Aston Martins DB7
FORGET THE DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS LOOKS of Aston Martin's V12-engined Vantage Volante. This is a car that you just can't wait to drive.
Turn the ignition key in the column and depress the surprisingly light clutch pedal. When the starter button set in the central console just to the right of the gear lever glows devilishly, press it gently and youll hear the unmistakable sound of 420 horses breaking into a canter.
Within seconds of pulling away even if you've never sat in a DB7 before the external dimensions shrink around you, making you feel immediately comfortable and in control. Even the narrow rear screen isn't a problem. And all the time there is the sensation of enormous power beneath your right foot. Unfazed even by midday slow-stop-slow M25 traffic, once the road clears you can increase the pressure of your right foot and the horizon jumps into your face. No regrets. Even if you dont bother dropping down though the close-ratio six-speed manual box, the power is with you.
Obviously this is one exceedingly potent piece of kit, so care is required feeding in the clutch if you want to get away with the aplomb driving a Vantage demands. A few hours in the Astons heady company and you'll be pulling away as easily as though youve been doing it all your life. Sheer effortless driving.
We had a somewhat punishing schedule to meet, one that racked up over 650 miles in three days mostly all in the dark and, as it turned out, in the wet. Not that the weather deterred us from getting our top off. There's nothing better than driving in the very early hours, top down, windows up and a haze of fine rain blasting over the open cockpit at three-figure speeds not so much as a drop entered! heated seats on, climate control pushing out volumes of cosseting hot air with the excellent Becker sound system pumping out Enya (Don't risk Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell ).
Now back to the sensuous looks of the £103,750 DB7 Vantage. When Aston Martin decided to drop the 420bhp, 48-valve, all-alloy, 6.0-litre V12 engine into the DB7, they cleverly resisted any major tampering with the already much-admired shape.
Observant Aston fans will spot the bigger driving lights that now incorporate the front indicators reminiscent of the Project Endurance Racing Cars of the 60's more prominent sills, the to-die-for multi-spoke 18-inch alloys that on the move look like a circle of flickering sword blades, the new, bigger bright metal grille essential for the increased cooling demands of the larger engine and at the rear the slim high-mounted rear stop light and new rear bumper accommodating the increased diameter exhaust tail pipes. Yes, the original was great but the Vantage is superior, and a worthy recipient of the 'World's Most Desirable' tag.
The DB7's already sumptuous interior has also come in for a makeover. Heated Recaro sports seats, flawlessly upholstered in two-tone Connolly leather and suede, feature along with new instruments.
A precisely laid out dash incorporates the new Becker audio system and whats probably the best SatNav weve come across the Traffic Pro navigation system covering both the USA and Western Europe.
The dashboard boasts new circular centre console switches unique to Aston Martin, whilst new design interior chromed door release handles have also been introduced. As you would expect, there's a multi-track CD Player, air conditioning, heated rear screen and door mirrors, twin airbags and a fully adjustable steering column. Customers may specify features as diverse as fitted luggage, an umbrella holder, parking sensors or an extended luggage area in place of the back seat and which can even be supplied with individual accommodation for the 'carriage of family pets'...
Tactile interior enhancements include a three-spoke steering wheel and increased foot room due to a narrower brake pedal. But pride of place for enthusiasts has to be that red engine start button.
Anything with 400lb ft of torque on tap that can accelerate to 60mph in 5 seconds dead and is capable of surging effortlessly on to a maximum of 185mph (Coupé) will need brakes to match. The Vantage has them: snug behind the 8-inch front and 9-inch rear rims running ZR rated Bridgestone SO2 rubber (245/40 front; 265/35 rear) is a Brembo system with Teves four-channel electronic anti-lock control and ventilated cross-drilled discs (355mm diameter front; 330mm rear).
Needless to say they rein in the V12 Vantage faultlessly at any speed. An advanced traction control system constantly monitors and analyses the performance of each road wheel on a continuing basis, ready to intervene within 64 milliseconds. As stable and secure as the Vantage is, it's nonetheless reassuring to know that it exceeds all present-day crash test requirements by a wide margin. What you may not have been expecting, when you take into account the sheer size of those grippy low-profile Bridgestones, is the supple quality of the Volantes body control and its overall ride refinement.
Loping along, top down at fast motorway speeds with the magnificent V12 engine spinning lazily at 3,000rpm, the Volante is virtually as quiet and unruffled as its Coupé sibling. Even at three-figure speeds there is not enough wind noise to inhibit either conversation or the audio system. At normal motorway speeds the Vantage was drinking fuel at the very reasonable rate (for a sporting Grand Tourer capable of covering three miles a minute) of 19mpg. Expect about 13.5mpg around town.
I will never understand why people buy convertibles then never take the top down. If you've never driven a fast convertible topless on a starry, starry night then add it to your 'Before I Die' list.
Lowering the Aston's fully lined top is a doddle. Release two levers and press the button near the gearlever, and the electrically operated hood (which has a heated glass rear window) folds back.
Most owners probably wont bother fitting the leather tonneau cover not only is a trifle fiddly but the uncovered folded soft-top looks rather rakish! Apparently there is a mesh wind-blocker that fits behind the front seat headrests but as you would have gathered from our earlier comments, what's the point of wind-in-your-hair motoring in the grand style without any wind!
Those fortunate enough to be able to buy and run cars like the V12 Vantage usually have a stable of other less exotic machinery for everyday stuff, so it's hardly worth mentioning that as beautifully trimmed as they are, the rear seats are at best okay for smallish children, although we did manage a large adult on a couple of occasions. Some people will do almost anything for a ride in an Aston Martin!