The ethereal glow of the afternoon sunlight splays off the few remaining snow banks on the mountain slopes, sublime asphalt cascades endlessly ahead and the raucous burble of the AMG V8 engine ricochets around the valley as I brake hard into the hairpin before me. I’m driving along the Furka Pass in the Swiss Alps behind the wheel of the all-new Vantage.
As with every long journey, the day before one embarks is filled with nervous anticipation and celestial giddiness. My brief was simple: to drive to the home of TAG Heuer in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in the new Vantage and discover more about the new partnership between this horological institution and one of Britain’s best-loved marques.
And so the journey began. The air-temperature read 26°C, the sky, clear and infinite, spread endlessly on the horizon, and the Lime Essence Aston Martin Vantage shimmered in pearlescent expectancy; even stationary, this car looks like it’s racing into oblivion. I glance at my fellow travelling companion and photographer, Dickie Dawson, and deep smiles entrench themselves on our faces. While the sun basked on the English countryside with an unrelenting ferocity, we careered towards the continent with the switchbacks of the Swiss Alps firmly in our minds.
Arriving in Luxembourg on the first evening after some 700km, the new Vantage has made quite an impression. The 4.0-litre, twin-turbo-charged V8 is the manifestation of everything a performance car should be. It’s aggressive and powerful, boisterous and tactile, yet subtle enough to crunch mile after mile without complaint. In inception, the new Vantage was never primarily designed for Grand Touring. This is the DB11’s territory. The Vantage is for pure weekend fun, for driving hard and making palms sweat. In the words of Dr Andy Palmer, CEO of Aston Martin: “The new Vantage is the Aston Martin pure driving machine enthusiasts have been waiting for.” So to discover its prowess as a comfortable touring machine is a pleasant surprise, especially considering my 6ft6in height, which often causes aggravation on long journeys.
The driving itself may seem endless, but when you’re in an Aston Martin, there are very few moments when you’re bored. To know that a full 503bhp lies at the tip of your toes is a thought that constantly teases your senses.
Long journeys are always about the stories along the way, about the people you meet and the experiences you gain. Needless to say, these aspects are only furthered when driving a lime green Aston Martin — and our first night was no exception. After accidentally selecting an illegal parking spot in central Luxembourg, occasioning a meeting with the Luxembourg police, we were pleasantly surprised when the offer of a spin in the new Vantage appeased the seriousness of the officers. They then showed us some of the best spots in the city; a fine example of an Aston Martin’s ability to unite, wherever you find yourself.
Waking early on day two, we were eager to get going, knowing a gentle 400km drive awaited between Luxembourg City and the TAG Heuer HQ in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Finally departing the motorway system of northern Europe, we wound our way into the Alps and across the Swiss border. The switchbacks appear almost without notice and I instinctively select track mode to utilise these exemplary roads. I liken the Vantage’s metamorphosis to that of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This comfortable tourer has, in the switch of a button, become a race machine of astronomic abilities. Dickie glances at me and grips hard as we career through the mountains en route to TAG Heuer.
This comfortable tourer has in the switch of a button, become a race machine of astronomic proportions
As the mountain lakes glimmer past, all memory of the motorways have dispersed; we’re now on Alpine roads that outshine racetracks. Unblemished asphalt, minimal traffic and wide hairpins beckon us to push this car to its limits. And my does it go. Technology and automotive engineering is progressing at such a rapid rate that cars are simply too capable for even the best drivers and only fully felt out on the track. What this means is that you’re achingly aware that you are merely a passenger, a passenger that tickles the engine, but rarely gives it the surefootedness it needs. The Vantage, on the other hand, is a car that you can truly push to the limits. 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds is more than enough, a top speed of 190mph is more than enough. You simply do not need any more power on the road. This allows you to utterly hammer into every corner, stomp your foot flat without losing traction and brake so hard the callipers glow like an eternal sun at the end of our journey.
In contrast, TAG Heuer’s factory is still and serene; the precision of the Swiss watchmaker is felt the moment you step inside. We are handed robes to cover our clothes in order to protect the workshops from dust and shown through the maze of clinically-white rooms. While TAG Heuer has two further locations that manufacture the individual parts and movements, the construction process culminates here. The delicate fingers of the staff work with immaculate precision to construct each timepiece. In an industry so dominated by men, I’m surprised to see an almost exclusively female workforce. I’m told this is because women are more patient and precise than men — an observation that is, frankly, rather astute. There are many similarities here to the Aston workshops in Gaydon. Precision, meticulous attention to detail and an unwavering sense of quality are the impressions I get from both companies, so their recent partnership comes as no surprise.
With Aston Martin’s charge into the world of Formula 1 as a partner of Red Bull Racing, a link with such a horological brand is truly resonant. “Aston Martin is one of the rare brands that has similar genetic values to TAG Heuer: exclusivity, luxury, quality, design, innovation, history, tradition, emotion, success and performance,” says Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer. “We share the same passion for cars and for motor racing. This collaboration will bring forth a wealth of amazing synergies that will strengthen TAG Heuer’s position as an avant-garde luxury watch brand with a leading position in the automotive sector.”
Indeed, TAG Heuer’s motoring ambassadors include the legendary Formula 1 racers Juan-Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna, and the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen. It also has partnerships with Gulf, Formula E, the World Touring Car Championships and the Indy 500, to name but a few.
Aston Martin is one of the rare brands that has similar genetic values to TAG Heuer
Stepping back into the Swiss sunlight, the new Vantage looks as poised as ever to continue its journey deep into the Alps. However, this is not the first time an Aston Martin has graced this part of the world. A key piece of cinema history took place here in 1964, on Hotel Belvédère corner along the Furka Pass. For those with beady eyes and exemplary film knowledge, this was the car-chase location in Goldfinger, and the 1964 DB5 that Sean Connery drove here was, in fact, the first Aston Martin to ever feature in a James Bond film. An opportunity to visit this exact location some 54 years later behind the wheel of an Aston Martin couldn’t be missed. With Mr Connery firmly in mind, we spent many hours thundering along Furka Pass and the surrounding Alpine roads, as if part of our very own Bond car chase. There’s something honest and invigorating about driving at two kilometres above sea-level: the views are boundless, the roads mesmerising and the adrenaline rush similar to that of jumping out of a plane.
And so, after two days in the Alps, we begin to make our way back to London. But not before visiting another location of motoring history: the immense five-star Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich. In 1905, Baur au Lac became first the first hotel in the world to open an in-hotel garage for guests’ automobiles, and thus we deemed it the perfect spot to shoot the new Vantage.
The opulence and prestige of Baur au Lac was so suited to the new Vantage that it almost felt like home. An exemplary car is always best served with an exemplary hotel.
Alas, as our final day dawned, it was not with sadness but elation that we climbed into the Vantage: our drive back to the UK would take us along the autobahn system to Stuttgart, through to Reims, north to Calais and finally back to London. While a road trip must always end, it is never the destination that is
of importance. No, it is about the journey itself and our journey in the new Vantage was truly spectacular. The vehicle surpassed every thought I had prior to embarking and, even after 3,000km, all I wanted to do was continue driving — if that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what will.
With a partner like TAG Heuer, Aston Martin’s new era is ticking over nicely. Long may it last.