The Truth About Cars » Aston Martin The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Aston Martin Aston Martin Teaming Up With Daimler For Premium SUV Tue, 01 Apr 2014 19:00:31 +0000 SC06_Aston_Martin_Vanquish_green

First Bentley, now Aston Martin wants an SUV for their lineup, with plans to team up with Daimler to make that vision reality.

Bloomberg reports the plan is related to a 5 percent stake in Aston Martin sold to Daimler last year in return for sharing technology with the English automaker, such as Mercedes AMG building V8 engines with Aston in the latter’s upcoming models.

Currently, talks are at the early stages, with signs of the new SUV not expected to come for another three years at the earliest. Aston is also debating whether or not to build a crossover using its own technology.

As for Aston overall, the automaker aims to sell 7,000 cars annually by 2016 by catering to demand in North American, South American and Asian markets.

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Say Hello To 144 Month Financing Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:14:55 +0000 SC06_Aston_Martin_Vanquish_green

One year ago, we reported on the alarming trend of 97 month loans for new car sales. It turns out that these have now been supplanted by a substantially longer term. Say hello to the 144 month loan.

TTAC has actually known about the 144 month loan for some time. As we discovered, certain fringe elements in the exotic car financing business have been offering these ultra-long terms, though with fairly stringent conditions (a high credit score and a substantial down payment).

Automotive News recounts the tale of one customer, a “business consultant” who financed a $300,000 Aston Martin on a 12 year loan

“…the Aston Martin buyer is a successful businessperson who made a hefty down payment, says a staffer at the Aston Martin dealership, who wished to remain anonymous. But stretching the amount financed over 144 months offered additional flexibility that the customer appreciated. And the buyer plans to pay the 12-year loan off early.”

Aside from the questionable judgement involved in financing any depreciating asset, let alone a fragile British exotic car, over a 12 year term, the sheer amount of time must be put in context. 12 years ago, the DB9 wasn’t even out yet. The Vanquish had barely been released. That period of time is an eternity in automotive terms – think about the difference between a 2002 Accord and a 2014 Accord – and by the time 2026 rolls around, the Aston in question will be a stale-looking money pit at best.

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Ur-Turn: The World Of Counterfeit Plastics Mon, 10 Feb 2014 14:00:28 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC reader Dean Trombetta is back, giving an insider’s look at a widely reported but mis-understood story involving automotive plastics.

Last week, Aston Martin announced the recall of more than 17,000 vehicles for defective throttle pedals. The term “counterfeit plastic”, was frequently mentioned in the story, and for those not in the plastics business, the term may seem confusing. We usually associate the term “counterfeit” with consumer goods, specifically luxury items like watches, handbags and women’s accessories. Despite being in the plastics industry, I wasn’t sure what initial reports were referencing. But further research has shed some more light on the matter, and there seem to be two possible scenarios at play here.

Typically, when a new plastic part is designed, the engineers pick a type of plastic for the part. They do not typically specify a specific grade, just a type such as “nylon 6/6″ or “ABS”. The blueprints are drawn for the part and a material specification is put on the print to call out what material is to be used.

The engineers at the OEMs have dozens and sometimes hundreds of material specifications that have been written over the years that provide detailed requirements for a plastic material such as UV resistance, tensile strength etc. When the tooling is complete, sample parts are molded with a material that meets the specification, and these initial parts are submitted to the OEM in what is referred to as a Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) package.

This package includes the parts and supporting documentation proving that the materials used are able to meet the specification on the print, and that the part has the correct dimensions. Once the package is approved by the OEM and production begins, the supplier is not allowed to change anything without submitting a new PPAP. This means that the supplier is not allowed to just willy-nilly switch the material to a cheaper grade without getting approval first.

GM, Ford and Chrysler have “approved source lists” attached to each material specification that actually call out specific grades of plastic that can be used. Upon getting the print, the supplier looks up the specification in a database and it tells them to use DuPont grade 123 or Dow grade 456. Strangely, GM Ford and Chrysler are really the only ones that do this. Virtually every other automaker does it differently. Only appearance parts and parts deemed critical have approved sources and all other parts have a specification only and the supplier is responsible for making sure the material they choose meets the specification. Suppliers to these other companies are still not allowed to switch materials without submitting a new PPAP after production begins.

However, for some suppliers, the temptation to use cheaper materials is too difficult to resist. They might switch to a cheaper grade and make sure that the new material still meets the specification or they might just hope that it meets. If a supplier gets caught using a “non-approved” material, they could get in some trouble and if this is discovered during a recall situation, things can really get ugly. This scenario is not that uncommon and is what I thought may have happened to Aston.

However, after hearing that representatives from DuPont were involved in the Aston Martin, I think something else might have happened.

There are currently over 60,000 grades of plastic available commercially. These materials all have different properties. There are a relative few chemical companies that actually convert petroleum distillate to plastic but most plastic parts are not made of this stuff. The raw material is sent to a compounder that melts the plastic down and adds all sorts of ingredients such as color, heat stabilizers, impact modifiers, UV stabilizers, reinforcements such as fiberglass and numerous other additives.

There are thousands of these compounders all over the world that take basic “virgin” plastic and convert it into the materials that are used to make automotive parts. Some of these compounders are very small companies. Often these compounders will get a sample of another manufacturers material and reverse engineer it. They can often find out what the properties are and make an “equivalent” grade. This is not illegal assuming that they are not violating any patents, and patents on plastic materials are exceedingly rare.

The line gets crossed when someone makes a material and then labels it using someone else’s trade name and grade number. To be fair, sometimes this happens innocently. Some grades of plastic such as DuPont Zytel 70G33 are so ubiquitous, that the grade has become synonymous with that type of material, in the way that brand names like Kleenex, Xerox and Coke are synonymous with the generic product. I run into many people that refer to all acetal material as “Delrin” which is actually another DuPont trade name. I personally believe that many compounders will refer to their own product with a brand name out of laziness, rather than any intent to deceive other parties.

Sometimes, the intentions are not so innocent. There was a big case in the 90′s that involved a company selling generic acetal resin and labeling it Celcon M90 which was and still is a trademark of a large manufacturer called Ticona. This company was even making counterfeit bags and boxes and providing fake test reports for the material. The owner of this company ended up serving 5 years in prison.

In the Aston Martin example, we can see how the idea of a “counterfeit” plastic part came to fruition. A Chinese compounder likely wanted to make an equivalent to the aforementioned Zytel 70G33, a common plastic for automotive applications. Ironically, the raw nylon to make this plastic has to be purchased from DuPont or BASF. Other additives like glass fiber, black pigment and copper based heat stabilizer can be purchased elsewhere.

While any given outfit can theoretically make this blend, doing it cheaper than DuPont is next to impossible. DuPont’s size enables them buy all of the ingredients at a much lower cost. In order to entice the supplier to buy the “generic equivalent” from your own small outfit, you have to cut a few corners to make up the cost difference. That means less heat stabilizer,  a cheaper coupling agent and even usng scrap nylon parts that are recycled into the mix.

All of a sudden, the material that might cost $3.50/lb from DuPont can be sold for 50 cents on the dollar. Just put the material in fake DuPont bags and provide some DuPont paper work that you made with a pirated version of Microsoft Word and you’re in business and pray that you don’t get discovered. This time, they ended up in a product that they had no business being in – a high-dollar exotic car.



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Daimler to Acquire Stake in Aston Martin in Exchange For AMG Engine Tech Fri, 20 Dec 2013 10:00:14 +0000 Aston Martin's current engines are assembled at a Ford facility near Cologne, Germany.

Aston Martin’s current engines are assembled at a Ford facility near Cologne, Germany.

In a non-cash deal, Daimler AG will supply Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. with technology and engine development in exchange for as much as a 5% non-voting stake in the British luxury sports car maker. The AMG performance division at Mercedes-Benz will jointly develop engines with Aston Martin for AM’s next generation models. Daimler also will get a non-voting observer on Aston Martin’s board of directors. Aston Martin currently buys engines from Ford Motor Company, an artifact of the time when Ford owned AM. The Aston Martin V12 is based on the Ford Duratec V6 and Aston’s V8 engine is based on the Jaguar V8, funded by Ford when it owned that luxury marque as well.

“This agreement is a real win-win for both sides,” Tobias Moers, head of Mercedes-AMG, said in a statement cited by Bloomberg.

Aston Martin is currently the only the only global luxury car maker that’s not part of a larger manufacturing group with which it can share development and component costs so it’s looking to control development costs of the new models.

In addition AMG supplying engine development, the companies are looking into other possible areas of cooperation including Daimler providing Aston Martin with electronic components . Today’s agreement formalizes a tentative deal reached in July. Earlier in the year, Aston Martin announced that it was going to invest 500 million pounds ($819 million) on its operations over the next four years. The century old car maker sold 3,800 cars last year.

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Aston Martin Cygnet Sent To The Tower Of London Tue, 01 Oct 2013 18:18:23 +0000 Aston_Martin_Cygnet_(82)

With just 143 examples registered in the UK, Aston Martin has quietly dropped the Cygnet city car – based on the Toyota iQ. According to UK mag Autocar, Aston Martin will also not be re-entering this space, and will focus on what it does best: making high end performance cars. Originally conceived as a way to meet strict European emissions rules, the Cygnet failed to meet Aston’s initial sales projections of 4000 units annually.

