2011 Aston Martin Vantage S: First Drive

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The Geneva Motor Show is over, but the craptastic weather's following the whiny, overly privileged herd of automotive journos stampeding south for assorted first drives. Porsche's Cayman R drive meets up with pouring rain in Mallorca; by the time we're in the Canary Islands for a two-parter with the new Mercedes C-Class and SLK, it's frigid and windy.

The skies are going an even deeper shade of grey as I rebound once more off the Malaga airport, to southern Spain, for a first drive in the Aston Martin Vantage S and one in their all-new offering, the Virage. (More on that on March 21st.)

Then it hails. And then, it snows.

On paper, I clearly shivered more energy away than I could possibly pump through my veins in the form of caffeine, but it didn't matter once we pulled up in a fleet of black minivans to the gate at Ascari, a kind of adult Disneyland for speed addicts of the socially acceptable kind. Aston rolled open the paddock doors, and fired up the Vantage S' impeccably accented exhaust note. And damn if I didn't wake right up, brushing off epic jetlag to pile into a right-hand-drive roadster for my open-track laps.

The proper name is Ascari Race Resort, by the way, but in this tight-knit, well-heeled community it goes by its first name only. Drawing near its 10th anniversary, Ascari's a privateer track with slate-floored showers, a pretty fabulous restaurant, and staggering views of the mountains near Ronda, the town that gave birth to the bullfight. This isn't Nelson Ledges, or worse, if worse exists.

The track's a keen exercise for even the most talented. Ascari's a 3.5-mile-long, greatest-hits compilation of torturous esses, blurred-out straightaways that all but dead-end into 90-degree turns, and downhill grades that flip-flop between camber changes. In the lingo, it's a "technical" track--in the way neuroendocrinology is a technical expertise.

You can look very stupid here, very easily, but the Vantage S does its best to dust off your driving skills and showcase them in a most favorable, LED-intense light. The S slots above the V8 Vantage, what with its subtle tweaks and automated-manual transmission, but below its truly track-ready cousin, the GT4, and the monster V12 Vantage.

It has a name in common, and it also does what just about every other Aston Martin does with effortlessness. It soaks up attention with precise and exquisite details. It colors its grand-touring presentation with vivid, phenomenal roadgoing poise. And to a one, it makes Spain's aging sidewalk quarterbacks yell out: camio de Bond! 

It's totally worth rolling top-down, even with blustery wind sawing at your eardrums, to hear those words. Worth sweating out equal amounts of cured ham and rioja, yet a week later. Worth a coach trip on Irish metal to Britain's least-sexy airport, to sleep in your clothes in a freezing room for six hours before you get on another plane bound for the busiest airport in the world.

Here's why.

Ascari Race Resort

Ascari Race Resort

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