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
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 bollocks. 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
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
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?
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.
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.
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 2002