Fun Stuff

Aston Martin on the track

I sincerely don’t know who would get bored driving an Aston Martin. The speed, the sound and the fury of every model in their line-up is downright intoxicating, and the brand lifts its middle finger to the efficiency of turbocharging and all-wheel drive.

What gearhead could refuse a day on a racetrack, getting an opportunity to drive a Vantage GT, a V12 Vantage, a Rapide and a Vanquish back to back? Not me.

Thanks to Aston Martin and Decarie Motors, the Montreal dealership that sells and services these English sports cars, a small group of journalists got the chance to discover what these cars can do when pushed to their limits on the ICAR circuit in Mirabel, Quebec – you know, what can’t be done on public roads without ending up in the back seat of a police cruiser.

The latest generation of Astons are still largely crafted by hand, and every model sports a rear-wheel drivetrain. However, build quality and precision engineering has definitely increased substantially since the brand was purchased by Ford. The old factory in Newport Pagnell, England, produced cars from 1955 to 2003, but the current owners, a consortium of investors from Kuwait and Italy, decided to build a new facility that houses a luxurious dealership up front – clashing with the rustic village wrapped around it.

Left to right: Rapide S, Vantage GT Roadster, V12 Vantage S Roadster, V12 Vantage S, Vanquish Left to right: Rapide S, Vantage GT Roadster, V12 Vantage S Roadster, V12 Vantage S, Vanquish

There’s also a Heritage showroom where customers can buy vintage models, and in the back, there’s an amazing restoration shop where employees meticulously rebuild old Aston Martins from the ground up, using old-school building machinery and lots of elbow grease.

In 2003, production was moved to a much more modern plant located in Gaydon, England. About 15 cars roll out each day; they’re all built on an aluminum chassis that consists of multiple sections bonded together with high-strength adhesives. The roof and the rear panels are bonded on the chassis as well, by the only lonely robot in the factory, while the rest of the bodywork is bolted on. Vantage and Rapide models roll down a motorized line, while the DB9 and the Vanquish sit on cradles and are pushed from one station to another during assembly.

Recently introduced, the 2015 Aston Martin Vantage GT comes in coupe and roadster body styles, and it’s the most affordable car in their portfolio, starting at $105,000. The V8 Vantage boasts a 4.7L V8 that develops 420 hp and 346 lb-ft of torque, or 430 hp and 361 lb-ft in the V8 Vantage S. Even though the GT is the, ah, stripper model, it gets the more powerful version of the lustrous V8.

We sampled a Vantage GT Roadster with the standard six-speed manual, although a single-clutch, seven-speed automated transmission with paddle shifters is also available. This car is definitely at home on a track, and the lighter weight of its V8 – compared to the V12 Vantage – makes it slightly more agile.

Of course, it cannot match the sheer muscle of the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, also offered in Coupe and Roadster body styles, which is equipped with a 6.0L V12 (actually, it displaces 5,935cc) that unleashes 565 hp and 457 lb-ft. No manual gearbox for this one, as the seven-speed tranny is the mandatory dance partner for the mighty V12.

And holy smokes, that sound. On the track, the 12-cylinder Vantage shrieks violently, pushing the car to dizzying speeds on the straight portion of ICAR’s otherwise twisty course. Despite not relying on a double-clutch setup, the transmission banged off quick shifts, and at the end of the straight, stomping on the brakes and holding the left paddle summons a rapid, multiple-gear downshift. Gather up at least $195K for the Coupe, $210K for the Roadster.

The 2015 Aston Martin Rapide S, which starts at $216,500, was the car that intrigued the group the most because of its longer wheelbase and four doors. Despite its sedan status, it is every bit a sports car as the rest. It’s equipped with the same 6.0L V12 as the Vantage, but produces 552 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, and it’s connected to a new, conventional eight-speed automatic with, of course, paddle shifters.

It’s got a little more body roll, perhaps, unavoidable due to its bigger and longer carcass. Inside, it feels just as snug as the Vanquish, and only a tad slower. Once again, the V12 engine’s muscle and sound keeps a constant flow of adrenaline pumping in your veins. It’s a sedan, but the rear seats are small, and there isn’t much wiggle room back there, so you sit with your knees high up. Still, it’s better than having to climb in one of the back seats of the $200K-and-up, 510-hp, V12-powered 2015 Aston Martin DB9, which was on display at our event, but uninvited on the track.

The pièce de résistance, flagship of the brand, is the voluptuous the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish. Coupe or Volante convertible, it flaunts 568 hp and 465 lb-ft from its 12-cylinder engine – yes, the same as in the others. According to the manufacturer, it’s the quickest of the bunch, able to rocket from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds – a tenth less than the V12 Vantage – and reaches 324 km/h.

Unfortunately, the eight-speed automatic that’s found in the Rapide and the Vanquish produces jerky upshifts when I used the paddle shifters, which didn’t feel too refined for cars that cost this much. At least $300K in the case of the Vanquish.

Ok, why an Aston Martin instead of a Porsche, a Lamborghini or a Bentley? The little English company currently sells about 4,000 cars a year across the globe, so that’s exclusivity to you and me. In addition to the rip-snorting, naturally-aspirated engines that are becoming a rare commodity in exotic sports cars these days, their cockpits are crafted with some of the finest leather and trimmings one can find. They’re technologically up to date, with modern infotainment systems and drive mode systems that include sport and track settings. They’re well balanced with their engine mounted at the front and their gearbox at the back. And they look just fabulous – in my humble opinion.

As for opportunities to drive one of these powerful machines, Aston Martin regularly organizes driving courses in which consumers can participate. Not so much in Canada, but there’s a Nürburgring Driving Academy in Germany, a touring program at Pebble Beach this coming August in the US, dynamic driving experiences in the UK, and just for doggie-doos and giggles, On Ice winter driving programs in Sweden and in Colorado next February.