Aston Martin chose Palm Springs as the location to showcase its two newest models, the Vanquish Volante and the far more specialist V12 Vantage S. The former car is a natural development of the brand's flagship V12 sporting GT. Perhaps the most radical Aston Martin since the DB9 of 2003, the Vanquish coupe (launched last year) marked the company's move into all-carbon fibre construction, using techniques learned on the One-77 supercar, creating a car that is light, deft and yet still imbued with the signature attention to detail and beautiful form-making.
The Vanquish is a car for the connoisseur, something that has evolved over time rather than arrived fully formed. Yes, it's true that for reasons of scale and expediency, Aston Martin isn't in the business of presenting a radical new solution every five years or so, à la Ferrari. It doesn't even take the clean sheet approach of Porsche, although it's arguably less hamstrung than its German counterpart when it comes to design evolution.
Instead, the modern Aston Martin is a car that knows its capabilities and its place in the world and has no reason or need to go strutting off into pointless debates about numbers or performance. On paper, the Vanquish Volante delivers the same sort of performance you might expect from a high-end estate car, perhaps even slightly less. Instead, you're invited to skip the vulgar science of statistics and just enjoy the thing; few cockpits are as special as this, even when not laden with bespoke touches thanks to Aston Martin's 'Q' division, the Bond-aping workshop where owners can have their colour and trim fantasies played out in every lurid colour.
In truth, every facet of the Vanquish is pretty bespoke already (as the price tag confirms), but that's the price you pay for a grand tourer that can transform every journey into an occasion. Drop the hood - it takes just 14 seconds - and you get a good idea of what everyone else experiences, with the raucous exhaust note suddenly far more present.
With Ferrari playing the superpower role in a horsepower arms race, it's tempting to see Aston as a sort of automotive Switzerland; fully prepared in its own particular way, while unwilling to engage in the antics of others.
This argument is rather defeated by the V12 Vantage S, however. Billed as Aston Martin's fastest ever road car, the S shows how the company can still hold its own in any company you care to invite it into. It also shows the fundamental rightness if AM's first principles: the decade old design of the Vantage still looks fresh, while the company's engineering team has managed to shoehorn the massive V12 under the svelte bonnet (the profusion of carbon fibre vents and louvers gives its presence away).
The result is a sublime contemporary sports car, far more aggressive than the larger Vanquish yet without losing any of the company's attention to design detail and delight. Whereas the Vanquish uses carbon fibre to sculpt elaborate forms and deep, flowing curves, the Vantage's bodywork (mostly aluminium) seems to be shrunk-wrapped over its frame, the wheels pushed out to each corner.
Two very different displays of sporting prowess, and two very different characters, yet both cut from the same cloth. Although the evolutionary approach to car design is rather rarefied, Aston Martin gets results that are nothing less than spectacular.