squo;VE done rather well in this column, test driving Aston Martin sports cars for CityA.M. The City of course is a key market for these cars, which is why I’ve been fortunate enough to get them. But the thing is, the more familiar I became with them the more I realised that UK speed restrictions in combination with my own inadequacies as a driver have resulted in a disconnect.
The truth is that when you get behind the wheel of an Aston you can easily get caught up in the euphoric whirlwind of engine symphony and awesome power beneath your driving shoes, and get ideas above your station. The car makes you feel like James Bond, when really you’re more of an Inspector Clouseau. As wonderful as these cars are I haven’t been able to fully experience their superb high-performance capabilities.
And it would seem I am not alone. Aston Martin has created its Performance Driving Course – a course that is designed to teach drivers how to better appreciate the capabilities of their cars with the aim of making them safer and better drivers – for people like me. Although to be fair most – but not all – of the people that get to experience such a driving day actually own their own Aston Martin.
Which is how I find myself in a V8 Vantage hurtling into a banked bend at 160mph on the Mile Straight at Millbrook Proving Ground. My instructor Andy tells me to hold on, hold on, hold on... okay now, and so I brake... hard. The car decelerates without wavering, and we round the banked bend at a far more reasonable speed, just 80mph. I am not sure who is more relieved, myself or Andy. (I suspect me.) It’s clear that under such heavy braking the car remained far more composed than I did. Speeding at such a bend and not braking earlier involves an element of trust in one’ s instructor... To say the very least.
But then the chaps in the passenger seat are certainly very good. A crew of Aston Martin’s own instructors, they take us through a number of different driving scenarios in most of the cars in the range. Specifically, we’re driving the DB9, DBS, Rapide and V8 N420 Vantage coupes.
It’s on the hill route that you really get a chance to let rip. I drive the four-seat Rapide and the V8 Vantage here and though the Rapide is astonishingly good, it’s the N420 that really shines. I simply can’t get enough of it and like a spoiled child beg to go around again once I’ve completed my designated three circuits. My instructor doesn’t just teach me about gearing, speed and braking, he also points out how to read the incline and camber and how to use the circuit’s road signs as markers. It’s an exercise in how to be more efficient and precise at speed. The result is that I improve the more times I go around. Normally with my hands on a car this exciting, the emphasis is less on honing my driving skills, and more about making my hair fly back, so this is definitely a few steps in the right direction.
Next up and I’m spinning out on a wet skid pan in a DB9. It’s an exercise in learning how effective the Dynamic Stability Control system is and how important it is on a powerful rear-wheel drive car like this. With the system back on the car pirouettes in a perfect circle despite the gallons of water on the tarmac. It’s an important lesson on why you shouldn't floor it coming out of a turning in poor weather unless you’ve got the traction control system on.
Back on the high speed circuit I get to drive a DBS at very high speed and at 175mph it’s much less noisy than one would imagine. It’s a pleasure to finally experience an Aston at such a speed and discover that it’s actually pretty tiring, with so much visual information flashing past so quickly. I find I have a new found respect for racing drivers – no wonder they always look so knackered on the podium. My driving has undoubtedly improved. Now I just need to save up for an Aston.