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Aston Martin & AMG Announce Technical Partnership, Daimler to Buy Up to 5% Stake in AM Fri, 26 Jul 2013 11:30:58 +0000 amamg

As part of an announced technical partnership between AMG, the performance subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz and Britain’s Aston Martin, Daimler will buy up to a 5% interest in the luxury performance car maker. The agreement will give AM “significant access” to the technical resources of both AMG and its parent. Aston Martin will use those resources to develop V8 engines and have access to Mercedes Benz’s electronic architecture and components.

Aston Martin product development director Ian Minards said, “We have selected AMG specifically as the basis for this powertrain development process.”

On behalf of AMG, the performance brand’s chief, Ola Kaellenius said that the technical partnership is “proof of AMG’s technological and performance expertise, and a real win-win situation for both sides.”

Aston Martin’s engines are currently supplied by Ford, which formerly owned AM, at a Cologne, Germany plant. Aston Martin’s V12 engine is based on the architecture of Ford’s Duratec V6 engine. Aston’s V8 is a hand assembled version of the Jaguar AJ V8 engine, a practice that started when Ford owned both of those companies.

Automotive analysts say that the deal helps Aston Martin avoid the substantial costs of not just engine development, but also electronic systems, which have become increasingly important in the auto industry.

For Daimler, it gets to amortize some AMG costs and gives it a foothold to take control of Aston Martin later should its current investors want to pull out. Moody’s currently rates Aston Martin at B3, non-investment grade. Last year, the Investindustrial group of Italy bought a 37.5% share in the company for $241 million, through a capital increase negotiated with majority owner Investment Dar, a sovereign-wealth fund of Kuwait.

Aston Martin is currently the only premier luxury car maker that is not owned by a larger automotive group. In January, Aston Martin announced plans to invest spend $765 over the next four years to keep pace with VAG owned Bentley and Fiat owned Ferrari and Maserati. The UK company has had a rough go of it since the economic crisis of 2008, with a 9% drop in profits in 2012, and a 10% decline in sales, to ~3,800 cars.

So far, Daimler and Aston Martin have only signed a letter of intent, with definitive agreements to be inked later this year, pending regulatory approval. Daimler will buy the 5% stake in stages, depending on the progress of the technical partnership, and its stock will be non-voting shares.


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Review: 2014 Aston Martin Rapide S Mon, 08 Jul 2013 12:18:32 +0000 IMG_4306

The penultimate set of bends along the road course at Atlanta Motorsports Park, located in God’s own country about an hour outside of the big city, is a serpentine testament to all of the things that make motoring exciting. Triple-digit speeds approach quickly. The checkered start line quickly becomes a blurred memory. Warm tires grip the tarmac as beads of perspiration mount for the upcoming lap.



Barreling down the track’s final straight – the only section of the track devoid of sharp changes in camber and elevation – induces a childlike sense of wonderment, not unlike that of being directed by a sled down a steep, snow-covered hill. In an ordinary beater, there’s nothing more fun than testing the limits of grip and adhesion. When the track day chariot is the latest iteration of Aston Martin’s six-figure supersedan, the 550-horsepower Rapide S, clenched jaws and white knuckles are mandatory accessories to the dopiest of grins.

The opportunity to try out the brand’s revised four-door coupe on a private, purpose-built racetrack invited a unique opportunity to experience the Rapide S in a way that only a handful of owners might. A crowded, suburban mall parking lot might have been a more realistic test of the Rapide S’s workaday capabilities, but exposure on the track was to demonstrate the most significant upgrades to last year’s model. Key among them is an increase of 80 horsepower and 14 lb-ft. of torque, which give an unnecessary but welcome bump to the 6.0-liter V-12’s already massive power. The last time anyone tried to buy six liters of anything this potent, Mayor Bloomberg made it illegal.


Along the bends of AMP, this power translated to delightfully quick forward motion, delivered via a conventional, six-speed automatic gearbox. The engine and transmission pairing, devoid of the gimmickry of a dual-clutch transmission, was smooth and fast-acting. Well-heeled buyers will likely be swayed by the ease and relative simplicity of operation as well as the symphonic rush of snaps, crackles, and pops from the exhaust pipe – the humble brag-equivalent of a less than subtle machine.

Aston Martin claim that the Rapide S has a near-perfect weight distribution, and it showed, while hurtling a two-ton sedan along the undulating corners of the track. Roll and dive were neatly controlled and maintained, even in tight spots, and the adjustable suspension was useful in soaking up what few abrasions lay in the tarmac. For those who will use their Rapide S on runs to high-end grocery stores, Comfort mode changes the damping to allow the big Aston to glide over the pavement; in Track mode, the adaptive shocks hunker the Rapide S down.


On the track, the Rapide S handled brilliantly. Remember that straightaway from a couple of paragraphs ago? In most other high-performance sedans, the sheer mass and proportions would dissuade owners from attending a track day designed to toss them around and plow, head-first, toward a retaining wall. The shared roots of the DB9 are evident here, especially in Track Mode. Be advised that turning Track Mode off is a good idea for your daily commute, lest you spill your latte all over your Incotex trousers.

The most noticeable difference is the one that most drivers will see in their rear-view mirrors: a restyled front grille that now comprises a massive, one-piece unit. The new grille is entirely fitting, regardless of the disapproving opinions of armchair journalists and jaded potential purchasers. Without pretense, this generation of Aston Martins, from the V8 Vantage to the Vanquish, exudes the elegance.The Rapide S is no different, and continues to seduce with elegant character lines that sweep from the front bumpers to the rear hip lines.

The interior receives minimal changes. The hand-sewn, hand-stitched, white glove-treated interior of the outgoing model is retained, along with the navigation system which is frustrating to operate The button-laden center stack, and standard Bang and Olufsen sound system also stick around. The entire cabin smells of a well-treated baseball glove, and not coincidentally, fits the driver and three passengers like one. Much has already been made about the rear bucket seats, and entry into them and egress from them. Put simply, they are more than sufficient for short trips, even for full-size adults. But buyers in this luxury segment have other options, if commuting takes precedence over performance, namely the Bentley Flying Spur and the Porsche Panamera Turbo.

And that’s the overall message driven home by the Rapide S: no amount of thrust was sublimated for the sake of driver and passenger comfort. It strikes a unique balance of sportiness and luxury in a segment ramping up, once again, thanks to signs of an improving economy. On and off the track, the sound and the fury of the V-12 will make happy buyers fall in love with the Rapide S on a regular basis. Bolstered by the full complement of luxury, and wrapped in a shapely cocktail dress, the Rapide S exemplifies the rare case of being all things to all people — if those people are a select few.

Disclaimer: Aston Martin provided flights, meals and accommodations to and from the Atlanta track day.

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Vellum Venom: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid Tue, 02 Jul 2013 12:00:25 +0000

Aside from the fame, fortune and talent, my design school stylings were criticized much like the early works of one Mister Lenny Kravitz.  I felt, as idiotic as it seems now, both of us were pigeonholed for our unabashed use of “influence” in our art. Kravitz overcame. I left the College for Creative Studies to pursue a less interesting career.  A career that makes me travel. With rental cars.

How fitting that I’d be blessed (cursed?) with The Son of Aston: the Ford Fusion Hybrid for 8 days and 800 miles. 



This was my constant companion from Oklahoma City to Kansas City.  The Texas plate made me feel more at home while avoiding a horrible storm that pummeled the city of Moore, but that beautifully disgusting Aston Martin grille was a constant reminder that I couldn’t be a car designer while THIS actually made production.

So beautiful, yet so offensive.  Somewhere between Tulsa and the Kansas border, I decided that there’s simply no fv*king way this facade would get an “A” in a design school’s studio review.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, that’s for sure.



There are some vehicles that look overstyled when you mirror the elements from left to right.  The Fusion isn’t busy, it’s downright perfect.  Every crease and muscular fold compliments the other.  The powerdome hood is too cool for any family sedan, the bumper cover is creased to perfectly compliment the grille, and the headlights sweep far back to give an aggressive appearance. And the lower valence’s speed holes add race car style without looking like an afterthought. (cough, Camry SE)

The Fusion looks expensive and assertive.  There’s so much attention to detail presented here!  Question is, how much of that detail was already hashed out by Aston Martin?  And can we approve of this?



Dare I say it, the headlights look BETTER than the pods presented on the Aston Martin from whence this schnoz came from.  From this angle, the Fusion looks like a low slung sports car, not a boxy sedan sitting as tall as a CUV.



Light absolutely dances on the Fusion’s bumper.  The subtle bends turn the sunlight into logical extensions of line that doesn’t technically exist…but they somehow do.  The line I’m pointing to blends nicely into the powerdome hood only inches behind. The details never cease to amaze on Ford’s Fusion.



Even the beveled silver border with recessed blue oval looks far more expensive than any other corporate logo at this price point. Damn.




