Yes, South Africa’s in its first recession in over a decade. The global economy looks about as healthy as Amy Winehouse. But, not unlike food and water, fast, expensive cars remain an absolute necessity. Here are SA’s most exclusive.
Aston Martin DBS V12 Coupe
Some things are just unforgiveable. Like racism, Paris Hilton’s success, those double-decker pizzas with sausage in the crust, and wrecking three DBS cars in the space of a week – which is what happened during filming of the last 007 film. One even ended up in a lake. The driver, an Aston Martin employee, was fined £400 for reckless driving and, frankly, was lucky to escape jail for stupidity or damage to a work of art. Because Bond’s latest car – which reunites him with the quintessentially British brand after a treasonous dalliance with BMW – is certainly a thing of beauty.
It’s hard to disagree with the marketers: “The deep spoilers, flared wheel arches and essential scoops and vents convey pure athleticism, without compromising a quality that is integral to every Aston Martin: beauty.”
But the beauty here isn’t skin deep. The aluminium and carbon fibre body keeps the car’s weight to a minimum (1578kg) which helps the outlandish 380kW V12 engine accelerate the car from standstill to 100km/h in under four seconds and on to a top speed of over 312km/h. Which is exactly what you need if you’re in possession of a licence to kill. Sadly the version at your local dealer doesn’t come with optional ejector seat or retractable bumper-mounted rocket launcher, but the hand-assembled and hand-finished car has all the features you’d expect from the most potent production Aston Martin ever made.
Like the little lights on the door handle that illuminate when you unlock the car at night. Or the admittedly cramped two-seater interior, with its stitched leather, metal mesh grilles and trims instead of plastic, and those signature chronograph dials. Even the key, a sapphire and stainless steel disc, is stunning.
Bentley Continental GTC
Never mind that it’s made by the same company still churning out the CitiGolf. Or that underneath all the prestige are the same mechanicals as the Volkswagen Phaeton, an overpriced Passat. Or that you’ll find an Audi A8 engine under the hood. Or that its imposing chromed-brass mesh-grille is actually made of plastic (so as not to kill any awestruck pedestrians in your path).
It’s Paris Hilton’s car.
So like the heiress herself, it’s all about the show. Very fast – a 0-100km/h time of 4.7 seconds en route to 314km/h. Very powerful – 412kW from that 6.0-litre engine. Very opulent – a hand-crafted orgy of polished steel, cream leather, unbleached wood veneers, traditional Bulls-Eye air vents and Breitling clock, and lambswool carpeting. Very big – like the space between her ears.
But the best thing about this four-wheel-drive giant is the feeling of the wind in your bleached blonde hair and the heat of the sun on your orange perma-tan skin as you drive along Rodeo Drive with the top down. Now that’s hot.
Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
Apart from annoying theme tunes, bad mullets and no realism to speak of, ’80s TV shows gave us a bunch of iconic wheels. BA Baracus’ red-and-black A-Team van; the talking, turbo-boosting, super-pursuit-mode-ing KITT; TJ Hooker’s patrol car. But none was more memorable than the red Ferrari 308 GTS – as important to ‘Magnum PI’ as Tom Selleck’s moustache.
Its spirit – or at least colour – lives on in the most powerful series production Ferrari road car ever crashed by Christiano Ronaldo. And that’s no marketing exaggeration. This one’s serious about performance.
Named after the total engine capacity (5999 cc) and Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, the 599GTB produces 456kW that gives you a top speed of over 330km/h and, when pulling away at robots, 3.7 seconds to reach 100km/h. It’s not just the engine though. There’s the lightweight aluminium spaceframe construction, an F1 gearbox that changes gears in 100 milliseconds, a predictive stability control system, steering wheel with LED rev display, and something called the manettino that controls ride dynamics.
But this is no bare-bones racer with an exposed roll-cage. Fine leather, aluminium and carbon fibre abound; the contoured seats, windows, mirrors, and steering wheel tilt are power operated; and dual-zone automatic climate control is standard..
