DB7 VantageClick to enlarge picture

Aston Martin builds the DB7 Vantage for discerning drivers who desire a unique automotive experience—especially when the price tag hovers around $150,000.

Aston Martin

That's the way the company prefers to do business. Aston builds vehicles for discerning drivers who desire a unique automotive experience—especially when the price tag hovers around $150,000. But these auto-philes are looking for a drivable car, not simply a showpiece to keep in a climate-controlled garage and drive only on sunny days.

Since there are so few Astons on the road, the company went on "tour" earlier in 2003, traveling the U.S. to bring about better brand awareness among both the auto press and those who might be interested in one of these exotics.

Dubbed the Power, Beauty & Soul Tour, the automaker took five Aston Martin automobiles to 25 of its 29 dealerships nationwide, providing an exclusive look at the latest products from this famed marque.

"The tour is about Aston Martin today and tomorrow," observed Cristina Bruzzi, the communications and marketing manager of Aston Martin Lagonda of North America, Inc. "Our vehicles are rare, and rarer still is the chance to see this lineup at your local dealer. The Power, Beauty & Soul Tour reaches out to our audience in a very personal way."

Driving the DB7

As part of the Power, Beauty & Soul Tour, a select number of journalists were given the chance to drive Aston's V12-powered DB7 Vantage. I happened to be one of the lucky few.

Video: DB7 Vantage

The Vantage builds on the most successful Aston Martin in the history of the British automaker, the DB7. The DB7 Vantage design remains true to the original Vantage concept, which debuted at the 1998 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Vantage name has been used by Aston Martin since 1950 to identify the highest performance model in a particular model line. The first Aston Martin to be powered by a 12-cylinder engine, the DB7 Vantage is hand-built in Newport Pagnell, England.

It's a wonderful thing to be asked which color DB7 Vantage you would like to drive—that in itself is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I chose the silver Volante (convertible), replete with sport exhaust and 19-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile Yokohama tires. A coupe version also is available.

The leather seats are quite comfortable; however, there is no height adjustment so the driver does sit a bit high. The headliner of the convertible top is the softest suede I have ever felt, and it has the most wonderful aroma. Not your typical new-car smell.

When I turned the key in the ignition, a big red button on the center console lit up. Pushing the button rewarded me with the lovely sound of the 420-horsepower V12 engine coming to life, in this case amplified by the optional sport exhaust.

The car included a Touchtronic 5-speed automatic transmission, which features steering-wheel-mounted controls for shifting. Stepping on the accelerator at the start of my first stint behind the wheel of this beauty, I must admit I was a bit paranoid at first. After all, I was driving a car that didn't belong to me—with a sticker price around $167,000—through the pouring rain. But the car is so stable and easy to drive that I soon stopped worrying and began enjoying myself.

The first thing I noticed: the DB7 Vantage has plenty of power for passing trucks going up a mountain pass or just cruising at high speeds. With 85 percent of the 5.9-liter V12's peak 400 lb-ft of torque coming at just 1500 rpm, this car is very quick off the line. Aston Martin claims a 0-60 mph time of just five seconds. While I can attest to this impressive acceleration, I'll just take their word for it that the DB7 Vantage tops out at more than 180 mph.

Keeping the DB7 within the legal speed limit is not an easy task. Not only does the Aston feel like it is going much slower than the speedometer indicates, the sound of its V12 engine under acceleration is quite intoxicating.

This car has a very different presence than other exotic vehicle such as Ferraris or Bentleys. It doesn't scream "look at me," but other drivers seem to know it's something special. Other vehicles on the road immediately moved out of the way when I came up behind them. Before embarking on my drive, Aston reps warned me about other drivers drifting into my lane unknowingly while trying to get a better look at this beautiful car.

James Bond Movie Star

The DB7 Vantage is sold alongside the flagship of the Aston Martin lineup, the V12 Vanquish. The 460-horsepower V12 Vanquish was unveiled at the 2001 Geneva Motor Show and is the most advanced vehicle to ever emerge from the Aston factory in Newport Pagnell. The exotic materials used to construct a Vanquish include extruded aluminum, carbon fiber and other composite materials that provide a light but very strong body structure. Only 300 hand-built V12 Vanquish models are produced each year, and each is fully customizable to the customer's requirements, as are the DB7 models.

The V12 Vanquish also had a starring role in the latest James Bond film, Die Another Day. It had been many years since the world's most famous fictional spy had driven an Aston Martin. As part of the Power, Beauty & Soul Tour, the actual movie car is on display, complete with retractable machine guns and missiles protruding from the front grille. The interior is a bit unexpected—it contains only a driver's seat and a shifter that looks like it came out of a common sedan.

Video: Creating the Bond V12 Vanquish

New Models

Recently added to the DB7 lineup is the new DB7 GT. The DB7 Vantage has impressive stats, but is typically thought of as a touring car; the GT aims to satisfy aficionados who want the attributes of a sports car. The GT gets 15 more horsepower from its V12 power plant than the standard DB7 Vantage. The quick-shifting manual transmission has a racing clutch, and the active sport exhaust gives it a distinctive sound.

The DB AR1 will be the next new model from Aston. Shown for the first time at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, the AR1, which stands for American Roadster 1, completely sold out in about eight weeks. Only 99 AR1s will be built—not annually, but totally.

It takes more than simply having a lot of cash to purchase one of these rare Astons. The company met with each potential DB AR1 customer to be certain the car would be properly appreciated. Only company permits only one vehicle per customer; however, there were a few interested parties who used different names in different markets in attempts to obtain additional vehicles. All buyers have placed $50,000 deposits on their cars, which are expected to arrive in late fall for a mere $245,000.

Interested customers are already placing deposits on the AMV8 concept unveiled at this year's North American International Auto Show. The gorgeous concept is designed to be a more accessible Aston Martin, with a price expected to be around $100,000 to $110,000. The AMV8 has the Porsche 911 squarely in its sights. According to Cristina Bruzzi, the concept's reception in Detroit and Geneva was overwhelming. Since the sole purpose of the AMV8 is to gauge market interest, the car will be pulled from the auto show circuit in anticipation of eventual production.

The AMV8 will be built on an all-new platform at a new facility in Gaydon, England, that is still under construction. As its name suggests, the AMV8 will be powered by a V8 engine, but the details of that engine are still in development. Aston says there is no rush to get the car to market; it's likely to arrive sometime in 2005. And it will undoubtedly smell nice inside, too.

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