If you are an automotive journalist who socializes with people who don’t have a bizarre fascination with the automobile and its associated trivia (there’s not many of us, believe me), you will inevitably be asked a few stock questions at parties. Among them;
1) Wow, you have the best job in the world, don’t you? (The answer is, no, not really, but working at TTAC is great)
2) What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven? (The answer is, 30 thousand, 100 million)
This article answers another common question – “What do you think of (insert car here)?”, and more specifically, what happens when expectations and reality are not the same.
Jack Baruth already covered how to drive any exotic car you want. I didn’t follow all the steps, but the way I was able to get a test drive in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage at age 21 wasn’t that far off.
While in Vancouver for the launch of the Nissan Juke, I decided to extend my stay a couple of days. The program ended on a Friday, but staying until Sunday evening turned out to be slightly cheaper, and one of Nissan’s PR staff was doing the same thing. Journalistic integrity remained intact.
The Juke turned out to be a blast, but after the program was over, I went from my swanky hotel to my friend Andre’s house in trendy but quaint Kitsilano. Andre doesn’t give a lick about cars, but his house was situated a block away from Burrard Street, home of Vancouver’s well-trafficed exotic car dealerships.
Faced with the prospect of some time to kill before Andre returned home from work, I wandered in and out of the various dealerships. The kind gentleman at Aston Martin struck up a conversation with me, and I told him that I was looking at a Vantage with a 6-speed manual. In Vancouver, a young man looking at buying an exotic isn’t such a rare sight (though a white guy looking for such a car may have been). Seeking a good cover story, I told him that I owned a vending machine business in Toronto – how else could I justify being out and about on a Friday afternoon, dressed in shorts, a Polo shirt and Sperrys? A passive income business in an obscure field would help deflect any questions as to the legitimacy of my wealth and how it was obtained at an early age. We made an appointment for Saturday morning, when the roads were clear, and I even made sure not to drink on Friday night – an arduous task when visiting someone I got wasted with in high school, who now had a bunch of hard-drinking Kiwis as roommates.
I awoke that morning with an urgency that was akin to Christmas morning – or what I imagined that to be, since I will never know what it’s like to be saved by the Lord Jesus, and instead celebrate the remarkable longevity of olive oil. The salesman offered me a firm handshake and a surprisingly good cup of coffee as we chatted about cars. The Aston arrived, freshly detailed with a few thousand clicks on the odometer. Oh, and it was a paddle shift car. My disappointment faded as the car fired up with a melodious growl, and the salesman took me on a scenic tour of Vancouver, while I spun brilliant bullshit about my Alger-esque rise to fortune in the vending machine business.
The crisp mountain air and the V8 soundtrack only set me up for further disappointment. My turn to drive the Aston came and within a few kilometers, I was faced with the realization that this car was a giant letdown. The endless praises of Jeremy Clarkson and a million other magazines were just dead wrong. The car was gorgeous to look at, but an utter bore to drive. The engine was responsive, but not mind-blowingly quick. The brakes just felt wrong, the steering was heavy and numb, the paddle shift box was neither smooth nor responsive. Jeremy Clarkson once praised the Aston Vanquish for feeling like it was made in a factory by men with B.O. Well, so did the Vantage, and in this case, that’s hardly praise.
Scrape past the bullshit brand narratives spun by PR and journos alike, and the Aston seemed like an utter farce compared to the Porsche 911. A Jaguar XKR was tens of thousands cheaper, provided a similar driving experience and most
good-looking women bystanders couldn’t tell the difference.
When the new Camaro came out, I was invited to an early media drive, and I pronounced the car as a giant piece of crap. My review may have been tactless and bombastic, but I was one of the few who didn’t heap praise on the car, and I ended up being vindicated when all the buff books suddenly reversed course and said that it was just ok rather than a “neo-Corvette” with an “inventive interior” (give me a fucking break). I felt similarly duped with respect to the Aston. I expected the British rags, which heaped praise even on the Jaguar X-Type, to love it out of a sense of jingoistic obligation. But even American mags said that “it drives as well as it looks“. Not a chance.
This might be why when I tell party guests that the Aston is, to use a British-ism, dreadful, they look at me as if I was a convicted child molester knocking on their door, telling them about the heinous crimes I committed. It really is a turd wrapped in fancy wrapping, but of course, nobody in this business will admit it for fear of being cut off from the press fleet, and a chance to take a V12 Vantage to one’s high school reunion.
Fortunately, there’s a solution if you want something that is truly fun to drive and unique looking that won’t break the bank. A Nissan Juke. You can have 10 of them for the price of one Aston Martin.
N.B. the real secret to getting a test drive in a car while looking like a bum is an expensive watch. Anyone can buy a Ralph Lauren Polo shirt at Marshall’s. Dealers will look at your wrist to size you up. And the GT-R is boring as hell, even on a track. There, I said it.