The Need for Speed

Test-driving an Aston Martin in the worst traffic ever

Spotted Cars SC:Facebook
Spotted Cars SC:Facebook
• April 28, 2019 5:00 am


There are guys who do this for a living. They slink into the leather bucket seats of a $150,000 sports car without the slightest hint of concern. (In March, the Wall Street Journal‘s Dan Neil test drove the McLaren 600LT Spider, valued at $256,500.) But when I step into a 2019 Aston Martin Vantage, all I've got is concern: What if I scratch it up? What if this hand-assembled masterpiece ends up in a ditch? What if I embarrass myself like Pete Campbell trying to drive stick in Mad Men? (The Vantage turns out to be an automatic.)

But our friends at the Exclusive Automotive Group in Tyson's Corner, Va., could not have been nicer during a recent visit. Brand manager Brendon Wright did his best to put me and my Free Beacon colleague Aaron Harison at ease, explaining all the toggles and switches—there are neither keys nor gear shifter in the Vantage, just buttons.

I assumed Brendan would take each of us out individually, considering there is no backseat. Instead, he let the two of us go out on our own. Of course we could barely contain our excitement, like breaking the fourth wall in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Not that Harison and I equated ourselves to Ferris and Cameron (although yes, I'd be Cameron). We were more akin to the parking attendants who joyride in that 1961 Ferrari 250GT California. You fellas have nothing to worry about—I'm a professional.

An oft-used phrase is "the engine purred." The Vantage, however, does not purr. It growls. It anxiously wants to go from 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds. At an intersection waiting for a green light, I have my chance. I rev the 503-horsepowered 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8, tapping the pedal ever so lightly. Then the engine shuts down because the lights along Leesburg Pike are interminable, and newer engines these days will cut off to save gas. The red light lasts about four minutes. But at the very instant it turns green, like Carroll Shelby at the 1959 Le Mans, I floor it. Shelby's Aston Martin DBR1 edged out Ferrari to win the 24-hour endurance race. I edge out a Lexus. It wasn't even close.

And yet I didn't make it to 60 in 3.5 seconds. Within two seconds I have to pump the brakes because of the cars, trucks, and school buses stacked in front of me. D.C.-area traffic is ranked second worst in the nation, just behind Boston.

Harison had it much easier. On his leg of the drive, we veered down a few back roads past many mansions and estates. But even he was apprehensive about making sharp turns while negotiating the curves. He might have gotten the Vantage up to 60 or 70 mph, still far from its 195 mph maximum. Neither of us even bothered to use the gearshift paddles—there just wasn't a need. The ZF 8-speed gearbox is remarkably precise. And, as I mentioned, driving in this traffic is not ideal for such a machine. It's a rather soul-crushing experience. As Harison and I switched off, rush hour had commenced. It was 3 p.m.

Now you'd think with all the cars on the road, we'd turn a lot of heads in our gleaming silver Vantage with its gaping titanium mesh grille and trademark side vents, but no. The dealership is located in Fairfax, the second-wealthiest county in the United States. We were surrounded by Teslas, Porsches, Mercedes, plus that Lexus I left in the dust. It's a test-drive well within the Bubble. Brendan says his dealership sells between four and six Aston Martins per month, impressive considering the price tag (Exclusive Automotive sells even more Bentleys). It's not Rodeo Drive, but still.

With traffic worsening by the minute, we decided to head back to the dealer. "The front bumper's in the trunk," Harison said. Brendan paused for a moment, hoping this was a joke. It was. We returned the car without a single scratch, albeit with less gas—not surprisingly, the Vantage does about 18 miles per gallon in the city. Giving back a $150,000 car is tinged with sadness—a reminder you're not rich and famous—but it also comes with a sense of relief: At least you didn't end up in a ditch.

It was also strange to return to the parking garage and get back into my 2018 Subaru Legacy. The engine doesn't growl so much as it murmurs. And there's a delay between stepping on the gas and picking up any speed. On the other hand, I do turn a lot of heads. I'm often mistaken for an Uber.