Many of those logical lines in the front bumper sweep back into this power dome hood. And the plateau is far from a simple square or trapezoid in cross-section: as you can tell from the different grade of shadowing, the Fusion’s dome has (some of) the flair of a late-model 7-series BMW.



The fluted grille reminds me of my first car, a 1965 Ford Galaxie. Perhaps it’s a hat-tip to the Norelco chrome grille of the first Fusion. The detailing is absolutely stunning: this is Cadillac worthy.


Surprisingly, the lower valence’s grille is just as precisely designed…just without the chrome plating.  Even the teeth’s bends and the frame’s shape compliments the main grille.


Of course they match for a reason. Ford even added a little crease in the bumper to make sure you noticed how both grilles “talk” to each other. Nice.

(Disregard the bug splatter, I wasn’t gonna wash a rental car just to make YOU happy!)


The lower valence has a sporty “body kit” feel to it, without being tacked on like many modern Toyota products.  Ford has something to prove in this market, and prove it they do. Even the scalloped area near the lower grille looks like a far more expensive car.



Luckily the solid black plastic panel around the fog light brings us back to reality. Nice touch with the chrome ring’d fog light, however.



While most new vehicles are finally abandoning the googly-eyed, oversized plasti-chrome headlights from the last decade, the Fusion does it the best.  Just the right amount of squinty, never small enough to get lost on this fairly large face…from any angle.



Massive power dome hood is…massive!  Only now does this front end look more like a boxy, modern FWD sedan and not something from Aston Martin. Note how much painted fender there is relative to the front wheel.  Things are getting chunky!

That said, I must compliment Ford on the transition from sexy Aston Martin to boring Camry-competitor.  This transition shows great attention to detail.

15By the way, I saw plenty of other rental cars during my travels.  The only one I really wanted besides the Fusion was a damn Crown Vic Kia Optima.  Note how both family sedans have a somewhat bullet-ish nose, but one doesn’t look like a Chinese knock-off of an Aston Martin.



This Fusion Hybrid sported 17″ wheels that wouldn’t look out of place on a baseline, super cheap to lease BMW sedan. Too bad the nose couldn’t move forward and downward…like the Aston Martin from whence it came. Sadly, nerdy family sedans are just that.


18Welcome to Tallsville: population, this guy. The Fusion’s 17″ hoops are positively lost in the height and bulk of the body.  The fenders need a good 6″ of length to justify that nose. The space between the cowl and the front wheel (dash-to-axle) is short and static.  Which kinda ruins everything: the A-pillar obviously wants to begin at a point between the cowl and front wheel.  Too bad it can’t flow right…because this chassis isn’t shaped like a Crown Vic an Aston Martin.

All the sculpturing of the Aston-inspired nose is gone…or is it?



Like modern BMWs, the Fusion creates many layers that hope to keep you from noticing its lofty height. With all this real estate, the good car designers make something that catches the light, plays with it, and fascinates the onlooker. Since demanding the cowl of a Panther Chassis is stupid even by my brain’s distorted standards, what we see here ain’t half bad.




Oh, except for that clumsy and fat A-pillar.  And the DLO fail.  Demanding the cowl (and resultant A-pillar) of a Panther would be nice, as it wouldn’t mean we’d need a black plastic triangle (with chrome trim!) to give the illusion that the greenhouse (the glass area) is sleeker than it is in reality.

Even worse, there’s a fixed vent window in the door.  Nothing wrong with that on the Aston, because it has a far more “Panther Like” cowl and A-pillar. We can’t expect the Fusion to have a DLO as lovely as an Aston, or a 2004 Nissan Versa Hatchback.



It sure is a pity, that your DLO fail couldn’t be a 2004 Nissan Versa hatchback instead. But from here, the short (width) and tall (height) of the Fusion’s dash-to-axle ratio could branch out into a vehicle that doesn’t try too hard to be sporty, swoopy.


These fancy heated,  bi-focal’d mirrors not only look cool, they definitely help with visibility.  A good thing, since the greenhouse of this faux-Aston is pretty horrible when it comes to avoiding highway traffic. I felt like a kid in a school bus…which isn’t unique to the Fusion in this class, of course.



The different planes and textures of the side view mirrors were fun to analyze in the hotel parking lot.  I only wish the signal light was flush, sharing the same external plane of the silver painted housing.



Everything is fun here.  There’s plenty of surface tension in the fold below the glass work, and there’s a subtle yet speedy crease near the bottom that keeps this tall vehicle from looking static.  It works, mostly because it does the job without looking busy.


The door’s stamping gives extra visual excitement to the form presented by the handle.  The “30-60-90 triangle” look of the lower door handle area compliments the actual door handle, unlike the amorphus blob presented in same area by many other vehicles.  It looks like it’s dying for an old school key lock! Me likey.



Wasn’t too thrilled about the slop in the plastic door handle itself.  And this wasn’t an abused rental…at least not at 1200 miles.


The Lincoln-Mercury fanboi of the 1980s within me totally adores Ford’s new keyless entry interface. Flush, completely invisible until it’s needed: a logical extension of the flush-button’d 1980 Thunderbird that started it all. Too bad I couldn’t find the code to use it.  I checked the trunk hinges for a 5-digit code like a proper Dearborn Man would…until I realized it hasn’t been there in decades, either. Rats.



Aside from the need for 20+ inch rims to put this body in proportion, this is a surprisingly sleek C-pillar and rear door. There’s a big window in lieu of DLO fail, the hard folds from the center section are starting to fade away, and the ever-so-gentle bend of the rear door’s cutline near the rear wheel: all are the marks of a well planned design.

My only concern is the harsh fold around the wheel arches: a more organic bend would keep one’s eyes from fixating on the oversized wheel arches and undersized wheels.



The big plastic pillar needed for the rear window to roll down is a nice, shiny one piece affair.  Good enough.



There’s a mild taper in the C-pillar, and a shocking amount of sculpture in the quarter panels and rear doors.  From this angle, the Fusion is just a two-tone paint job away from being an optimistic 1950s Jet Age design!



This is a faaaaaast C-pillar.  It’s lovely to behold, unless you’re in the driver’s seat. Then you curse it for blocking everything in sight.

Much like the front bumper, notice how light and shadow dance in different shades at the top of the (upper) C-pillar, in the gentle bend of the (lower) C-pillar’s taper as it blends into the hard edge in the middle of the body.


Also note that the fuel filler door is smack dab in the middle of the crease.  While not offensive, illogical, or asymmetrical, the door looks a bit silly with such a strong crease in it.


Our man Ronnie already covered this quality control snafu, and it’s sad to see he wasn’t lying.  I love how many modern cars use “floating” rear glass with no fat black gasket, but what if they don’t finish the metal underneath to the same level of brilliance as every other panel?


The CHMSL lives within a unique polished black container that juts out from the natural sweep of the roofline. This looks cheap and unrefined, like the bad old days of pre-Bankruptcy General Motors designs. (except with better materials, ‘natch.)Why the CHMSL can’t be as flush and invisible as the keyless entry keypad is beyond me. Put it inside the cabin like everyone else!



Ain’t technology grand?  This wouldn’t be nearly as beautiful if there was a big rubber gasket around the rear window. Just a lovely form.




Unfortunately the Fusion’s back end can’t mask the height nearly as well as the front.  The trunk’s cutline extends far below the logical end point (where the bumper normally begins). The rear bumper is flush enough to make that CHMSL up there a little jealous.  It’s all very flat and tall.



Something about these “furrowed eyebrow” taillights isn’t pleasant enough to go with the Aston Martin front end.  If you were ripping off the Aston for the front, why not do the rear too?  If it worked for the Jaguar XF…


And the plastic insert between the taillights looks out of proportion with…WAIT, WHUT?  IS DAT HYBRID BADGE ON CROOKED? Damn son, are you kidding me?



Back to that plastic bit. I’d prefer that cutline started where my other finger’s located on the taillight.


Or even better, eliminate the plastic trim and be like my neighbor here in the hotel’s self-serve parking lot. Much nicer!


The panel gap around the trunk was also a bit unsettling, after you got over the crooked emblem.


And there’s something counter-intuitive about a trunk that cuts this deep into the body.  Perhaps it will make more sense if I look at the cross-section of the trunk itself.



Chunky and clumsy.  I wish the trunk wasn’t flush with the bumper, if only it was sunken in like the Optima in the above photo.


Luckily Ford didn’t cut corners down here, either.  Just like the front valence, the rear’s chrome exhaust, black plastic “visual bulk reducer” and extra reflector (markers or fog lights in Europe, I suppose) lenses look suitably expensive from here.



Note the negative area in the black plastic, and how it matches the same area at the bottom of the silver painted bumper. Shades of the symmetry seen on the front bumper!



I also adore this little bevel to “introduce” the red taillight to the silver quarter panel. It’s a subtle bend that blends with all the more aggressive creases on the same quarter panel.


So what’s the end result?  Is the Fusion too strongly influenced?  Should we care since Aston Martin is also willing slap their face on anything to make a quick buck?


Too much influence!

This wouldn’t fly if a broke-ass design student (peep the tuition rates for design school) used this level of “influence” in design school.  While any student would be publicly, mercilessly humiliated for grafting an Aston Martin nose on their family sedan proposal, they’d be dragged out of the studio by the short hairs for making the C-MAX.