“The more time you spend in the [Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano], the more you respect it,” sums up Road & Track.
“Sure, it handles great and looks great. But eventually you realise something: What defines the 599 is that awe-inspiring [engine]; the unreal power to which you never get accustomed, the way it wants to shred the rear tyres under full throttle. And the most raucous, intoxicating exhaust note this side of a race car.”
They don’t tell you that with fuel consumption figures of 21 litres/100km, you’ll fork out R16.80 for every kilometre driven. Chances are you won’t care.
Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster
“Will you be wanting the Bat-Pod, Sir?” Bruce Wayne’s butler asks him, in reference to Batman’s new, outlandish assault vehicle.
“In the middle of the day, Alfred? Not very subtle,” replies the millionaire playboy and part-time vigilante. He opts instead for a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640, sparking one of the few laughs in the rather bleak ‘Dark Knight’ – this Italian show-off is anything but subtle.
Yes, VW are once again pulling the strings, but this is no super Scirocco. Monstrous mid-mounted 6.5-litre engine producing 471kW? Check. Low-slung, ground-hugging carbon-fibre body that tips the scales at less than a BMW 3-Series? Check. Outrageous scissor doors? Check. Air intakes that open at high speeds so the engine can suck in more air? Check. Folding side mirrors to boost aerodynamics? Check. Rear wing that raises automatically ? and so produces more downforce ? the faster you go? Check. Electronic launch control device called “Thrust”? Check. Roll bar that automatically pops up behind the seats in milliseconds during a roll-over emergency? Check. Ride height control that allows you to raise the front axle at low speeds? Check. Ceramic brakes; 3.4-second 0 to 100km/h sprint time; top speed of 330km/h? Check. Check. Check.
Still not convinced? How about the fact it has no real roof? Sure there’s a soft top, but it’s designed for temporary use and only for crawling around at less than 160km/h.
Rolls Royce Phantom
The English – and we’re not talking Jordan or football hooligans here – are traditionally known for their quiet reserve. The Germans for their fastidious attention to detail. So when the most stiff-upper lip of companies (Rolls Royce) and their Bavarian masters (BMW), declare a car the best in the world, they’re not likely having you on old chap.
“When Rolls-Royce says it’s the best car in the world, it’s hard to disagree,” writes Alexander Parker in ’25 Cars To Drive Before You Die’.
“Really, which car is better? Which car is better conceived, better built or better designed?” he asks. “Indeed, the Phantom is very real, and it is the undisputed monarch of the motoring world.”
But it’s no lily-livered Prince Charles. This hand-built Rolls virtually blocks out the sun – at six metres long, over 1.5m high and tipping the scales at 2485kg, all it needs is a moat and a drawbridge. Instead the Phantom gets a mouthful of an engine: a 6.75 litre 48-valve V12 producing 338kW and 720Nm. That, in technical terms, is “ridiculously powerful” and means this car weighing more than three smart fortwo’s can sprint from 0 to 100km/h faster than a Ford Focus RS (5.7 seconds.) Not that any Rolls owner would attempt something quite so uncouth – this is a luxury liner, not a dragster.
So inside the mobile castle, heavily soundproofed to prevent the plebeian sounds of everyday life from penetrating, it’s all about deep carpets, hand-crafted wood panelling, wireless headphones, heated and cooled cup holders, custom umbrellas, rear “coach doors” (hinged at the back) that close automatically at the touch of a button, and something called the Starlight Headliner, featuring 800 individually hand fixed ‘stars’ to create the illusion of a dazzling sky at night.
“Every single atom of every single component is designed to make life quiet and comfortable,” reckons Jeremy Clarkson.
“The only proper drawback is the loathing from other road users.”
But Rolls has considered even that. The traditional Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament retracts automatically when tampered with or the car’s parked – presumably to protect it from those soccer hooligans or a jealous Jordan.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.