ASTON MARTIN DB7 VANTAGE
Graham Bell drives the beauty from Bloxham
It's long, low and seductively curvaceous. It attracts not just admiration but even respect from the public in a way that - dare I say - a 911 never would. No doubt about it - the Aston Martin DB7 is one of the most stunning cars ever made, and in V12 Vantage form (now the only one available) it's also one of the fastest.
If you live in the UK then doubtless you'll have seen or heard Aston's V12 described as "two Ford V6s stuck together". Well, knowing what motoring hacks are like I decided to check this out with those who know, namely Aston's engineers. And guess what? It's bollox. Sure, it takes a few parts and features (predominantly concerned with the valve train) from the Duratec, but so much including the block, the crank, the cylinder heads, the camshafts and the lubrication system was developed specially for the V12 that it's far more Aston Martin than it is Ford.
Similarly, the rest of the Vantage is far more Aston Martin than it is Jaguar. Sure, it takes its floorpan and suspension from the XJS, but once again these have been developed specially for the Vantage, the major reworking the floorpan needed to take the V12 giving Aston's engineers the chance to produce a much stiffer structure. Also stiffer is the suspension, with uprated springs and dampers, along with new wishbones and uprights at the front to improve steering and an additional framework at the rear to improve axle location.
So not quite two Ford V6s and an old Jaguar floorpan wrapped in a sexy body then…
Going back to the DB7's sexy body - something your eyes do a lot of when you have one around - this breaks with traditional Aston practice of using hand crafted aluminium panels in favour of pressed steel for the major body parts and moulded plastic for the nose, rear bumper, sills, front wings and boot lid. This of course is the major reason the DB7 is the most affordable Aston ever made.
No major economies on the inside though, with that traditional blend of Connolly leather, Wilton carpet and polished wood - all mixed with the sort of classy elegance that we Brits do so much better than anyone else - making the DB7's stylish interior a very nice place to be.
Inevitably there have been moans from some people about the switches coming from the Ford parts bin, but they're perfectly good illuminated switches that don't look or feel cheap and nasty so what's the problem?
Talking of switches, you'll find three on the electrically heated and nicely supportive seats to enable you adjust fore/aft position, back rake and lumbar support, but not, surprisingly, height. Owners of executive barges will be shocked to discover that the DB7's steering column has to be adjusted manually, whereas the important thing for the rest of us is that both rake and reach are adjustable so most people should have no problem getting a comfortable driving position - just so long as they can fit their head below the DB7's low-line roof.
Show or Go?
OK, so it's sexy on the outside, it's sexy on the inside, but can the DB7 hack it as a driver's car?
We'll come to that in a minute, though the first point to make here is that if enthusiastic driving rather than egotistical posing is your intention then you definitely want the coupe rather than the convertible Volante because it's stiffer, lighter and has a rear anti-roll bar. Fortunately the car I'd been assigned was a coupe. Hooray! An automatic coupe. Arghhh…
Surprisingly enough, despite the fact that it loses more power through the transmission, weighs an extra 52kg and has a taller diff (3.06 as opposed to 3.77) the automatic doesn't lose out as much to the manual as you'd expect. The auto coupe's 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds is just a tenth slower than the manual's.
But even so - an automatic - I mean, how can you get any driver satisfaction with that? But wait - turns out this was no ordinary DB7 auto but had the optional Touchtronic which enables you to select gears manually either Touring Car style using the gearstick or F1 style with buttons on the steering wheel. Mmm…
Box o' Tricks
For those who spend a lot of time stuck in traffic but like more driver involvement than a conventional auto box can provide, Touchtronic makes a lot of sense. Leave the selector in D and it's an automatic for the urban crawl. Clear the traffic, push the selector to the left and suddenly it's a manual with sequential shift. Press the 'plus' button or push the selector forward to change up, press the 'minus' button or pull the selector back to change down. It sounds simple and it is. There is however a minor problem with the buttons for those who hold the wheel in the 'ten to two' position in that you have to let go of the wheel in order to press them with your thumbs.
