Anyone for a cocktail on the Côte d’Azur? Conti GT, S63 and DB11 cross France in search of the perfect aperitif
The glass must be too thick. Or maybe French péage booths are intelligent enough to detect three blokes trying to act all suave in their M&S shirts and Burton Menswear shoes and decide to take us down a peg or three. The télépéage readers aren’t working. Hazards flashing, we’re reversing out. Again. Humiliation. Stress. And on two separate occasions, a sizeable amount of angry arm-waving. I think we’re at Dijon before I twig that if I hold the useless plastic lozenge out of the window, the booth decides I’m already making enough of an arse of myself to raise the barrier grudgingly upwards.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. This was meant to be an effortless sweep down through France, a convivial conquest of the Champagne region, then down to Saint-Tropez for a leisurely evening cocktail in a delightful seafront bistro, Charles Aznavour crooning in the background, boats bobbing in the harbour, mohair jumpers draped round the shoulders.
This is the journey we dream of, isn’t it? There is nothing more appropriate to do with this class of car, so the quest for the best Grand Tourer is to be decided by Touring Grandly in them. But France is big, isn’t it? And there are laws that mean any notion of outpacing TGVs in a back-to-front recreation of Bentley versus Blue Train would likely result in a contest of frightened TopGear journalist versus shouty, armed gendarmes. Instead it turns out that modern-day Grand Touring is actually Grandly Tiring.
Things had started out buoyantly enough. Yes, we’d all had starts at something-beginning-with-a-three from various points about 150 miles from Folkestone, but as we nose down the ramp onto the Eurotunnel, a plump sun peeks up from somewhere over Samphire Hoe and beams orangely at our little convoy. It feels like a blessing.
The Aston Martin DB11 costs $206,000, and its twin-turbo V12 has 600bhp. Inside are two stunning seats, a couple of sculpted niches for children and some preened leather. There are some recognisable DB9 tropes: the gearchange buttons, the low seating position, the cramped centre console, the cheap electric seat controls, but the overall impression is delightful.
Soft dawn sun does wonders for the Mercedes-AMG S63. The matt paint diffuses the light, intensifying the surfacing. It’s another twin-turbo powerhouse – 577bhp propelling four proper seats, pillarless windows and enough tech to keep a 12-year old quiet. Over $21,000 cheaper than the Aston, and way, way better kitted out. Honestly, I think Aston ought to have a word with Merc about this whole partnership deal they’ve got going on.