No way in hell this would be considered “A” work for a design student. Is it worth a “B”?  Maybe a “C,”  I think. Then again, FoMoCo writes some big-ass checks to all the major design schools..and offers priceless internships for would-be designers. 



In the end, I’d love the Fusion if it was on the same platform that pinned the GEN III Taurus.  Such a low beltline, low taillights and an open and airy greenhouse.  Put the Fusion’s design elements on this Taurus and you’d have a far more honest tribute to an Aston Martin.  If that’s what Ford actually wanted.

This was taken in front of the birthplace Will Rogers, entertainer and informer extraordinaire.  He famously remarked, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I suspect he never met the critics in a design studio…

or a snotty auto blogger, for that matter.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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After The Tragedy, Some Thoughts About Racing Injuries Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:00:17 +0000 Picture courtesy Canberra Times

When Allan Simonsen crashed his Aston Martin in the opening minutes of LeMans and lost his life, it was a brutal reminder of the fact that auto racing has not, despite the vast amount of intelligent effort put into safety and crash survival, lost its power to end a driver’s life.

The precise mechanism of, and reasons for, Mr. Simonsen’s death are not yet known. However, on Sunday night noted racing instructor Peter Krause shared a new article that delves into the risks drivers face and offers reasoned, intelligent explanations as to how these things happen.

Written by Dr. James Norman, Race Car Deaths: The Medical Causes of Racing Deaths with Examples and Resulting Race Car Improvements discusses how drivers are critically injured and how those injuries can be prevented. It’s worth reading, even if you aren’t particularly concerned with competition, because many of these injury mechanisms also occur on the street. If you want to know how people are killed behind the wheel, this will explain that without hyperbole.

Some of my racer friends are extremely upset at the fact that the barrier at Tertre Rouge was pretty close to a tree and that the LeMans course doesn’t really measure up to F1 safety standards even though the cars reach F1 velocities. They have a point, but I don’t think it will ever be possible to take the risk entirely out of wheel-to-wheel competition. Speaking frankly, I wouldn’t want them to… but I’m still above ground, and I still have my choices, don’t I?

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Aston Martin V12 Vantage Loses A Pedal, Refuses To Die Wed, 29 May 2013 11:00:20 +0000 Aston Martin Vantage. Photo courtesy Aston Martin.

Despite a wistful tribute to one of the most outrageous sports cars on the planet, Jeremy Clarkson was wrong. We will see another car like the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. But something is missing.

The V12 Vantage S gets a 50 horsepower bump and a 37 lb-ft boost in torque. Final power figures are 565 ponies and 475 lb-ft of torque. Top speed is now 205 mph while 60 mph comes up in 4 seconds. A 7-speed automated manual is the sole gearbox option – unfortunately, the three-pedal gearbox goes bye-bye.

In a way, Clarkson was right. The lack of a manual gearbox means the end of an era – as far as I know, there are no more V12 powered sports cars available with a real manual gearbox. But in the grand scheme of things, I am ok with it. It’s a small price to pay. When every supercar is employing some kind of hybrid system or turbocharged engine, we have a real, honest to goodness naturally aspirated V12 crammed into Aston’s smallest bodyshell. My guerrilla antics with the V8 Vantage means that I’ll probably never drive one of these, barring a sudden Powerball win or the kind of marriage that necessitates a pre-nup. But I’m glad that it exists.

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Capsule Review: Aston Martin DB9 Wed, 08 May 2013 13:00:35 +0000  


A quiet and unnoticed getaway is hardly a fait accompli in the auto-centric city of Los Angeles, where street-parked Italian exotics are a given, and even the peons seem to manage to procure a Mercedes-Benz C-class.

The task is made especially difficult when your getaway car is an Aston Martin DB9.  But not for any of the obvious reasons.

On Friday morning, the generous folks at Aston Martin tossed me the key — erm, crystallized emotion control unit — to a vermilion example of its refreshed-for-2013 DB9 coupe.  Twelve minutes later, I was already on the road, to see if James Bond’s personal transportation would pass muster against the vapidity of style-conscious Angelenos.  That’s when I hit my first traffic jam.  And then a spot of late-winter drizzle descended from no place in particular, exacerbating the whole mess.  The traffic trudged for miles.  By the time I reached the outskirts of Santa Monica, my thoughts turned to a parking space and a cold drink, lest a valet attempt to wrest the DB9 from my hands.

That evening, following several rides given to friends, and glamour poses taken in front of homes worth half as much as the car in front of them, I decided to rest the DB9 in the aegis of my girlfriend’s apartment.  After an afternoon’s worth of driving, I hadn’t seen as much as fourth gear, or had the opportunity to truly answer the question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: “So, how fast is it?”

The coupe from Britain with the six-figure price tag sat outside as dusk turned to nightfall.  Much to my girlfriend’s disenchantment, I vowed to check on the DB9 every hour until morning.  At midnight, I could hear stumbling barflies audibly ogling the carbon-ceramic brakes.  An hour later, I swore that I woke up not to the alarm from my phone, but to a pigeon defiling the DB9’s roof from the overhead power lines.  My overprotective instincts were working overtime.

Upon realizing that there were no power lines remotely near the DB9, I grabbed my overnight bag and headed for the door.  I was entirely sure that this was the same feeling of a nervous parent the first night that a newborn sleeps at home.  To my sleeping girlfriend, I texted, “I’ve left you for the DB9.  See you in the morning.”

I tiptoed down the staircase and slipped quietly into the cockpit to reacquaint myself with the driver’s seat.  For the first time, light shone on all of the gauges and switchgear.  The wanton aroma of buttery leather was all-consuming.  With tired eyes, I gazed ahead at the suggestive, 220-mph speedometer.  It’ll never happen on these streets.

At five minutes to three, the DB9 roared to life with typical, unrestrained aggressiveness from the engine bay that could wake the entire neighborhood.  I selected D from the push-button transmission, and slunk as respectfully as possible toward the highway.  A gentleman, standing on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard, turned his head up from his cell phone and smiled when he saw the DB9 approaching.  Two quick turns later, I approached the entrance to the freeway and depressed the aluminum shift paddle to slow the DB9.

It was a warm night on the west side of Los Angeles, and my night-owl routine from my time spent in Manhattan seemed about ready to pay off.  The roads were never this empty.

I couldn’t have been giddier as I stepped hard on the gas pedal to enter the highway.  The intuitive feedback gleaned from the DB9’s chassis, in perfect concert with its hellacious powerplant, made quick work of the on-ramp, and the subsequent transition to Interstate 10, which required the negotiation of four lanes of a banked overpass.  A rented Corolla sped by in the leftmost lane, doing about 25 over the speed limit, perhaps to the white-knuckled dissatisfaction of its driver.  A quick downshift and a blip of throttle caught me up to him.  I relished the routine.  Smile.  Quick turn of the head.  Approving but disbelieving faces from the backseat passengers.  Smile again.

All this, even as the DB9 nears a decade of production, with few major changes prior to the ‘13’s mostly mechanical refresh.

As I neared downtown, I took pleasure in the fact that I was not confined to the cemented cesspool of interlocking byways, on the daily commute.  The Garmin-sourced navigation system was suddenly of no use.  The V-12 seemed to have endless power, with no real effort required to access it.  I ran my hand along the soft, leather stitching that covered the center console, as well as every surface not bedecked in aluminum or suede.  Although the interior design is similarly old, it benefited from the careful restraint that Concours judges might one day commend.

When I finally reached home — following several quick exits, for the pleasure of obtaining screaming on-ramp performances every time — I was wide-awake, and somehow disappointed that the drive felt shorter than usual.  My personal car spent the remainder of the pre-dawn hours outside the garage, as the DB9 commanded deference, respect; payment of tribute would later arrive in the form of multiple trips for fuel, to the adoring eyes of passers-by.

I spent the remainder of my time with the DB9 flogging it every which way, making friends titter as the crimson beast sped breathlessly down on-ramps. (You never really know who your friends are until you offer to show up at their homes and places of business with a $207,000 conversation piece.)  I marveled at the crispness of Dionne Warwick’s alto inflection, as conveyed through 1000 Bang & Olufsen watts. I loaded its shallow trunk with a weekend’s worth of groceries, and prayed that the baba ghannouj would stay upright.  One expeditious adult passenger climbed into the rear seats, but not for long.

After 72 short hours of random acts of automotive kindness performed for friends, family, and total strangers, it became terribly clear that living with an automobile as special as the DB9 was an indulgence unto itself that ought to be shared with as many people as possible.  As your senses beckon you out for a joyride, and you simply cannot resist letting all 12 cylinders howl into the night, forget about trying not to wake the neighbors.

Luxury is about tasteful sharing of the wealth.  And the DB9 is a top-tier expression of luxury, beauty, and desire, without peer.

Who’s ever tried to make a quiet getaway, anyway?

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Residual Value Miracle Aston Martin To Fetch Millions Tue, 30 Apr 2013 12:57:58 +0000

A car bought in 1956 for $15,000 is expected to sell for between $1.5 million and $2 million when it goes on auction in November.  It is expected to be the star of Sotheby’s first significant auction of collector cars in more than a decade, where some 35 prewar French cars, postwar American and European sports cars, as well as American and European classics will vie for the attention and wallets of affluent car nuts.

