Road Car News

Meet the 205mph Aston Martin
Four more cylinders embellish the Vantage with even greater vim. By Andrew Frankel

It might be one of the older tricks in the book, but putting your largest, most powerful engine in your smallest, lightest car is a move guaranteed to make headlines in the motoring press, rarely more so when your name happens to be Aston Martin.

The new Aston Martin Vantage S is certain to be the fastest Aston any merely mortal member of the car-buying public (so excluding those rich enough to spend more than £1 million on the now-defunct One-77) has so far been able to buy. By cramming the 565bhp variant of its venerable V12 under the bonnet of its two-seater Vantage sports car, it has been able to create the first production Aston capable of cracking the 4sec barrier to 62mph. A top speed of 205mph puts it in a different league to the Vanquish, which is electronically restricted to 183mph.

Of course this is not the first time Aston’s V12 has found its way into a space usually reserved for its V8, and the current V12 Vantage is by some distance my favourite Aston. Nevertheless, this new ‘S’ version promises 55 extra bhp, 25 fewer kilogrammes and a sevenspeed paddle-shift transmission in place of the six-speed manual. Significantly you can also choose between three distinct driving modes. Depending on whether you’re driving gently, quickly or at track speeds, the car will alter its shift speeds, engine map, damper settings and steering assistance to suit.

Old stick in the mud that I am, I’m a little concerned about some of these changes. One reason I love the existing car is that it provides such an involving, tactile and physical driving experience: it is an entirely passive car incapable of anything other than executing your instructions to the best of its ability. The adoption of flappy paddles and electronically controlled dampers will doubtless improve its lap time, but an Aston should never be about how fast you can go: it should always be about how much fun you can have going fast.

Aston Martin says the purpose of the car is to broaden its appeal: retaining its position as the hairiest chest in the changing room while reaching out to those who might otherwise be put off by the current car’s quite brutal demeanour. Sales start this autumn for a price likely to be on the far side of £140,000.

Mercedes on a charge
It seems to be the season for lapping the Nurburgring in alternative fuel vehicles. Hot on the heels of Aston Martin’s participation in the Niirburgring 24 Hours with a hydrogenpowered Rapide, Mercedes has sent out its new SLS Electric Drive for a run around the Green Hell. It lapped in 7min 56sec, beating the 8min 09sec mark laid down by the Audi R8 e-tron. This in turn has led to claims in the media that Mercedes has broken the lap record for an electric car.

It has done nothing of the sort. Fast though the SLS was, it wasn’t in the same time zone as the Toyota P002 — a Radical adapted for electric power — which last year scorched around the track in 7min 22sec, smashing its own lap record by 25 seconds.

Unsurprisingly Mercedes itself is painstakingly clear on the subject, saying only that the SLS is the first electrically powered series production car to lap the circuit in less than eight minutes, which is true. It’s all the more impressive when you consider the SLS is on sale now (albeit for £350,000) while the Audi R8 e-tron will never be offered to the general public.

Even so, a little perspective is perhaps in order: not only is the electric SLS more than 10sec slower around the ‘Ring than a standard SLS costing less than half the money, I’d also eat this laptop if it got even halfway around a second lap before running out of juice. By contrast, even at an estimated 8mpg, the petrol SLS would rumble around for 10 laps before its fuel tank ran dry.

Paint my wagon…
I guess it was inevitable that Renault would succumb to the supplications of its marketing department and release a limited edition aiming to milk its position as engine supplier to Red Bull Racing. We’ve been here before and the result, the Clio Williams, was one of the most highly regarded hot hatchbacks of all time.

But if the Renault Megane RenaultSport Red Bull Racing RB8 (to give it its full and tortuous name) is to be afforded similar status, it will have nothing whatever to do with the good men and women of Milton Keynes. Unlike the much-modified Clio Williams, the Megane is mechanically unchanged from the standard car, save tyres from the Trophy model. All association with Red Bull extends only to paint and decals. Just 30 will be brought to the UK at a price yet to be announced at the time of going to press.

I must say I find these tie-ups depressing. Yes, Renault will sell them with ease and at least the standard Megane RenaultSport remains one of the best fast hatches on sale, but I am disappointed that Red Bull was so happy to lend its name to a car that offers nothing extra to the driver. Over breakfast in 30 households, people will look from their kitchen windows and announce to their families, “D’you know, I think I’ll take the RB8 today.”

The very thought makes me cringe.

Fight brewing at Fisker
Two months ago I reported on the sad apparent demise of Fisker, the US car company that made the Karma range-extender hybrid, and the exit of its founder, Henrik Fisker, in the process. Now, in one those moves that makes you think truth really is stranger than fiction, he’s back.

Or at least, he’d like to be. Fisker is trying to raise the investment needed to buy back into the organisation, thereby finding himself in the strange position of trying to take over a company that bears his name after he has just walked away.

Stranger still, and funnier if you’re a fan of irony, is a rival bid from none other than former GM and Chrysler big hitter Bob Lutz. The 81-year-old is still probably the most famous American motor industry executive and is believed to want to replace the Karma’s eco-friendly, tree-hugging hybrid electric drive with a simply colossal, environmentally irredeemable V8. In fact he’s already done it: in January he showed up in Motown with a Karma he’d modified: it’s called Destino and packs a 638bhp punch courtesy of a supercharged Corvette engine…