2002 ASTON MARTIN DB7 VANTAGE VOLANTE
Gorgeous. Posh interior. Very fast. Exclusive. Docile.
Tiny rear seat area. Elfin audio controls. Where's the sporty exhaust sound?
The $155,500 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Volante convertible's 420-horsepower V-12 engine will whisk you to speeds you don't want to think about unless you've rented a race track. The DB7 is the most popular and successful Aston Martin model, with more than 4,000 sold by the small, exclusive British automaker.
Each DB7 is specified to meet a customer's requirements, with an almost infinite choice of body colors and upholstery schemes. The few changes for 2002 include an illuminated starter button; you turn the ignition key, then push the red button to fire up the engine." What kind of car is that?" a few people shouted as I glided past them in the DB7, which also is offered as a $145,500 Vantage coupe. "It's an Aston Martin--the James Bond car," I shouted back.
They smiled, the mystery solved for them. Aston Martin and James Bond movies have been closely associated with each other because Astons have been featured in Bond films since the 1960s. In fact, an Aston will be featured in the upcoming Bond movie. "Aston's association with those movies is one of the best things that happened to the car because few Americans previously knew about it," said veteran Aston Martin dealer Rick Mancuso, of Lake Forest Sportscars, which also sells Ferraris.
Aston history actually dates to 1914. The car had a colorful past long before the Bond movies, especially since British industrialist and auto racing buff David Brown bought the operation in 1947 and began making a long, famous sports car line.
The "DB" in the Aston name stands for "David Brown." Brown wasted no time making Aston better known in Europe. For instance, the beautiful Aston Martin DB2 of the early 1950s was a race-winning jewel. Aston won the world sports car racing championship in 1959, beating Ferrari and everyone else. The 1963-65 DB5 was the Aston Martin featured in the first Bond movies, and DB5 owners included celebrities such as rock star Mick Jagger.
"Ford's purchase of Aston also is a good thing," Mancuso said. "Otherwise, it would have gone out of business in today's tough auto world." Besides James Bond, who drives Astons?" Buyers generally are 45-65, whereas Ferrari buyers are 30-65," Mancuso said. "Aston buyers usually have owned many other sports cars, and want something very different but that doesn't draw much attention. Unlike a Ferrari, an Aston is understated. Owners like the fact that few people know what it is. "Mancuso also said that typical Aston buyers want to drive their cars on a regular basis, but demand very high performance and an ultraposh leather-and-wood interior.
"Volante" is how you say "convertible" at Aston Martin, and most Volante buyers get the five-speed automatic transmission, which can be deftly shifted like a clutchless manual. But Mancuso said half the buyers of the coupe want the six-speed manual transmission because that model is more appealing to serious auto buffs. My test Vantage Volante had the $5,500 Touchtronic automatic transmission, which shifted crisply.
The car is more fun with a manual gearbox, but has such great power and torque that such a transmission isn't needed to get breathtaking acceleration (0-60 mph in 5 seconds). The Aston Volante feels as if it has an unlimited amount of power.
Top speed is electronically limited in America to 165 mph, but an unregulated version goes a lot faster. The Aston picks up speed so smoothly and quickly that a driver suddenly can find himself moving much faster than he suspected. At 70 mph, the tachometer only reads 2,100 rpm. But the car is too quiet; at least a little sporty exhaust sound would be nice. Fuel economy is about 11 mpg in the city and 18 on highways, which isn't bad for such a fairly big, heavy car. The front-engine, rear-drive car weighs slightly more than 4,000 pounds.
There's decent room up front for long-legged occupants in comfortable bucket seats with good side support, although the console takes up a lot of room. The two beautifully upholstered rear seats are for children. The trunk is small, but nicely shaped. Long doors make it hard to get in and out of this low car in tight parking situations.
Options? How about an umbrella holder and golf umbrella in the trunk for $275 option. The premium audio system costs $2,550, but has tiny controls. Also, controls for the power driver's seat are a bit hard to reach on the lower side of the seat near the floor. The view of the long, curvaceous hood from the driver's seat will make a car buff feel as if he or she is in heaven. Steering is precise, and the car handles well, although you feel the weight when moving fast through curves.
The smooth ride gets a little bouncy on rough roads, although it's well-controlled. The brake pedal is a bit soft, but huge brakes stop the car quickly and surely. The Volante's structure is solid; bad roads don't cause squeaks, but elicit some steering wheel kickback. The well-padded power top has a heated glass window and works smoothly. It allows a quiet interior when raised. The top causes rear blind spots when up, but nicely sized outside mirrors help provide good rear visibility. One drawback is that most nearby cars can't go or stop as quickly as a DB7 Vantage. So it's best to keep more than an average distance from other vehicles. What a small price to pay.