It may sound obvious to say, but there is good reason why James Bond chooses Aston Martin as his vehicle for high speed pursuits and dangerous stunt drives. They just might be the finest driving machines a super spy, or automotive journalist such as myself, will ever have opportunity to drive. This point was made clear on a recent city and backcountry tour in the United Kingdom.
Arriving in Gaydon, the exquisite World Headquarters for Aston Martin located in England’s historic Warwickshire County; our day begins with a personal guided tour of the factory.
In many ways, the word “factory” seems inappropriate as we walk through what is without doubt one of the most sophisticated and spotless production facilities anywhere in the world. Here state-of-the-art equipment works alongside a talented and markedly proud assembly crew to essentially hand build each car. The paint process itself takes 60 hours to complete. Time is money, and a lot of it is required to purchase an Aston Martin.
Soon after the tour is complete, I am provided with a set of keys for their newest creation, the impeccable Aston Martin Rapide. A first of its kind for the brand, it features 4 swan-doors and excellent room for up to four adults. Each occupant is provided with a sculpted, hand-stitched, leather seat, first-rate legroom and headroom and a driving experience certain to put a smile on the face of any secret agent and his bevy of beauties.
Performance comes by way of a mid-mounted all alloy 48-valve 6.0-litre V-12 engine. It produces an astounding 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 443 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. Matched to a rear mid-mounted 6-speed “Touchtronic 2” gearbox with electronic shift-by-wire control, it accelerates to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds while reaching a top speed of 296 km/h.
A rear-wheel drive sports car of the highest caliber, the standard rack-and-pinion set up with Servotronic speed-sensitive power-assisted steering performs at the highest level as we soon discover leaving the factory behind on a British-style lunchtime pub crawl. Fitted with 20” alloy wheels and 245/40 R20 front, 295/35 R20 rear Bridgestone Potenza high-performance tires, we make our way north and west out of the gated entrance.
In Canada, the idea of a backroad drive in the Aston Martin Rapide would be both stimulating and relaxing given the width of our highways and the potential for speed. I soon discover what we consider normal country roads back home are one-and-half lane byways in the UK with virtually no run off space, limited center-line markings and very large hedges obstructing my view forward.
Making this adventure even more exciting, I am driving on the opposite of the road from the right side of the car passing signs on a regular basis that state certain death is expected over the next 2 km’s, so please proceed with extra caution. For next the few hours, my concentration level is at an all-time high.
Rounding a corner, the approaching lorry appears to take up all but five feet of pavement. There is just enough time to steer around our impending doom before forging ahead to the next blind corner at near supersonic speed. Some might claim I am driving too fast, but my twitchy right foot is ready to move between the gas and brake pedals at a moment’s notice. Eventually we arrive at the Horse and Hound pub in the Cotswolds unscathed and mostly amused.
Our hotel destination of choice for this trip takes us into the heart of London, a short two hour drive south of Gaydon via the M40/M25/M4 and A4 highways.
The Athenaeum offers superlative accommodations located in one of London’s most beautiful districts, Mayfair. Across from the hotel, Green Park affords us a vibrant 10 minute stroll through time and history before reaching the main entrance of Buckingham Palace. The setting is quintessential London at its finest.
Spacious rooms and suites describe this luxury hotel. Our suites face the park, one designed as open concept; the other features separate living and bedroom accommodations. Each highlights a king-size bed, 42” plasma screen TV, Wi-Fi, Bose docking station and complimentary mini-bar.
Floor to ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural light. Warm colours dominate the wall and bathroom décor, while geometric patterns carpet the floor and vibrant red and browns highlight comfy furnishings. Meals are served in the stylish dining room located on the main floor. Afternoon tea, a British staple, takes place daily and London’s favourite Whisky Bar serves over 270 whiskies and mixed drinks in an intoxicating setting. After the day’s adventures, I’ll take mine straight up thank you, not shaken or stirred.
2011 Aston Martin Rapide
Price as tested (before taxes): $215,000
Options on test vehicle: Twin screen entertainment system
Configuration: mid-front engine/ rear-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 6.0-litre V12/6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 470 hp/ 443 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): Premium Unleaded (90.5L)
Fuel economy ratings: 17.3 L/100km city; 10.4 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 12.4 L/100km over 300 km
Warranties: 3 years/ unlimited km (basic)
Competitors: Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJL, Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Porsche Panamera
Where to Stay:
Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