Life+Times lives by a firm mantra — no ugly cars. When it comes to the looks department, Aston Martin never lets us down. In a sea of soulless, numeric car configurations and bland stretches of uninspired sheet metal, Aston Martin reminds us that cars can be beautiful, wicked, and even a bit mysterious. You can touch the hand-sculpted surfaces, and trust that what’s gone on behind the scenes at the factory in Gaydon, England is worth every penny, especially if design is high on your list of must-haves. Aston Martin makes cars that feel like contemporary moving sculptures.
In a long list of luxury car marques, it’s one of the few that defies easy categorization. You drive an Aston Martin when you want to stand out, when you want people to call you and say “What is that you’re driving?!” But even within this good-looking product lineup we find cars that have distinct personalities. These are cars that will make you feelsomething behind the wheel.
Aston Martin makes glamorous, decadent cars with frothy names like Vanquish (To vanquish is to gain mastery over an emotion.) and Vantage (a place or position of affording a good view.) There seems to be Aston for every emotion. Case in point: compare the Vanquish Volante and the V-12 Vantage S, which were both introduced at the swanky Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in August. Life+Times drove two of the British carmaker’s newest models through from Palm Springs through the California desert this fall.
How to best experience a Vanquish Volante: Deplane from your private jet, put Miles Davis on the turntable in your hotel room, and bask in the mid-century modern cool design that defines Palm Springs. Then you are ready to drive an Aston Martin Vanquish Volante, the convertible version of the Vanquish coupe that was introduced last year. Volante is the most expensive model in the lineup. It’s easy to get lost in the curves as the supportive seats swallow you up. The Vanquish is culled from carbon fiber, a seductive, lightweight material that gives the exterior a fluid appearance. The handles and the weighty glass key feel rich to the human touch.
When you push the key in to start the ignition, the 6.0-liter engine with V-12 power makes affirming noises that reward the driver who dares to give the gas pedal a little throttle. On the open road you can use that throttle to work toward the top speed of 183 mph. It’s power is formidable and allows you to cruise with some sense of elegance on those twisty bits that lead to the deep desert. All the power is followed by poise.
The interior of the Aston Martin is worth showing off — you won’t want to keep the seats covered up. In a desert haze that’s what we did – dropped the top and 14 seconds later, found myself zipping along the streets of Palm Springs the hand-stitched seats exposed.
The Vanquish Volante is not the average-man’s everyday luxury car. For that reason, Aston Martins have their particular quirks that you won’t find in a mass market brand. We used the baby back seats for storage, and could not imagine putting real humans back there. Technologically, Aston Martin should step up their navigation systems, which seemed outdated and bogged down by scrambled data processing.
If the Vanquish is emblematic of elegant, the Aston Martin Vantage is the bad boy prince in the royal lineup. The Vantage feels at home under the glare of the hot desert sun. It doesn’t shy from dust, because its DNA is decidedly frisky. When you pull out, Vantage greets drivers with a nasty snarl produced in its 565 horsepower package that dashes from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. It’s a freaking-fast 205-mile car that tests the edge of exhilaration. Sport mode might just make you scream.
The Vantage is a delicious two-seater sports car for kicks, but it’s also headachy on a longer drive. You see, Vantage has this oddball transmission that try as we might, we just could quite wrestle into compliance. It’s a very stiff automated manual transmission that jolts you as you gain speed or coast on the brakes. As a result our street-side maneuvers were a tad erratic as the car automatically shifts with overdone verve. This might not be your commuter car of choice, but it does make an irresistible statement that has clout at stoplights.
The 2014 Vanqish Volante goes on sale this year for a $297,995. The 2015 V12 Vantage will be available in early 2014 for $184,995.