Robert Clayman lets the train take the strain before Aston Martin’s latest polishes remove any sense of tension or stress in a brisk jaunt around Cornwall.
The rain is coming in horizontally now. I peer out through the window of the 9.30 to Penzance that I’d nearly died running for (note to all cab drivers from this scion of a black taxi dynasty: never hit the Euston Road when you’re starting from near the Aldwych, IF you’re heading to Paddington during rush hour. It’s madness). This doesn’t look good. My heart sinks, even as the train sweeps past the majestic view offered by the just-rebuilt sea-lapping section at Dawlish. Today was to be a day driving some upgraded and ameliorated beauties from Newport Pagnell. This is bringing back all too vivid memories of the last time I attempted this journey. A storm cloud so malevolently black and fierce that it blotted the sky like an Independence Day mothership let loose over the South West, flooding the line past Didcot Parkway and rained so hard it BROKE THE SURFACE OF THE M5. Why today? Why me? And then… Why, I am blessed. We pull into Bodmin to bright, scything rays of sun against topaz skies, the trees still tearing from the recent downpour.
This is good. I am lined up to take the helm of Aston’s most refined construction, the latest Vanquish Volante. And I want the yokel wind in my greying hair. We’ve been furnished with a route around the county that takes us to the northern coast at Bude along a perfect blend of fast B and winding C roads, bizarre filter systems through picturesque towns and then back to the southern coast with a final blast back down the A388 and a small pitstop at Jamaica Inn, before a run into the summery microclimate at beautiful fishing village St Mawes. If ever a landscape, basking in perfect sunshine, asked for a beautifully poised drophead V12 sports grand tourer to traverse it at (mild) speed, it is this one.
The marque is, they maintain “offering significantly enhanced performance and much-improved economy and emissions, but also an even more honed, precise and responsive driving experience” with their new upgrades. The really good news for Aston aficionados is the installation, finally, of the new ZF Touchtronic III eight-speed automatic gearbox in both the Vanquish and the Rapide S – the first time that this state-of-the-art gearbox has been incorporated into a transaxle layout and a major shift up (sorry) from the old six-gear system. This means that economy and performance have taken a leap and, most importantly, that tiny lag between changes that the triptronic flippers used to instigate has become a thing of distant memory.
The Vanquish V12 flies. And it arcs. And it roars. And it purrs. All the while, those 568 horses of power never feel feral or dangerous or hard to control. This is not to say the car couldn’t be frightening in the wrong hands. It’s just so mature. New, dynamic dampening makes the ride considerably stiffer. Arriving at the windswept Atlantic coast for scones and pasties at Bude, I’m not sure which has made me feel more alive. The bracing, raw beauty of the vista or the Cornish oxygen fired into my brain on the ride up. I celebrate my arrival at Jamaica Inn not with a dour reflection on the nature of death and family that Du Maurier paints in the eponymous novel, but with a doughnut in the carpark. ‘Av it.
Talking of food, the night is spent at the coolly refined and perfectly designed Idle Rocks hotel overlooking the harbour at St Mawes. Luckily, it’s owned and run by ex-Aston Martin chairman and his beautiful and redoubtable wife, Karen. So in the restaurant voted in the Times among the 20 best places to eat (I have the sea lobster and chips – it’s phenomenal) we get to chat all things motorsport. LUSSO will hopefully have a full interview with the great man at a later date. I try not to drink too much of the local Cornish champers, because tomorrow I’m taking out the elegant Diana Rigg to the Vanquish’s high-octane Helen Mirren, the Rapide S. This is tricky because Camel Valley’s 2012 Cornwall Brut is a silver medal-winning mouthlover of a liquid. Oh well.
A delicious breakfast prepares for the return leg to Bodmin. The Rapide never feels like a compromised GT. Its lines are as seductive as the range’s two-door beauties – maybe even more so. Mine comes in a delicious midnight-blue with cream interior. If you feel more ballsy, there’s the option of new duotone leather seat finish in Sahara Tan and Vibrant Red, as well as a range of new headlining options that mix quilting with the finest leathers or Alcantara. Outside, 10-spoke forged alloy wheels not only enhance the car’s looks but save almost seven kilos in weight versus the standard configuration. The 552 bhp is a handsome amount of power for a (very comfortably well off)-family four-door and the Rapide uses it with grace and suppleness. While the Vanquish carries all the egocentric excitement and the Vantage V12 the mild, tempered insanity, the Rapide feels like the Stoic, pyschologically-balanced, paterfamilia’s choice. As we approach Bodmin Parkway railway station, I’m tempted to floor it and head for the M5 home.
Alas, Aston want it back and I’m due a delightful piece of Dover sole on the train’s Pullman service home. As the plate is served, just outside Plymouth, it starts raining. I don’t care.
Visit the website www.astonmartin.com for information on the Vanquish Volante.
The Rosewood Hotel, 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN. Tel: +44 (0)20 7781 8888. www.rosewoodhotels.com.
The Idle Rocks, St. Mawes, Cornwall, TR2 5AN. Tel: +44(0)1326 270 270. idlerocks.com.
The Jamaica Inn, Launceston, Cornwall PL15 7TS. Tel: +44(0)1566 86250. www.jamaicainn.co.uk.