Flying in a small aircraft brings a moment of clarity. Before takeoff, as the plane trundles across the tarmac, every bump and wind buffet rolls through your bones and feeds into your core.
It’s impossible not to wonder if you’re about to die.
The pilot lines the plane up on the runway. The throttle opens, the plane picks up a bit of speed on the ground. Then it happens.
Everything snaps into place. The wings go taut, the chassis tightens; the bumps and tremors disappear.
If you have some anxiety about flying, I recommend trying this. You’ll realise planes, as long as everything’s working correctly, are much more troublesome on the ground than they are in the sky.
I’m a lifelong aviation nerd, and have been lucky enough to do this a few times in four-seater Cessnas, a couple of times in slightly bigger planes that can hold eight people or so, and once in a two-seater, balsa-frame, open-cockpit Tiger Moth biplane from the 1930s. That damn thing, with its canvas wings, couldn’t wait to be in the air and away from the pesky ground.
(You can get a glimpse of this on a commercial flight. Watch the sagging wings flap up and down as the plane starts to run down the runway, then watch the tips go stiff. The whole wing follows, bending up, ready to pull the box you’re sitting in into the air. It’s a point pilots call V2. The nose lifts shortly after, and you’re flying.)
I say this at the start of a car review because the only time I have had a comparable sense of wonder at a piece of machinery was when I recently tested an Aston Martin.
The sublimity of a small plane accelerating down a runway and finally telling you it wants to fly is hard to match. But driving an Aston is a close second.
Lamborghinis, Porsches and other high-performance cars don’t do this. They are driving challenges, with the excitement stemming from a relentless fear of wrecking it through slight misallocation of foot pressure.
Like many high-end cars these days, the new Aston Martins have computers that learn about you, tailoring the entire car’s behaviour to your own driving preferences, adjusting for your peccadilloes. The normally vacuous cliché that a car “is an extension of you” takes on meaning.
I had the new Aston Martin Vanquish S, a grand tourer worth almost $A600,000 that does 0-100km/h in 3.5 seconds.
The new DB11s are a bit faster, and apparently a bit more feisty, but I was just fine with the one that could fit a mate in the passenger seat and our two kids in the back for a spin up Parramatta Road.
(NSW Police can confirm this, because one of their officers pulled me over when I was taking a friend for a ride with the kids. The cop happened to pull in behind me at a traffic light, and I thought: here we go. Sure enough, after we turned the corner, the blue and reds flashed. Our friendly officer was flagging me from behind and when I pulled over, he walked up to the car with a smile as wide as the Sydney Harbour Bridge on his face. “How is it?”, he asked. “Have you had it out on the track yet?”)
For the few days I had it, I could have started the engine at any time of the day or night and the neighbours wouldn’t have complained about the noise, because this is what it sounds like.
I only had one opportunity to gun it, at a signal-controlled slipway feeding into a motorway in south-western Sydney. The light was red and I was at the top of the traffic queue with only a motorbike in front of me. He hared off down the slipway, where the speed limit was 80km/h, while I ambled around the corner getting the Aston Martin to do its best impression of a tortoise with a carbon-fibre, pearl-dusted shell.
With the car hovering at around 3km/h and the bike now a little speck in the distance about to join the motorway, I checked the mirrors, straightened up, and dropped the hammer.
The bike was full in my windshield in two seconds. The six-litre V12 engine wasn’t even trying.
Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, given that at 80km/h, it’s only doing a quarter of its potential top speed of 324km/h.
So there is a somewhat depressing catch. Cruising on the motorway at 100km/h is dull. The car wants to go faster but the law (and your will to live) won’t let you.
This is not to say it’s not fun. Of course it is. It’s an Aston Martin.
The thrill, at least an urban environment, is really all in its handling. At high speeds it takes just minute hand movements – millimetre tweaks of your thumb on the wheel – to put it precisely where you want it on the road. And that’s a good thing when you’ve got half a million dollars worth of car steaming down a road with speeding trucks on either side.
This is counter-intuitive, but it’s even better when noodling around suburban streets. For all the tedium of easing it over speed bumps and around corners, in a busy driving environment there are more chances to listen to the engine open up, and experience the power and frighteningly good handling.
If there’s a single word to sum up the driving experience, it’s control. The Vanquish S is immensely powerful, punchy, and fast. But it is also your friend.
Driving it for a weekend changed me in two ways.
1. (Negative): Every other car is now rubbish. Getting back into the family Kia Sorrento – which we love, and is powerful in a family 7-seater kind of way – was a shock. It reminded me of that scene in The Hurt Locker when Jeremy Renner’s character finds himself in a supermarket aisle having returned from combat theatre, exchanging decisions on defusing giant explosive devices for breakfast cereal choices. What is the point? Why bother with anything, ever?
2. (Positive): Augmented-performance car jerks who rev their engines for attention have never been my favourite creatures. I’m not alone in this, as Australian Bureau of Statistics research puts hoons at the top of the list as the No.1 source of social annoyance. So, sure, make some noise with your Honda. Even your Porsche. I’ll always have those few days in the Aston Martin.
A good friend told me I should buy one, having listened to me talk about it. He thinks the long-term mental health benefits make it a no-brainer.
I will never be able to buy a car like the Vanquish S, but if you can, you absolutely should. It is great for getting around; it’s the drive of a lifetime; it’s beautiful inside and out. There’s just the matter of the base model starting at $A490,000 and then you’ve got to insure it, house it, and feed it with fuel, and it drains nearly 20 litres for every 100km in an urban environment.
Below are some more pictures, which show some of the details.
Here’s the driver’s head down view. You can see the touchtronic paddles for the eight-speed gearbox around the wheel. The electronics panel that lets you control the navigation and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is tucked away at the top of the centre console, which is all touch controls with haptic feedback that’s all very intuitive and easy.
One thing to note: the 60km/h notch on the speedometer is just a few degrees off due south, so when driving in a city environment you spend a lot of time with the speedo arm pointing straight down.
Here’s how it greets the driver. You can see the hand-stiched leather interior on the door, and the handbrake down by the driver’s right hand.
Here’s a look at the rear seats, again with the hand-stitched leather. Being a GT, it does have rear seats, but you are not getting a full-size adult into that space for a long period of time.
See what I mean? The back seats are kid-sized; either that or the passenger is going to move their seat a long way forward to try and fit everyone in.
Here’s the rear, with the quad exhausts (this vehicle has an optional black finisher added to them) and, of course, the famous Aston Martin badge — a hand-made piece of jewellery.
One last look:
What’s it like to drive a $600,000 Aston Martin? It’s like driving a $600,000 Aston Martin.
With so much technology available in cars nowadays, the best thing about this is the restraint Aston Martin has shown with its use of driver-facing fancy lights and dashboards. The technology is all under the hood and in the driving computer that helps you get the most out of the machine. It’s all about the driving experience, letting you focus on the power and sublime control at all times. What a car.
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