes and excellent road feel, this car is a pure joy to drive—a true driver’s car. Though it has an excellent sound system, the sound from the tailpipe was better than anything I could get on the radio, especially at more than 4,000 RPM when a bypass opens and the exhaust lets out a beautiful roar. I told Adrian Hill at Aston Martin St. Louis that if I had won that big lottery a few weeks ago I would have been picking out a color with him instead of interviewing him.

To top it all off, the interior of the Aston Martin is a milieu of rich leather, real wood and Old World craftsmanship that make the Vantage a joy to be in, from the well-bolstered heated seats to the leather dash and crystal ‘key.’ It’s first-class all the way. The retractable soft cloth top raises and lowers at the touch of a button. The only drawback is a boot, or trunk, that’s not even big enough to carry a full-sized suitcase. I was recently fortunate enough to tour the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon, England, and saw first-hand the exquisite craftsmanship that goes into building an Aston Martin. After seeing how well they’re built, it only made me want one all the more.

Adrian Hill of Aston Martin St. Louis (part of St. Louis Motorsports in Chesterfield Valley) says, “The new 2012 V8 Vantage roadster is certainly a classic hand-crafted British sports car: beautiful design, boundless power with evocative sound—a fusion of traditional Aston Martin style and everyday usability.”

Of course, with this combination of looks, quality and performance, they’re not giving them away. But at about $130,000 to start, it’s not bad compared to other cars in its class.

If you’re looking for a convertible that’s a bit more practical, the Audi A5 offers seating for four, a useable trunk with rear seat pass-through, and good driving characteristics at a price that’s more affordable.

The A5 interior is comfortable, functional and a great place to grab a tan when the soft cloth top is lowered at the touch of a button. Heated and cooled seats help ensure year-round comfort. A manually adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel ensures a comfortable driving position. The standard Audi button/remote rotary knob screen interface is fairly straightforward and not too difficult to use, thanks to hard buttons around the rotary knob to select the function you want to control. Dual-automatic climate-control functions are relatively simple with a rotary knob surrounded by buttons for functions such as air flow, fan speed, temperature and seat heating/cooling. When it’s cold out, the seats even have an ‘air scarf’ that blows warm air on your neck, thus allowing you to enjoy open-air motoring on chilly evenings. A blind spot detector on the outside mirrors is a nice safety feature. The trunk is adequately deep, but very short, thanks to the intrusion of the top when lowered. Rear seat room is adequate for two adults for occasional trips. With the insulated top up, the interior is quiet and snug.

With Audi’s lauded quattro all-wheel-drive system, power from the 211-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine goes to all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (or optional 8-speed tiptronic) with regular and sport modes for maximum grip during acceleration and in inclement weather. Gas mileage is 22 city, 30 highway. Power is surprisingly plentiful, with hardly any turbo lag, especially with the tiptronic transmission, thanks in part to the A5’s aluminum intensive and therefore lightweight body construction, which also induces good handling and road feel with a comfortable ride.

According to Kevin Rodermund, general sales manager at Plaza Audi, “The A5 is a practical convertible. It’s the only one that has a fold-down rear seat to expand cargo room. With the quattro all-wheel-drive, it can handle any type of top-up weather, as well as being a great luxury convertible for top-down weather.”

Prices for the A5 convertible range from about $42,600 to $57,000, fully loaded.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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