The wipers are a disappointment though, as they’re not particularly effective in heavy rain, which ill-behoves a high performance car. I also suffered a ‘dropping windows’ incident overnight once, which I believe can afflict Boxster models too. Thankfully it appears to have been a one-off. Fingers crossed.
The car is fun to drive in the wet but doesn’t cope brilliantly with standing water. The front end goes very light and the rear seems to move around quite a lot in such conditions, although I think this may be exacerbated by the rear tyres which are relatively worn after 9500 miles. It certainly saps the confidence a little and I find myself being reluctant to approach faster corners with the same commitment as I had when the tyres were newer.
My local Aston Martin dealership called recently and asked me if I wanted to test-drive the Vantage. Auto-Journalist or not, you would say yes, wouldn’t you? In fact I ended up driving two examples, a Toro Red 2006 car (pictured) followed by an Obsidian Black 2007 car. I’d been out in a Vantage back in 2005 and had been somewhat underwhelmed by it, although the car I drove then was apparently a pre-production model that had been thoroughly ‘tested’ to within an inch of its life on the press launch.
I’m very happy to report that the current cars are much better. Both vehicles felt very stable and secure during my (mostly wet) test-drives. The ride is much more composed and compliant now, and the brakes are very good indeed, with quite a firm pedal feel at the top of its travel and then a very consistent and linear response as you slow the car. The biggest improvement, though, is to the gearbox of the 2007 car – which is now very good. It’s much lighter in its action, with a pleasingly short throw.
Unfortunately, however, the steering just doesn’t offer the feedback, finesse and communication that can be found in the best drivers’ cars. It’s nicely-geared, not too quick at 3.0 turns lock-to-lock and light around town (possibly a touch too light), but there’s still very little real feel, and I was sometimes having to give the car a little confidence-dab on the brakes before turning in because I couldn’t really sense how close the car was to its limits of grip. The Vantage is a glorious car, but not one that perhaps provides the tactile delights that are offered by some other marques.
The Cayman’s next adventure was at Oulton Park in January for an open pit lane track-day with Easytrack. There were 60 cars in attendance, most of which were either fairly exotic road cars, road-legal track-day cars or proper racing cars undergoing shakedown tests.
It was my first time at Oulton, and I found that my car and I didn’t particularly gel with the circuit. The surface was very damp and greasy, and it’s surprisingly narrow most of the way round with precious little run-off. The car’s front end seemed to be sliding across the surface as if it were glass, rather than biting and gripping, whilst as soon as I applied power past the apex, the back end would slide.
Given the conditions – and the speed of most of the other participants – this made for a very focusing and somewhat scary experience. What made it worse is that there seemed to be an ‘off’ about every 15 minutes during the morning, causing the marshals to red-flag the circuit while the stricken car was fished out of the Armco. So then everyone would queue up again and probably try to drive a bit too heroically…until the next person fell off.
It had stopped drizzling by lunchtime, and soon a dry line had just about formed on the circuit. I had worked up a bit more confidence by then and could push harder, but I never truly clicked with the circuit. I felt really slow through the tighter corners and didn’t feel that the car was generating much grip anywhere, so I drove smoothly but fairly cautiously and without my normal track-day enthusiasm.
I had kept my tyre pressures at the normal road settings of 30 psi front and 37 rear, but given that I wasn’t getting much grip from the front, and the rear was sliding, perhaps I should have reduced them. I also think that I should have tried lapping the circuit with the PASM active suspension in normal mode, which may have helped the car make a better fist of keying into the surface. After all, the current 911 models are supposed to be able to lap the Nurburgring faster with PASM in normal mode, and Oulton’s topography is often compared to that of the ‘Ring. All in all, a tough day.
On a positive note, average mpg has improved a little. I set a new personal best of 29 mpg on New Year’s Day for a steady 70-mile, mainly motorway, trip and then improved this further with 32 mpg for about 40 sedate, rain-lashed motorway miles on the way back from Oulton. Enthusiastic use in sport mode still results in high teens.
I will aim to do another track-day in the spring, and then replace all four tyres and maybe the brake pads too. A scary bill is therefore looming, which I shall probably be commenting on next time…
Oulton photography: www.Trackphoto.co.uk