2006 Aston Martin V8 Vantage

Despite gargantuan 19-inch Y-rated Bridgestone Potenzas, 235/40 at the front and 275/35 at the rear, the ride is relatively supple, with little or no tramlining or pounding over expansion joints. Rear visibility could be better, but still, the Vantage is perfectly capable around town, and it gobbles up highway miles effortlessly. In fact, I make such good time up I-5 on my way to Monterey that I decide to forgo Highway 46, the fast but boring way to cut across to the 101, and continue north to Coalinga.

At Coalinga, I head west on Highway 198, which features a long stretch of rising and descending switchbacks, with a handful of long straights for carbon-clearing blasts at exorbitant speeds. The Vantage always seems to be in the heart of its power band, and the chassis always is equal to the task. Fashioned out of aluminum extrusions, castings, and pressings and bonded with aerospace adhesives, the chassis is remarkably stiff, and gigantic front and rear antiroll bars help keep the car planted under all circumstances.

With aluminum control arms all around and the engine mounted behind the front axle line to optimize weight distribution, the Vantage features cornering limits so prodigious that it's a challenge just to get the dynamic stability control to kick in. This is just as well, because with the DSC disabled, the car is a handful at the limit, and there are certain attitudes from which even Carroll Shelby - who co-drove an Aston Martin DBR1 to victory at Le Mans in 1959 - couldn't recover. Still, the stopping power of the quartet of four-piston Brembos should help if you get in trouble.

At 3461 pounds, the Vantage is by no means a tank. But it's more than 300 pounds heavier than the Carrera S, and the wheelbase is nearly ten inches longer. As a result, it feels like a much bigger car - never ponderous but you're always aware of its heft. Strictly from a dynamic standpoint, the Porsche is more rewarding, providing better feedback to the driver and responding more enthusiastically to inputs. But just because it's quicker on the Nordschleife doesn't mean it's preferable on Rodeo Drive.

When it comes to panache, exclusivity and that elusive but unmistakable attribute known as star quality, the Vantage makes the 911 look second-rate. And while image isn't everything, it sure doesn't hurt when you're spending $110,000 for transportation. Thanks to the rear hatch, you even get a bit of storage area along with your cachet. Granted it's not big enough to justify getting rid of the Range Rover. But when you want a space out front of Spago Beverly Hills, the Vantage is just the ticket.

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