The 1956 Aston Martin is one of 15 with the so-called Supersonic bodies created by Ghia, and it is the only completed on an Aston Martin chassis, the Wall Street Journal says. The car was bought by Richard Cox Cowell, heir to an oil fortune, and turned into a present to Cowell’s young bride, the 19 year old blond Gail Whitney, a New York society debutante and member of the Vanderbilt clan.

The marriage was on the rocks a year later. After the divorce in in 1959, the car changed hands among “a who’s who of serious car collectors, including the current seller, Louisville collector James Patterson,” says the Journal. Its recent restoration alone is worth between $300,000 and $400,000, the Journal was told.

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The Confusing World of Aston Martin Wed, 06 Mar 2013 16:10:36 +0000


In the last two years, Aston Martin has offered six different models. They’re all rear-wheel drive. They all look the same. They all offer V12 engines with roughly 500 horsepower. And yet the most expensive one costs twice as much as the cheapest one.


If you’re confused, so are Aston dealers. The rich people who buy them aren’t, but that’s only because they arrive at the dealer, point to the one they want, and say “that one,” without regards to whether it’s a DB9, a Vanquish or a showroom alloy wheel display. Not that they could tell the difference anyway.

Fortunately, after two intensive months of Pontiff-emeritus style quiet reflection, I’m here to help you pick your way through the enormous mess that is Aston Martin’s current automotive lineup. And don’t worry: this isn’t just another post complaining about how they all look the same. Instead, I’m coming to you with real, hard facts, as you’ve come to expect after my post about the perfect first car.

A brief history

Let’s start with the basics. Ten years ago, and also twenty years ago, Aston made a car called the DB7. It was basically a Jaguar XK8 except, somehow, it had worse switchgear. The climate controls were from a Ford Mustang. The key fob was from a Ford Explorer. But the engine was from Aston itself, which practically guaranteed smooth operation for at least nine weeks after purchase.

Eventually, the DB7 was joined by a more modern car called the Vanquish, which is generally agreed to be the most beautiful car ever to use the Ford Focus’s turn signal stalks. Times were good. Everyone loved the Vanquish, except those who drove it, since its automatic transmission was designed to mimic the abilities of an 18-year-old who’s new to the stick shift. But who cares about jerky upshifts when it looks this good?

Following up the DB7

The trouble started in 2005, when it was time to replace the DB7. Aston debuted a car called the DB9, uncharacteristically skipping DB8 altogether because it was that good. And good it was: sleek styling. Beautiful presence. Rear-wheel drive. And a 6.0-liter V12 with nearly 500 horsepower under the hood.

There was just one problem: that car already existed. It was called the Vanquish. It also had sleek styling. It also had beautiful presence. It also had rear-wheel drive. And its 5.9-liter V12 produced 450 horsepower – just 20 shy of the DB9.

There was another problem, too: the cars looked similar. Not the same, mind you, but enough to get a few people asking questions. Namely, why does the more powerful DB9 cost $155,000, while the older, slower Vanquish costs $235,000? To rectify the situation, Aston quickly rushed a more powerful Vanquish to the market: the Vanquish S. It had 514 horses – 44 more than the DB9 – and alloy wheels with so many spokes that their function may have been solely to annoy car wash employees.

Enter the entry level

The Aston Martin range expanded again in 2006 with the arrival of a cheaper model called the V8 Vantage, which employed a unique strategy: not offering a 500-horsepower V12. It was priced from $110,000. That meant three Astons were now on sale: the V8 Vantage, the DB9 and the Vanquish, which – despite the new S model – was only being sold to the “I’ll have that one” crowd. And even then, at $10,000 under sticker.

The arrival of the Vantage brought more grumbles about styling. ‘The V8 Vantage looks too similar to the other two,’ people complained. Personally, I never understood that criticism. To me, the Vantage has some similar lines to the DB9, but the similarity ends with its overall proportions: the Vantage looks like the DB9’s baby brother. Or perhaps its offspring. Then again, I can tell apart a Sable and a Taurus, so my opinions on this topic may be in the minority.

A new flagship

By 2007, the only Vanquish units being sold were the result of “accidental” dealership fires, so Aston pulled the plug. This coincided with a new owner for the brand, which is the only way to explain the unusual decisions that have happened since.

In place of the DB9 came a new flagship, which Aston called the DBS, apparently because they were now too cool for numbers. And thus the confusion began. The DBS was based on the DB9. That meant it shared virtually everything, including the body panels. Indeed, exterior differences were slim. Clear tail lights to wow the Altezza crowd. A body kit. New wheels. Even for us Taurus/Sable spotters, it was a stretch.

Under the hood, the differences were even slimmer: both cars had V12s that displaced around six liters. The only advantage the DBS offered was 510 horsepower to the DB9’s 470.

I know what you’re thinking: so the DBS had a bodykit and 40 horses. What’s the big deal? Sounds like the Civic Si! Ah, yes. But while the Civic Si costs only $2,000 more than a Civic EX – or about 9 percent – the DBS was a full $100,000 more than the DB9. Even in Aston world, this is something like a 60 percent premium. For 40 horsepower and some Altezza tails.

What’s worse: people paid it. Because of the DBS’s use in Casino Royale, people lined up with money in hand to purchase the body-kitted DB9 as if it was actually worth the $265,000 Aston was charging. Unfortunately, this only encouraged Aston’s new owners to continue the madness.

It gets better before it gets worse

The 2010 model year finally brought in some new blood to the Aston world. That came in the form of the Rapide, a four-door sedan that still managed to look like all of the brand’s two door cars. Somehow, it also had about the same legroom. And, annoyingly, it had the same sixish-liter V12 that put out about 500 horsepower.

But at least it breathed new life into the Aston Martin lineup. Finally, one could again make the argument that the brand once again had three distinct models. Everyone was happy and all was right in the world, until…

Another DB9-based Aston debuts

If the DB9 and DBS weren’t bad enough, Aston decided in 2011 to add an entirely new model that somehow fell between them. Yes, that’s right: the DB9 is a four-seat, rear drive six-figure sports car with 470 horsepower; the DBS is a four-seat, rear drive six-figure sports car with 510 horsepower. And they needed something between them.

The in-between model was called the Virage, which used a bodykit that was also in between the DB9’s standard fare and the DBS’s full-on boy racer look. Pricing, too, was directly in the middle: the Virage started at $208,000. And what was under the hood of Aston’s newest “model?” You guessed it: a six-liter V12 producing about 500 horsepower.

Unfortunately, it got even worse. Now six years old, the V8 Vantage needed something to spice up its increasingly boring existence. So Aston created a new, more powerful version of the car. And how was that done? With – I swear this is true – a six-liter V12 producing 500 horsepower. Aston now claimed to offer five different models, each of which used the exact same engine. Sort of like Nissan and the VQ V6, actually. But at least the Murano and the 350Z never looked the same.

Today’s lineup

Fortunately, Aston seemed to realize the ridiculousness of their lineup quickly and pared down the offerings. For 2013, the DBS was sacked. So was the Virage. To make up for their loss, the DB9’s horsepower bumped to 510 without a corresponding price jump, pissing off everyone who spent $210,000 for a less powerful Virage just three months ago. Not that they’d be able to tell the difference anyway.

But Aston decided to give its DB9 platform one more shot: for 2013, the brand released yet another DB9-based sports car, this time resurrecting the Vanquish name that died after 2007. Styling remained highly similar to the DB9, though power is now up to 565hp. The price point? A whopping $280,000, or about $100,000 more than the DB9. Which, by the way, now costs the same as the V12 Vantage.

Confused yet? We all are. And it gets even worse: with the exception of the Rapide and the Vanquish, every one of the above models offered a convertible. Sometimes it was called Roadster. Sometimes Volante. It was always really expensive.

But for Aston owners, that’s the real allure. That, and being able to tell your neighbors you have “an Aston.” And with that kind of panache, who cares about silly details like the price and the model name?

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, roadtripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute laptime on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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How To Turn Any Car Into The Wagon Of Your Dreams Mon, 25 Feb 2013 16:16:01 +0000

It turns out that the usual excuses for denying consumers a station wagon variant of a given car – the regulatory hurdles, lack of demand from the market and expense of homologation – can be circumvented with one simple item; cash.

What you see above is an Aston Martin Rapide Shooting Brake. It’s a one-off model built by Bertone for a very wealthy client. Given the popularity of the Porsche Panamera and the Ferrari FF, this kind of product may not be a bad fit for Aston Martin, but there aren’t any current plans to add one to the lineup. In any case, those of you looking for a way to get your dream wagon now have a very easy formula. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some scratch-off lottery tickets.

