What happened? A year ago I took a sabbatical from business journalism and was looking forward to returning to a world where fat cats flit around happily in limos and rob the earth of its resources with impunity. But commerce developed a conscience in my absence. Suddenly, 'green business' is no longer an oxymoron. Oil companies claim to have joined the fight against global warming. And Stuart Rose has given up his Bentley for a hydrogen-powered BMW.
The change makes the task of reviewing cars for a business magazine problematic. Especially when the first model is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. You see, while the Coupe has many conventionally admirable qualities, it's as green as Miss Piggy. In my four days of ownership, I went through a transatlantic quantity of fuel, and in our new caring world that is probably where a review should both begin and end.
But this baby Aston has mitigating qualities. For one thing, when you put your foot down it makes the most seductive gutteral noise you'll hear this side of an accelerating Tornado jet. Also, it's extremely practical: I used it for everything from a weekend in the New Forest to ferrying a bag of chapatti flour for my mother across Wolverhampton. And it's very pretty.
When I reviewed the DB9 a few years ago the reaction of onlookers was astonishing: you'd have got less attention if you strapped Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt naked to the roof rack of a Mondeo. But the smaller Vantage is even more of a crowd-stopper. Portsmouth seemed to come to a standstill when I drove through it. And in Wolverhampton, one mesmerised onlooker reversed his Renault Espace into it. Getting out, he looked at what he had done to the Vantage and wept.
Indeed, it's the Vantage's beauty that makes you forgive its flaws. It's not as fast as the Porsche 911, its main competitor. But it is prettier. It's more expensive than the Porsche 911. But it is prettier. It's bad for the environment... but it is so very, very pretty. I'd forgive the Friends of the Earth boss if he traded in a polar bear for one.
Clearly, Aston Martin understands this. The press pack for the car is decorated with, of all things, a picture of a melting glacier. The car, surrounded by flames, sits serenely at its foot. In a world where even the Honda Formula 1 team is broadcasting an environmental message, Aston Martin seems to be broadcasting the fact that its cars are helping to dissolve icebergs. It's refreshingly honest, and proof that if you're pretty enough, you can get away with anything.
Thanks but no thanks...
Stunningly pretty but...
It's not as fast as it sounds.
It costs £20,000 more than a Porsche 911.
It has a Volvo satellite navigation system.
It's an eco nightmare.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Coupe
Price: from £82,800
Engine: 4.3 litres, V8
Power: 380 bhp at 7,300 rpm
Torque: 302 lb ft at 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual (a sportshift automated manual is an option
Fuel: 16.2 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2: 358 g/km
0-62 mph: 4.9 sec
Top speed: 175 mph