I'm behind the wheel of a 2020 Aston Martin Vantage on a rainy morning, barreling northbound on State Route 141 near the edge of Atlanta's trendy Buckhead neighborhood. My passenger, Aston Martin Performance Driver and Brand Specialist Jason Wilkie, has just given me permission to let out the British supercar's twin-turbocharged, 4.0-liter V8.
"Go for it, man. Just drive within your abilities," Wilkie says when I ask him if I'm allowed to shift into the left lane and put my foot down. "Just know that if you get pulled over, you're paying the ticket."
Say no more. I signal and switch over, tap the brake to create ample sprint distance in fairly light traffic, then firmly push the gas pedal to the floor, fully unleashing the Mercedes-AMG-made engine and its 500-plus horsepower in the process. I feel the tail wiggle on the wet pavement as the bellowing coupe quickly closes in on the car ahead.
"There ya go," he says. "That’s what it’s for. People are so scared to crash the damn thing that they drive even more conservatively than they normally would.”
My exhilarating Sunday cruise is courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences, a program available to at destination Waldorf Astoria hotels and resorts across the globe. On select weekends, the concierge offers VIP guests the opportunity to book a complementary 30- to 90-minute Aston Martin test drive guided by one of the iconic British marque's professionals. The idea is to elevate the already-upscale pleasure of staying in Hilton's flagship properties with a commensurate automotive adventure.
For the Waldorf Astoria brand, joining forces with Aston makes perfect sense, especially when considering that the attention to detail and craftsmanship that goes into making each of these beautiful vehicles is, in a way, reflective of the five-star service Waldorf guests know and expect.
“All cars are still hand-built in Gaydon, England. We do about five to six thousand cars a year. Toyota makes more in a week than we’ve done in our entire lives," Wilkie tells me during what has become a detour back to the Waldorf. He has plenty of time to elaborate on the bespoke nature of my ride, including how the stylish shell gets its mirror-shine finish.
“After we apply the primer, it’s hand-sanded. They use a rotary sander, and in some places that are hard to get to, they will literally grab a piece of sand paper and hand-sand it down. And we have to paint, lacquer, and sand after every single application.”
He tells me that those iconic ornamental "wings" located at the tip of every Aston's hood are crafted from premium metal by Vaughtons, the official jeweler to the UK's royal family. Meanwhile, the cockpit is swathed in seven to nine premium leather hides by a single seamstress over a 50-hour period.
"[The interior's leather] is hand-stitched because you want that perfect symmetry between seams. At the end of every seamstress' car, they’ll sign the inside of the driver’s leather. If they think it’s the best one they’ve ever done, they’ll sign it twice,” Wilkie says.
“All of the leather comes from Bridge of Weir in Northern Scotland. We use beef cows, and part of the leather is a byproduct. All of those cows are raised at 5,500 feet elevation, and the benefit of that is there’s no humidity or bugs, so you get more yield out of the hide, and the hide is of highest quality."
Just as I gain a true appreciation for the quality of Aston's range of models, my time in the Vantage comes to a close. While the drive was equal parts riveting and relaxing, navigating an unfamiliar route in a $150,000 machine that I'm ultimately liable for in the event of a crash has left me feeling a little tight. I hit the Waldorf Astoria Atlanta Buckhead's sprawling spa facility, where I sweat out the tension with a sit in the sauna and a soak in a massive Jacuzzi before loosening up with a 50-minute full-body massage.
After quick workout in one of the best-equipped hotel gyms I've ever seen, I head back to my room, which is decked-out dark woods, plush furnishings, touches of marble, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows that offer sweeping views of North Atlanta. As I lay down for a nap, I arrive at the same conclusion I alluded to earlier: These two classic luxury brands make for a perfect pairing.
The Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences program's final event of 2020 takes place at the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok in December. Visit www.waldorfastoria.com/drive for the latest details.