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Never Mind The DB7, Here’s The Railton Tue, 22 Jan 2013 13:00:16 +0000

Psst! Hey, you! Yes, you! The guy with the gold Bentley-By-Breitling-Celebrating-Bentley-Brand-Breitlings diamond-studded watch! With your arm around two Estonian working girls! I know you’re about to step into a fresh new Aston Vanquish, but perhaps Sir would be interested in something authentically English and genuinely bespoke? An individual creation from a man whose contribution to the automotive design scene is beyond question, a man who designed the car to which your current matte-finished whip is about to pay homage? Surely you’re interested, right? And here’s the good news: it’s far too expensive!

Sir William Towns designed a few extremely important Aston Martins, including the original, no-Daniel-Craig-involvement DBS, the stunning Lagonda sedan, and the stunningly techno-vicious Bulldog. Having moved on to industrial design in his fifties, he remained interested in opportunities to design cars. Therefore, when he found some money in the form of LPG drilling impresario John Ranson, he returned to the field with a concept for a uniquely British luxury “drophead”.

The name of the brand, Railton, was a “reboot” designed to honor English automotive pioneer Reid Railton. Mr. Railton’s career spanned nearly forty years and peaked with the postwar Railton Mobil Special which eventually broke the 400mph barrier. He put his name on a variety of production cars but apparently limited his activites after World War II to the land-speed-record cars. His death in 1977 apparently freed Towns to use the name, along with the Fairmile and Claremont model named.

If you hadn’t figure it out already, seeing the interior shot should clinch it for you: the Railton was a rebodied Jaguar XJ-S. By 1991, the year of the Railton’s debut, the XJ-S was already a sixteen-year-old car riding on a twenty-four-year-old platform, but the resurgent Egan-era Jaguar had done a lot to make it livable, enjoyable, and somewhat reliable. One prototype was built of both the Fairmile and Claremont. The Claremont is the one you see here, and Towns retained possession of it until his death. The Fairmile, which was displayed at a variety of auto shows, was the same car without the wheel spats. Construction was handled by Park Street Metal, which also built the Jaguar XJ220 in series production. The bodywork was hand-beaten from aluminum panels, just the way you’d expect.

The intended price for the Claremont was 105,000 pounds, which would be roughly equivalent to $280,000 today. Let’s call it $279,999. Heavy bread for a Jag, and about four times what the donor car cost.

Performance Car, which became EVO later on in life, tested the blue Railton Claremont in company with three “tuner” XJ-S variants and were utterly scathing about its eight-plus-second 0-60 time and ocean-liner handling. They much preferred the big-bore Lister XJ-S with its 911-Turbo-rivaling performance, of course. The Railton made no sense to them. The project did not continue past the production of the first two cars, probably for lack of dealer interest.

Towns’ death in 1993 eventually sent the Claremont to the auction block in 2002, where it fetched an undisclosed amount that was surely far short of its original cost to create. To the modern eye, the car looks sleek, restrained, and unabashedly upscale. At the time, however, the buyers for cars in this price range wanted something that was either supercar fast or not easily identified as a Jaguar XJ-S in a new suit. Lister sold plenty of pumped-up Jags but Railton couldn’t sell a single classed-up one.

As usual, there’s a slightly ironic postscript to this story. The ancient XJ-S didn’t find a new career under the hand-beaten panels of a Railton Claremont, but it did find redemption as the basis for the 1994 Aston Martin DB7. That particular Jag-in-drag saved the Aston brand and ensured that it survived long enough to become a trinket for Kuwaiti investors with a fetish for pumped-up homages to the Towns-penned DBS. The XJ-S also served to underpin the first-generation XK8 which was a tremendous success as well and did quite a bit to restore the dimmed luster of the Jaguar brand in the United States. Surely there’s a bit of Railton in the XK8′s over-long overhangs, a little touch of William in the night?

It would be nice to think that perhaps the name could see a third age, a venture-capital revival to produce a hand-beaten aluminum drophead for the oil-rich Moscovites and Saudis who stand so prominently in the roster of the newly wealthy, but such a vehicle would have to compete with all the faux-British luxury iron already on the market. Why buy a Railton when the Phantom Drophead has such star quality? It’s a shame. Still, for the genuine enthusiast, it’s still possible to get most of the Railton experience for a fraction of the cost: just try a solid-condition XJ-S HE. British motoring at its best, or perhaps its worst, but truly British for all that.

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Review: 2013 Ford Fusion SE 1.6L Ecoboost (Video) Sat, 22 Dec 2012 14:00:08 +0000

The 2013 Fusion is a critical car for Ford. Despite the rise of the Koreans, an Americanized Passat, refreshed GM and Chrysler products and a dip in Fusion sales between the 2012 and the all-new 2013 model, the Ford is still the fourth-best-selling mid-size sedan in America. Michael was invited to a regional Ford event in September where he revealed his opinions, but what most readers seem to recall is Derek’s proclamation that the 2013 Fusion is a “gamechanger.” To answer the question once and for all, Ford tosses us the keys to the volume-selling SE model with Ford’s recall-beleaguered 1.6L Ecoboost engine for a week.

Click here to view the embedded video.


No, this isn’t Aston Martin’s new mid-size four-door entry, although you could be forgiven for making the mistake. The new design is as shocking and striking as the old Fusion was bland and boring. Making your mass-market car over-styled is risky, but despite the Fusion’s rump being less daring than its schnoz, it manages to avoid looking cartoonish like the Sonata. The Aston mini-me styling is refreshing in a segment where “restrained” and “slab sided” are the mantra of the day. The new Accord is elegant for sure, but the large green house screams family sedan. The current Camry attempts to meld an edgy nose with refrigerator flat door panels. Even the stylish (in comparison) Altima looks far less exciting. Styling is subjective and I usually avoid commenting on design directly, but the 2013 Fusion is an exception. This Ford is quite simply the best looking sedan in America under $50,000.


What do the 2013 Fusion and the unloved 1995 Contour have in common? They are both Ford Mondeo world cars. (Thankfully that’s all they have in common.) After years of designing one sedan for America and one for the rest of the world, the company’s “One Ford” strategy put the Mondeo and Fusion back into the same breeding program. I’m not sure what Europe gets out of the cross-breed, but Americans will benefit from a level of refinement, parts quality and European design hitherto unknown to the Blue Oval on our shores. On the flip side this also means the Fusion’s interior is a study in black with most of the interior looking like it was carved out of a single piece of black plastic. Opting for the tan cloth or leather interior won’t avoid the black dashboard, but it does make the interior look warmer. Sadly this color option is limited to the Fusion S and SE only as the Titanium trim comes only in black.

Our Fusion tester impressed with buttons and parts-bin parts that felt more premium than the competition thanks especially to an all-new steering wheel. While the new tiller doesn’t get soft split-grain leather like the new Accord, Ford’s new button arrangements are easier to use, easier to reach and feel better built than the wheel in the C-MAX and Escape. Speaking of buttons and controls, our Fusion tester showed no signs of fine scratching on the control surfaces, a problem that the Altima, Accord and Camry all suffer from, despite having far more miles on the odometer than the Japanese trio we tested.

Front seat comfort is excellent although a step behind the 2013 Honda Accord which has the most comfortable seats in the segment. Unlike some of the competition, Ford’s tilt/telescoping steering wheel provides a large range of motion making it easy to accommodate drivers of different heights. The Fusion’s driver’s seat is 10-way powered in the SE and Titanium models and sports an optional three-position memory system (standard on Titanium) to speed driver swaps (or keep your better half from complaining). As you would expect, the passenger doesn’t get the same kind of seat-love with your choice of manual or 4-way power adjusting.

Rear seats are as low to the ground as any in this segment and far less bolstered than the front thrones. In a family sedan this is more a feature than a problem since it makes the middle seat a more pleasant place to spend your time. Despite the sloping profile I was able to fit my six-foot frame into the middle seat without issue, although the 2013 Accord offers noticeably more room in the rear. Because of the differing ways that manufacturers measure rear seat leg room, I recommend you take your whole family with you shopping, stuff them all in the car and see how comfortable everyone is at the same time. Want to know more about the seating and cargo room? Check out the video review.

Infotainment & Gadgets

All models come with the basic SYNC system which offers USB/iDevice and Bluetooth phone integration. As you would expect, power windows and door locks and a perimeter alarm are standard, but few will be buying the base S model since there are zero options. This makes the $23,700 SE model your real starting point with standard XM satellite ratio, six speakers, a power driver’s seat, auto headlamps, body-colored mirrors and the keyless entry keypad that’s been a Ford hallmark for ages.

We also need to talk about My Ford Touch, because if you want to check pretty much any other option box on the Fusion, MyFord Touch needs to be selected first. Want dual-zone climate control, a backup cam, blind spot monitoring, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a 120V outlet, cross traffic alert, etc? The $1,000 MFT option (standard on Titanium) includes the 8-inch control screen in the dash, two 4.2-inch LCDs in the gauge cluster, dual-zone climate control and the backup camera. When MFT landed in 2010, the software had more bugs than a bag of 5-year-old flour. Thankfully, this latest version of MFT is more responsive and less problem prone. The competition has caught up however, with the Altima, Toyota and Honda systems delivering excellent USB/iDevice integration and basic voice commands without the lag and occasional software hiccups. Despite the system’s still-present flaws, MFT is still the sexiest system in this segment and the only one that brings the partial LCD disco-dash to the table. If you want the best in factory entertainment, you should know the 12-speaker Sony branded audio system is only available in the more expensive Titanium.

