- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

While cruising about in style in a drop-top Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante, one soon becomes aware that not everyone is familiar with the legendary British marque.

What kind of car is that? Who makes it? Is that a Chrysler? Is that the new Jaguar? are but a few of the questions that spew forth from the curious. Come on folks, it's an Aston Martin you know, the car that made Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 character invincible with its unique features and weaponry.

Aston Martin dates to 1914, when the company was founded by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. It was their belief that the sports cars they produced should be individual in character and distinctive in nature, built to the highest standards and exhilarating to drive and own. These values and aspirations continue as the company's driving force today, according to Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin's chief executive.

The vehicles turned out into the marketplace today are rarities, in that they are largely hand finished to exacting standards skilled, traditional craftsmanship is very much in evidence in every Aston Martin produced.

The cars still epitomize power, beauty and soul being created, as opposed to simply being built. The painting process itself, for example, takes two whole days each Vanquish model receives nine coats of paint, with the body being hand-buffed between each application.

The V-12 Vanquish represents the top-of-the-line Aston Martin and is distributed in the United States by Aston Martin Lagonda of North America Inc., retailing for $234,260, which includes a $3,000 gas-guzzler tax but not the $1,350 destination-and-delivery charge. Power comes from a 6-liter V-12 generating 460 horsepower and 400 pounds-feet of torque, linked to a Formula 1 style, state-of-the-art six-speed manual transmission that executes gear changes in 250 milliseconds, driving the rear wheels. Top speed capability is 190 mph.

The more popular (and more affordable) production vehicles are the DB7 Vantage models, available in a coupe or convertible configuration, the latter called Volante. The coupe carries a base sticker of $145,500, while the convertible goes out the door for $155,500, both prices include a $3,700 gas-guzzler premium but not the $1,350 D&D fee.

Vantage models also draw their motive power from a 6-liter, quad-cam, 48-valve V-12, but the horsepower is reduced from that of the Vanquish to 420, while the torque level remains at 400. Top speed rating for the Vantage is only 180 mph, and the transmission is a five-speed automatic.

The DB7 Vantage Volante that I was privileged to be seen in for a few days was finished outside in a bone china white with a navy blue soft top. The richly appointed interior featured Connolly leather seating done in bone, with navy piping and navy carpeting and trim panels. Highly polished wood accents highlight door panels, dash and center console.

The overall design form of the DB7 Vantage Volante bears a close resemblance to the Jaguar XK8 convertible. This is unfortunate, perhaps, considering the sizable differential in price, with the Jaguar roughly marking the halfway point.

Extra accouterments equipping the test Vantage included a Premium Audio system; burr elm veneer; personalized sill plates, charcoal leather hood envelope; satellite navigation system, heated front windshield; umbrella holder and golf umbrella; first aid kit and fire extinguisher; lamb's wool overmats; long-bore tailpipe; and aluminum foot pedal pads, elevating the final window sticker to $164,595 this is, of course, not counting tax, luxury tax and license fees.

The Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante exudes a level of understated elegance unmatched by most other vehicles, and though of a sporting nature, I wouldn't categorize it as a true sports car in the traditional sense it's rather more of a grand touring car. The 2+2 seating is in truth more of a 2+½ format since even small children would be forced to sit sideways.

Bottom line, the sleek and powerful DB7 Vantage Volante would do 007 proud, even without the weaponry and defensive gadgetry. It accelerates rapidly and shifts smoothly, while wrapping one in the lap of luxury. The staggered low-profile, high-performance tires on 19-inch multispoke alloy wheels aptly fill the wheel wells and enhance the car's forward-raked stance. It is a car, both to be seen and to be seen in.


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