By late winter, the Californian desert town of Palm Springs enters a stage between calm and chaos. Kissed by warming weather but not yet barraged by rowdy crowds of spring breakers, the Southern California haven enjoys an interlude of
tranquillity before a tsunami of heat and hubris descends.
Driving out of town, the exotic shape of the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster cuts through an expanse of desert, its baritone rip sounding through the arid air. The Roadster’s bright Yellow Tang shade seems to defy the natural surroundings. It sears through the rust-hued topography with an alien style that might challenge those who savour the brand’s stately, sporty history.
The Roadster is wrapped taut around its musculature like a predator’s skin, yet its slight snout and tucked haunches bear little resemblance to anything else in its competitive set. Critics first met this Aston Martin in 2018 during its press introduction at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portugal. With the motoring press heralding the car’s on-track capabilities and innovative interior, the Vantage enjoyed a hard-earned spot at the global luxury sports car table. The world has had a few rocky years since then, with a cascade of social upheavals. During this time, the Vantage has broadened its appeal with a new F1 Edition, which delivers greater power, more downforce and revised styling.
The Vantage silhouette seems all the more radical against the mid-century façades of downtown Palm Springs. The car is purposeful and compact, and the functionality of its proportions defies the whimsicality of the surrounding buildings. Enter the cabin through the slightly upward sweeping swan doors and the visual effect becomes even more avant-garde. While hand-stitched Bridge of Weir leather details and cool-to-the-touch aluminium surfaces uphold the brand’s loyalty to handcraftsmanship and authentic materials, the interior architecture is postmodern cool with enough geometric complexity to make Frank Gehry proud. The thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel assumes an unmistakable presence in the cabin, flanked by tall, polished aluminium paddles; the digital instrumentation trades ornamentation for fighter-cockpit functionality.
There’s an immediacy to the Vantage that flies in the face of the Palm Springs persona, which combines youthful frivolity with the quaint gentility of a city linked with throwback icons such as Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. The Vantage Roadster stands apart on the boulevard, low and sleek against the architectural horizontality of the restaurants and local businesses. Hungry for corners, we aim the Aston towards the jagged San Jacinto Mountains due west of the city.
California State Route 243 winds through these imposing peaks, running by the mountain resort town of Idyllwild. We then follow the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway and the highways that link the Palm Desert Basin with the coastal town of San Juan Capistrano.
The Vantage Roadster feels in its element, gripping with agility and pulling hard out of corners before braking for the next bend
Along the tangled stretches of road the Vantage Roadster feels in its element, gripping with agility and pulling hard out of corners before braking for the next bend. There’s a rhythm to the mountains and a corresponding feel from the Vantage. It’s a flow state in which the car transcends a mere mechanical object occupied by a person; it becomes a natural extension of its operator, translating driver inputs into fluid movement. The zen mood is abruptly broken when an unexpected construction zone brings us to a grinding halt for 20 minutes. Already halfway back to the Palm Springs basin, we race the remaining daylight by traversing the desert floor to Box Canyon Road, a brief but visually stunning route near the Salton Sea, enveloped in upturned geological features. Along this majestic route, with the sun dipping toward the horizon and casting increasingly long shadows, the Roadster’s scale nearly gets overshadowed by its surroundings.
Cruising back towards Palm Springs through the Coachella Valley on Highway 111, the Vantage Roadster seems to grow more outwardly charismatic than it was out in the remote desert. Sure, the tyre-spinning power and throaty exhaust note are integral parts in high-performance driving, evoking the Vantage’s athletic capabilities and all this entails. But the urban stretches of the desert town are far likelier spots for a car like this to spend its time.
Strip away the pretence of any typical city and the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster emerges as a bold, original statement in a sea of conformity. It may not be for everyone, but perhaps that is precisely the point.
This story is an extract from an article featured in the AM48 issue of Aston Martin magazine, out now. If you're not already a subscriber, visit magazine.astonmartin.com/magazine-subscription so that you can read the full story.