Automotive gadget dissemination follows a predictable path. The snazziest gadgets, safety features and entertainment concepts are first released by the big players in the luxury segment like BMW, Audi and Mercedes in their most expensive models. The next stop on the technology train is inevitable the mass-market sedan. It therefore shouldn’t surprise you that the Fusion can be had with an impressive list of options from an automated-parking system to adaptive cruise control and an innovative lane departure prevention system. Unlike most of the LDP systems up to this point, the Ford system doesn’t apply the brakes to one side of the car to get you back on track – it simply turns the steering wheel. The system is both slightly creepy and very effective. With the ability to apply more force to keep you in the lane than competing systems, the steering input feels more like a hand on the wheel than a gentle suggestion. If safety is your shtick, it’s worth noting that the Fusion and Accord scored well in the new IIHS small-overlap test while the top-selling Camry and Prius V “are the worst performers of the midsize group.” according to the IIHS.

As options lists go, the Fusion has more gadgets on offer than any of the competition – but it comes at a cost. The Fusion tops out at a fully-loaded AWD price of $38,170, $4,760 more than the most expensive Camry, $3,693 more than the Accord, and $5,730 more than a top-level Altima. As you would expect in such a cut-throat segment, comparing apples-to-apple,s the Fusion is priced very close to its top three competitors.


Compared to the competition, the Fusion has an oddly extensive powertrain lineup. There are four different engines, three transmissions, two hybrid variants and FWD or AWD to choose from. The base 2.5L four-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic are largely carried over from the previous Fusion and good for 175 horses and 175lb-ft of twist. This is the sole engine in the Fusion S and base engine in the Fusion SE. We’re told by Ford that most 2.5L Fusions will be headed to fleets.

Next up is the new to America (and thrice recalled) 1.6L turbo direct-injection Ecoboost engine available with or without start-stop technology and with your choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmissions. Proving yet again that turbos are the replacement for displacement, the 1.6L mill produces more power (178HP) and more torque (184lb-ft) at lower RPMs than the 2.5L while delivering 2 more MPGs in the city and 3 more on the highway.

The sporty option is the 2.0L direct injection turbo which takes the place of a V6 in the Fusion SE and Titanium. With 240HP and 270lb-ft of plateau-like forced-induction torque, you’ll never miss those two cylinders. Should AWD be on your must-have list, be ready to shell out $32,200 because it’s available only on the Titanium. Before you complain about the cost of admission, keep in mind your only other mass-market mid-sized AWD option would be a Subaru. Last up is Ford’s redesigned 188HP hybrid system sporting a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle engine, a Ford-designed hybrid CVT transaxle and your choice of regular hybrid or plug-in battery packs. With this much variety appealing to different shoppers, check back with us when we get our hands on the 2.0L Ecoboost and hybrid models.


The Fusion impressed during the photo shoot and looked unstoppable on the printed spec sheet but none of that would matter if it felt like a wet noodle out on the road. Despite having a decidedly American-sized 112.2-inch wheelbase, it’s obvious Ford’s European division took the lead when it came to the chassis. The result is a ride that is incredibly composed, tight in the corners and as communicative as anything with electric power steering. The surprises continue when you shift your right foot over to find linear brake feel, absolutely no Taurus-like brake fade and short stopping distances.

In an interesting twist, the 6-speed manual is available in the 1.6L Ecoboost equipped SE for the same price as the automatic. As you would expect, this is the same 6-speed transmission found in the Fusion’s Euro twin and has a distinctively German engagement and overall feel. Clutch feel is top-notch as well comparing with the liked of the VW Passat and Jetta. In addition, rowing your own doesn’t have a feature penalty allowing you to still check the self-parking and lane departure prevention option boxes. Don’t get too excited, you can’t get the stick with the 2.0L turbo and AWD and if you opt for MyFord Touch you get a tiny digital tach that’s practically useless. For shame.

The 1.6L Ecoboost engine is fairly smooth and quiet on the outside and, thanks to a dedication to sound proofing, almost unnoticeable on the inside. What you will notice however is the broad torque curve of the diminutive four-banger when passing or hill climbing. During a short drive with the 2.5L engine I was constantly annoyed by the transmission’s up-shift happy nature, but despite the 1.6L’s tranny being programmed the same way it didn’t bug me as much. Why? Because all 184lb-ft are available at 2,500RPM and, thanks to the hair-dryer, 90% of that twist is available from 1,500-5,700RPM. This broad torque curve makes the 1.6L Ecoboost Fusion feel faster than it is with our run to 60 completing in 7.9 seconds, about 9/10ths off my gut estimate. This is considerably faster than the Passat and Malibu but not as fast as the Accord and Altima with their efficient CVTs.

Our tester came with the optional ($295) start/stop system which Ford claims is good for a 10% improvement in city driving and results in a 1MPG improvement in the Fusion’s EPA scores bringing the 1.6L SE up to 24/37/28 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). Ford touts the system as smoother than BMW’s 328 start/stop system and they are right. Of course the reason has as much to do with the smaller displacement as the positioning of the engine (transverse vs longitudinal). The way a transverse engine and the vehicle’s suspension interact when cranking is just different. If you live in a particularly hot climate, don’t expect start/stop to save you much as the engine has to stay running to power the A/C. Unlike our stint in the C-MAX, our Fusion beat the EPA combined score by half an MPG over nearly a thousand miles of mixed driving. With excellent fuel economy, dashing good looks, a quiet cabin, good driving dynamics and the longest option list this side of luxury sedan, the Fusion is not just a viable alternative to the competition, it truly is a game changer. The only problem is the pesky (and seemingly frequent) 1.6L engine recalls. Is that enough for me to take the Fusion off my list? Probably not, but I’d buy the hybrid or the 2.0L Ecoboost model anyway.

Ford provided the vehicle, one tank of gas and insurance for this review

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 88.5 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 28.5MPG over 960 miles


2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Side 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Engine, 1.6L, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Engine, 1.6L Turbo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Infotainment, MyFord Touch Controls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Ford Focus SE Ecoboost 1.6, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 147
End Of The Chase: Aston Martin Sold To Italy Fri, 07 Dec 2012 14:57:12 +0000

Aston Martin won’t be sold to the Indians, nor will it be sold to the Chinese. The low-intensity bidding war for the British boutique sports car maker was won by the Italian private equity group Investindustrial. It is buying 37.5 percent for $241 million via a capital increase agreed with majority Kuwaiti owner Investment Dar, Reuters reports after having received confirmation by Aston Martin.

Investindustrial beat tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra in a two-way battle. Dark horses like Geely, Toyota, or BMW, offered by the media as contenders, did not take part in the bidding.

The cash helps Aston Martin to invest $1 billion in new products and technology, and says, Reuters, to “compete with Volkswagen’s Bentley and rival UK luxury car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover.” However, in the car business, a billion dollar does not go far. The money is supposed to last through 2018.

Bernstein analyst Max Warburton told Reuters that is looks like a temporary fix because Aston Martin’s owners were unable to attract another car manufacturer to invest at the price they wanted.

“It doesn’t look like a long-term solution,” Warburton said. “This deal doesn’t sort scale, access to technology, emissions or entry to new segments.”

Aston Martin sold 2,340 cars in the nine months to Sept. 30, 19 percent down on 2011.

No agreement has been made on a technical partnership for Aston Martin with Daimler AG’s Mercedes.

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Chinese Media: Geely Covets Aston Martin Thu, 06 Dec 2012 18:16:10 +0000

The (not really) silent bidding for British sports car maker Aston Martin still is undecided. The current  favorite appears to be the Mahindra Brothers in India, with  an Italian private equity group also interested. Allegedly, there is another courtier, and that is China’s Geely.

Sohu (translation via Carnewschina) has it that Geely CEO Li Shufu has the hots for the British marque and wants to buy it just like he bought Volvo in 2010. Geely paid $1.5 billion for all of Volvo.  Investment Dar Inc from Kuwait wants to sell its 64% stake for some $800 million, which looks comparatively expensive for a boutique firm like Aston Martin.

However, Sohu thinks that the Aston Martin brand is glam enough to “take advantage of the enthusiasm  of local governments, and to create financial leverage.” Translation:  Aston Martin is a good name to get cheap government credits.  Geely did something similar to raise the money to buy Volvo, and Sohu says Geely wants to buy Aston Martin “in Volvo mode.”

One item should give Geely pause: Aston Martin has a few dealers in China, but business is less than brisk, I hear.

Also possible: The intensity of the bidding war is cooling down, to the dismay of the investment bankers. And a Chinese bidder is always good for a rumor.

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Aston Martin Leads To Surprising Find: Agricultural Important Part Of Sports Car Maker DNA Tue, 27 Nov 2012 15:18:22 +0000

Mahindra Tractor in Ferrari livery

Mumbai tractor moguls Mahindra & Mahindra hope to emerge as owners of Aston Martin by the end of the week, but Italy’s InvestIndustrial shares the same aspirations, reports Reuters from the sidelines of the bidding war for the British sports car maker. While the world waits for the hammer to come down, scientists make a perplexing discovery.