That aside, the Touchtronic does a good job of making an auto box far more entertaining. It changes gear at least as quickly and smoothly as most drivers could with a manual while offering the same advantage of enabling you to change down ready for that overtaking opportunity you can spot ahead rather than having to wait for kickdown to do it when it arrives. What's more, whereas in auto kickdown mode it changes up at 6,000rpm (which equates to maximum power) in manual mode you can take it round to 6,400.
However, given the choice I'd still go for the six-speed manual which I tested some time back because, ultimately, slotting that lever through the gate as you synchronise your arm and leg movements is more satisfying than just pressing a button. Plus the manual coupe will do 185mph as opposed to the 165mph the other DB7 models are limited to and let you rev that V12 round to 7,000rpm…
Not that you have to rev the engine round to the limiter to accelerate quickly in a DB7 Vantage. Six litres, 420bhp and 400lb ft of torque gives you a lot of flexibility, especially when 85% of maximum torque is available from only 1500rpm. How much flexibility? Well in the manual coupe you can trickle along at 15mph in top and then gain another 170mph without having to change gear. An amusing thought - but not nearly as amusing as sticking it in the most appropriate gear and flooring the throttle.
Do that and the V12 delivers brutal performance, propelling the DB7 to 100mph in under 11.5 seconds and giving it the ability to pass lines of slow moving traffic in a single bound, though it does so in a refined way with none of the aural dramatics of a Lambo V12 (sadly) but a discreet turbine-like whine.
Take a look at that big V12 filling the engine bay and you might expect the DB7 to be nose heavy, but thanks to lightweight materials and casting techniques developed for Formula 1 (there's Cosworth involvement in both design and manufacture) the V12 weighs about the same as the DB7's original supercharged six, keeping weight distribution to a well-balanced 55% front/45% rear.
Which brings us to the ride and handling. Not surprisingly in view of its Jaguar origins the Vantage provides a very comfortable ride and makes a good job of ironing out most road imperfections despite the stiffened suspension and ultra low-profile tyres (245/40 ZR18 front/265/35 ZR18 rear). In doing so it does tend to deaden feedback from the road, but then you don't expect what is a big heavy (1800kg+) GT to provide the intimacy of a lightweight sports car.
That doesn't mean it can't be hustled along twisty A and B roads though. Thanks to its solid feel and the prodigious grip provided by those fat Bridgestone S02s the Vantage quickly inspires enough confidence for you to start tackling bends at near three figure speeds without any fear of handling dramas. Or without undue wallowing, and though it can feel a touch floaty over high-speed undulations it does feel more composed over rough surfaces than more stiffly sprung cars tend to, so Aston's engineers seem to have got the comfort/handling compromise well sorted.
Thanks to the lightweight engine castings and revised suspension the Vantage turns in well enough, though applying power midway through a sweeping bend can push the front end wide. Conversely, push it into a tight bend in second and floor the throttle on the exit and (with the traction control switched off) you can feel the back end slipping, but it barely steps out of line. I dare say that if you tried really hard you could get it to do something dramatic - but would you really want to risk it in a £100,000 car?
The steering, in common with many power assisted set-ups, isolates you too much from the front wheels and generally lacks feel, especially in a straight line, but it's quite quick at 2.5 turns lock to lock and doesn't feel over-assisted or wooden. It's not actually bad, just rather average.
Nothing average about the Vantage's brakes though. It's not just that the huge 355mm front/330mm rear cross-drilled vented discs will haul it down from 100mph to rest in under five seconds - it's the way it happens. With some ABS systems you get momentary lock-up and directional instability under heavy braking, but the Vantage pulls up arrow straight without even a hint of lock-up. They are, quite simply, the best brakes I've ever used.
So is the DB7 a satisfying driver's car? Well all things considered I'd have to say yes. There is of course a difference between satisfying and involving, and while the Vantage doesn't provide that intimate level of involvement you get with a Ginetta or Lotus, there is nonetheless something highly satisfying about driving a car that enables you to outpace virtually everything else on the road so easily. Especially when it looks so damn gorgeous.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2002Aston Martin Links, Aston Martin Owners