Like that much-cited box of chocolates, with press cars you’re never quite sure what you’ll get next. This month we drove three cars developed for completely different buyers, yet each would be a good fit for its designated driver.
The three? The Aston-Martin Volante convertible, the “efficient dynamics” diesel-powered BMW 335d and the tech-intensive Acura TL SH-AWD.
We’ll start with the Aston, with which we spent an hour on Carmel Valley Road during the Monterey Historics race weekend. Two numbers will tell you whether this car could be right for you: 510 horsepower and $285,000. And one word: symphonic.
If that sounds like a swizzle stick for your soul, read on.
When the Aston DBS coupe was launched as James Bond’s car in the 2007 film “Casino Royale” and introduced in 2008, it was well received. What’s not to like in a stylish sports coupe with a lightweight body, a beautiful leather interior and an engine producing 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, with a six-speed transaxle available in either manual or Touchtronic automatic versions?
The only complaint at the time was that there was no convertible version.
At Monterey a few weeks ago, the press and current Aston owners sampled the next chapter in the story, the DBS Volante. With a traditional cloth top that takes nothing away from the car’s looks when you push the button to raise it electronically, the convertible version is even better than the coupe.
Sure, at 3,990 pounds it weighs a bit more than the coupe, but the additional weight gives it the torsional stability often lost in a droptop body style. It certainly doesn’t detract from performance – our more adventurous colleagues, having driven the Volante earlier that day, bragged about blowing the doors off a Ferrari California.
What we noticed with the top down was the sound: 12 cylinders of sound exiting through two exhaust pipes that could have been taken from the organ in Stanford Memorial Church. Tootle down the road like a regular person and the car is quiet and almost disappointingly well behaved. But find an open patch away from traffic and kick it up over 4,000 rpm, the bypass valves open and the car produces a full-throated basso that had us grinning ear to ear.
So our only question now is how soon will we see the first one paused for pedestrian traffic at Second and Main streets?
Our next piece of automotive candy came with its own billboard. We guessed that the BMW PR reps finally figured out that if they were going to loan press cars to journalists, why not paste some advertising on the side? So our Arctic White BMW 335d, the first true diesel-powered performance sedan in the United States, was emblazoned with the words “BMW Advanced Diesel Efficient Dynamics” in large letters on the side. It drew a lot of stares and was fine with us – and it certainly worked: We had two prospective sports sedan purchasers stop us during the week to find out about the car, and both said they would be on their way to the BMW dealer to check them out.
The numbers are impressive. Combined fuel economy of 27 mpg, 410 horsepower, base price $43,900. In one word: intelligent.
All week long we were answering the same questions. Yes, it drives and handles like any other BMW 3-Series on the road, which is to say, fun, satisfying and very comfortable. Yes, the fuel-efficiency ratings are accurate. With the cruise control set at 70 mph on Interstate 280, the instant read-out was showing 50 mpg and we averaged more than 30 mpg for our week with the car. Yes, the car does require a once-a-year injection of the same urea-based fluid as the Mercedes “BlueTec” SUVs, but the auto shop/dealer can do it at the same time the oil is changed. Yes, it’s turbocharged, with low-end torque that produces a very un-diesel-like zero to 60 mph in 6 seconds.
Beyond that, it’s a 3-series, which means now-legendary responsive BMW handling. We think it may be the most intelligent car on the road for the person concerned with economy and ecology, who still wants a driving machine instead of just a transportation machine.
The last piece of candy was the Acura TL SH-AWD TECH HPT. Really, that’s the entire identifier of this car on the window sticker. SH means super handling: AWD, of course, is all-wheel drive; TECH means it’s got enough gadgets to keep a Silicon Valley geek entertained just reading the owner’s manual; and HPT? That we don’t know. It wasn’t mentioned in any of the press releases, but it’s probably high-performance something or another.
That’s way too many acronyms for us. Try this: $43,995 out the door with a number of electronic conveniences, from navigation to Bluetooth and iPod controls. And in one word: luxurious.
From the inside, this was as comfortable, pleasant and satisfying a car as one could possibly desire, and the improvements wrapped up in those high-tech acronyms transformed the already-comfortable Acura, with more-than-adequate space for four adults, into a competent-handling sports sedan.
Driving back from Monterey up Highway 101 in the middle of Monday-morning traffic, we could just settle back in the soft but supportive seats, and enjoy tunes from our iPod through the exceptional sound system in the quiet interior.
The only drawback to the Acura TL? The exterior styling, intended to make the TL stand out from the crowd of me-too sedans. It’s edgy and extreme enough that it may deter some people from getting close enough to discover how good a car it really is.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.