The bidding war itself is not as hot as the current owner, Kuwait’s Investment Dar, hopes. According to Reuters sources, the investment house would like to get back the approximately $1 billion it has sunk into the black hole with the fancy Aston Martin badge. The warring bidders are not THAT insane. The source told Reuters that the total price is unlikely to top $400 million. InvestIndustrial bid between $320 million and $400 million for a stake, a source had told Reuters earlier. The Mahindra brothers are thought to be in the same ballpark.

Lamborghini tractor. Colore rosso naturale.

Other bidders are nowhere to be seen. Reuters can’t suppress the urge to note “an apparent lack of interest among major car makers, such as BMW, Daimler or Toyota.”

Porsche Tractor

To those who think that an Aston Martin looks odd in a tractor maker’s garage, Reuters dedicates a separate article that proves scientifically that tractors and sports cars share a common destiny:

“Porsche once powered German ploughmen through the 1950s and, from Italy, Ferruccio Lamborghini’s name still gleams on thousands of tractors, half a century after he turned a fortune made from agricultural equipment into a passion for road racers.

Should Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd pass to the Mahindras, world No.1 in tractors, it would turn the wheel back to the 1950s and 60s when, owned by Yorkshire tractor magnate David Brown, Astons beat Ferraris to world and Le Mans racing titles and saw the fast but elegant DB5 upstage Sean Connery in early Bond movies.”

David Brown Cropmaster (1947 model)

See? Tractors and sports cars belong together like H and 2O, and the dreaded “agricultural” actually is an important twist in the DNA of a successful sports car maker. The word just has been misused by countless bloggers. Agricultural is awesome.

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The New Aston Martin Owners Will Be Indian or Italian Sat, 24 Nov 2012 14:00:29 +0000

This is the weekend – if the predictions of Reuters prove correct – when British sports car maker Aston Martin will get a new owner – yet again. An Italian private equity fund and an Indian company known for its off-road vehicles compete for the business.

According to Reuters, Italian private equity fund Investindustrial and India’s Mahindra & Mahindra have made competing bids for 50 percent of Aston Martin. A decision is expected over the weekend.

The current owner is the Kuwaiti investment house Dar. Two Kuwaiti investment companies, Investment Dar and Adeem Investment Co. had supplied the money, and the British engineering group Prodrive supplied the expertise  when Ford  wanted to unload Aston Martin, which it had owned since 1991.

Before Ford, Aston Martin had gone through a series of bankruptcies and different owners. All eventually found out that building supercars without the backing of a huge company is a losing proposition, and that recessions can be murder if expensive cars is all you have.

Investitudinal owned motorcycle maker Ducati before selling it to Volkswagen. The company allegedly has reached a technical partnership deal with Daimler AG’s Mercedes.

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Aston Martin Being Shopped Around By Owners Fri, 09 Nov 2012 17:29:07 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Aston Martin’s Kuwaiti owners are apparently looking to unload their majority stake in the English sports car maker, but proceedings have been slow to due Investment Dar Co.’s desire to recoup their $800 million purchase price.

While Investment Dar denies looking to sell Aston Martin, Bloomberg reports that the company is hurting for cash after failing to make a payment on an Islamic bond. In addition to Mahindra, Toyota is rumored to be exploring the possibility of buying Aston.

Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s largest carmaker, hired an auditor to conduct a one-week study on buying a stake in Aston Martin, according to a person familiar with the matter. The analysis, which was preliminary and carried out less than two months ago, hasn’t advanced to a full-blown evaluation, the person said. Shino Yamada, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman at Toyota, declined to comment.

Even with Aston Matin’s advances in modular architectures, it’s tough to be an independent auto maker when economies of scale are so crucial when developing a new car profitably. And without a lucrative branding and merchandising operation like Ferrari (not to mention a parent in the form of Fiat), being absorbed by a larger auto maker is all but a given for Aston Martin.

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“The Funny Thing Is That It DO Look Like A Phantom… Till A Phantom Pull Up.” Mon, 15 Oct 2012 15:14:24 +0000

Katt Williams once famously commented on the supposed resemblance between the Chrysler 300 and the better class of Anglo-German luxury cars, and in this image from The Smoking Tire‘s Matt Farah we see a similar confrontation: the Fusion meets an AM Rapide in Beverly Hills. What say you, TTACers? Imitation, inspiration, or idiocy?

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Vanquish Thy Enemy, Only $299,000 Wed, 20 Jun 2012 11:44:59 +0000

If you are seeking to conquer, subjugate, crush, annihilate, subdue, rout, defeat thy enemy on track, or, preferably, Autobahn, then collect all your pennies and buy the car that is synonymous for all that vehicular domination: The Aston Martin Vanquish, the car formerly known to a high net-worth clientele as the AM310. Yesterday, the Kuwaiti-held purveyor of handmade super cars finally unveiled its new flagship.

Powered by a 6 liter V12 engine, the car is said to be good for 0-62 mph in 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 183 mph / 295 km/h.

For the price ($299,000 base) one would expect speeds beyond 300 km/h to assure reliable vanquishification, but I guess you can’t have everything. The body is made from bonded aluminum with snazzy carbon fiber body panels. More specs are here.

Deliveries will commence in late 2012 in Europe.

Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Aston Martin Vanquish. Picture courtesy Aston Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 8
Generation Why: ICONs And Morgans Fri, 08 Jun 2012 18:44:46 +0000

Previous editions of Generation Why have explored one of the last glimmers of automotive affection that the “carless generation” still holds on to- the love of classic cars.

Modern cars are better than they’ve ever been in every qualitative aspect, but they have embraced a stifling homogeneity as a result. Consolidation will only exacerbate that – who would have thought that one day, Mazda would be doing the legwork for the next Alfa Romeo Spider. Personally, I think the marriage of Italian aesthetics with Japanese guts is the perfect union, but it’s also indicative of the epoch we live in; there is little room for sentimentality, romance and narrative if you are a mainstream manufacturer, because it’s very easy for the lights to be turned off and your dinner to be snatched away.

On the fringes, free from pedestrian crash test regulations, expectations of 432 airbags and Facebook integration, creativity and originality still exists. Somewhere in my piles of EVO back issues, there is a quote from an unnamed Honda executive stating “In the end, there will be three car companies. One of them will be Morgan.”

Morgan, as well all know, uses wood as a key construction element for their cars, and recently launched a new 3-Wheeler that uses a motorcycle-style V-Twin engine. Car and Driver’s Justin Berkowitz recently interviewed company head Charles Morgan (yes, it’s a family business), and Morgan’s eloquent dissection of the modern sports car, his realistic outlook on the industry (“…everybody has to have collaboration if they’re going to build a viable car…” and most importantly, his recognition of the desire for as he calls it “quality and individualism”. Morgan’s small size and overflowing order books often translate into wait lists, which helps the brand’s exclusitivity factor. While they do about 750 cars per year, the 3-Wheeler has apparently generated in excess of 1200 orders alone. According to those more familiar with the business than I am, that will take Morgan years to complete.

On our side of the world, ICON announced plans to expand beyond their lineup of Land Cruisers and Broncos with an Aston Martin DB4 Zagato-esque car called the “Reformer“. The Reformer will no doubt be an expensive, exclusive proposition – just like the Morgan cars are (though the 3-wheeler will apparently retail for around $45,000 in the U.S.). But the beauty of aiming for the top of the market is that even in tough times, the really rich people interested in wacky, bespoke 4-wheeled toys tend to hang on to their fortunes and can still afford to buy these kinds of products. No surprise that Lotus is a victim of being stuck in the middle – rotgut and cognac always sell in tough times, to both polar extremes of the market. Everything else suffers.

Are we ever going to see these sorts of boutique companies spring up and offer classic-looking vehicles, modern powertrains and more importantly, a breath of fresh air from the current crop of numbers-obsessed isolation chambers that masquerade as sports cars? Probably not. But the love affair with classic cars, their designs, powertrains and their elemental purity will continue to burn bright as cars march further and further down that path. The motorcycle market in North America has been suffering from a big gap in the marketplace between 250cc and 600cc bikes that are affordable and desirable for new riders. Enter Cleveland CycleWerks, a Cleveland-based motorcycle company that is bringing to market some low-end, affordable bikes that look like they came straight of a Hunter S. Thompson-era desert race. The catch? They’re made in China. That seems to be the only way these things get down nowadays.

Drawing parallels between an upstart motorcycle company and the auto industry as a whole isn’t completely fair. But there’s no denying that there’s something about those older vehicles, whether they’re FJ40s or 427 Cobras, that keeps us longing for them to the point where we insist on restoring them and building replicas of them with new and improved underpinnings. Right now, your choices for an affordable, ICON-esque vehicle seem to be emulating this gentleman’s project of mating a Healey Sprite body to Miata running gear. I still hold out hope that some brave entrepreneur or trust fund recipient will take up something like Cleveland Cyclewerks for automobiles. Or an OEM doing “factory refreshes” of iconic models. If not, I’ll be in the garage…

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Capsule Review: Aston Martin V8 Vantage Fri, 27 Apr 2012 17:44:56 +0000

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.


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