Aston Martin – Run of the ‘Mill’
“Okay, now take your hands off the wheel and hold them in the air,” urges Joe calmly. I glance at the digital speedo : 120mph. Is this man insane? Sort of. He’s an ultra-confident Aston Martin driving specialist. Sat Bal is driven to distraction.
Joe’s confidence wasn’t misplaced. And neither was my fledgling courage. With hands completely off the steering wheel and speed blurring to 127 mph I put my faith in two things: God - and Aston Martin’s engineering prowess.
The Vanquish Volante that I’m ‘driving’ is completely unfazed by my hands-free, high-speed mode. Instead this £200,000, 565 bhp rocket just steers itself, intuitively hugging the smooth curves of the High Speed Bowl track. The track is one of many at the sprawling Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire where high performance luxury cars are heedlessly thraped before making their debut to the public.
We’ve been invited here by Aston Martin to put its current models through their paces. Apart from the Vanquish Volante, the cars to be tested are the DB9 Volante, N430 V8 Vantage, Rapide S and V12 Vantage S.
A glimpse of Millbrook - and the Aston Martin N430
Millbrook is a sprawling high-security facility of undulating terrain and greenery. Here, the visions and hopes of car manufacturers are made manifest. Out on these tracks the rigorous ‘proving’ process tests new cars to their limits, turning theoretical into actual. Happily, at Millbrook the usual rules of road (and common) sense can be suspended. Runway-like roads encourage aircraft-like speeds. It’s the perfect environment in which to drive the velocity-hungry Aston Martin fleet. Let’s face it – when was the last time any of us allowed a car to perform on a British road?
Millbrook activity is veiled in secrecy because marques aren’t yet ready to unveil. Especially to journalists. Upon arrival our camera phones are immediately sealed with red tape so that we don’t take pictures of, inter alia, that smokin’ McLaren P1 that whizzed by.
The bronzed DB9 Volante
The ‘Bond’ association is inescapable here. From entering the high-security Millbrook facility where Bond’s Aston Martin was filmed tumbling over seven times (a record!) in Casino Royale to the enthusiastic celebration of the Bond connection by the Aston Martin marketing team. Indeed, one wonders whether transgression of the photography rules might open up our pristine pavilion floor to a tank full of sharks. We didn’t risk it.
Vanquish Volante poised for speed
Instead the risk, which soon turned to reward, is confined to driving the highly desirable luxury, sports cars that await us beyond the Aston Martin pavilion. The emphasis on luxury and sport is important because the lower speed drive does give a smooth, low-noise ride quality akin to luxury cars while the sport setting dramatically escalates the gentle engine burbling to the almighty roar that we typically associate with Aston Martins.
The sleek Rapide S saloon living up to its name
Out in the sun where the cars glisten, and the journalists glow, it’s clear that these machines want to be driven. Climbing into each one invokes a different automotive aura and personality. It’s quite simply the most inviting blend of craftsmanship and sublime interiors featuring sumptuous leather and tactile gem-like glass switchgear on the dash. See for yourself…
A timeless sports GT. The drive on the Handling Circuit track zig-zagged us through a manic course of blind crests and sharp turns in the Arizone Bronze Volante. Interior stitched by hand using the finest Bridge of Weir leather help to create a bespoke luxury cocoon.
Max Power : 517 PS/ 510 bhp Buy it: £143,495
Billed as the ultimate convertible GT the Teal Blue colour option has to be the most striking. The first fully carbon-fibre skinned Volante is powered by the AM11 V12 engine. The Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system belts out 1000W of sound and the car features an all-new centre stack.
Max Power 573PS/ 565 bhp. Buy it: £199,995
The Iconic V8 Vantage with intense ClubSport performance with an interior that celebrates the brand’s racing heritage. Aston Martin took its iconic sports car and produced a compelling special edition across five unique exterior specifications. The car’s distinctive ‘lipstick’ grill brings a playful flourish to proceedings.
Max Power 436 PS/ 430 bhp Buy it: £89,995
A striking Onyx Black luxury four-door offering that acted big but drove small on our Hill Route track. The opulent interior welcomes 4 adults into a luxuriously appointed cabin. The V12 powertrain combines power with elegant saloon style.
Max Power 558PS/550 bhp Buy it: £144,950
V12 Vantage S
Even Aston Martin describes this car as ‘extreme’. A 0-60mph of just 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 205mph explains why. Red Carpet hit 169mph of that top speed on Millbrook’s Mile Straight track. It doesn’t really get more visceral.
Power 573PS/ 565 bhp Buy it: £138,000
Images by Max Earey for Aston Martin