Auto active: Please pay attention, 007 - this is a £150,000 supercar, not a toy!

It's fast and has a lot of red leather. Just what James Bond needs, says Melanie Bien
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When Pierce Brosnan returns to cinema screens as James Bond next year, all eyes will be on 007's new car. And in true Bond fashion this particular motor will not disappoint.

Nearly 40 years after the Aston Martin DB5 appeared in Goldfinger – complete with ejector seat, bullet proof windows, tyre shredders, hidden machine gun and smoke screen, all customised by gadget supremo Q – 007 returns to the fold in the highly desirable Aston Martin Vanquish.

Bond's new Aston Martin lives up to the hype that surrounds it. The engine, the heart of any supercar, gives out a satisfying roar when you start it up, capable of waking not only the neighbours but probably the dead. With a 460 brake horsepower V12 engine, it zips to 60mph in just 4.4 seconds and has a top speed of 190mph.

One of the main differences between the Vanquish and other cars is the racing gearbox. Two leather and aluminium paddles are situated immediately behind the steering wheel so you don't have to take your hands off it to change gear. It takes a split second (that's 240 milliseconds for the anoraks) to change gear, faster than any road car and second only to the gear changes in Formula One.

A choice of modes is available, including sport; normal manual, where you control the gear changes yourself; and automatic if you are feeling lazy. The automatic mode was a bit jerky so I preferred the manual mode. There is also a winter mode if the weather is poor.

One of the best bits about driving the Vanquish is starting it up – you turn the ignition key, wait for a systems check, put the paddles in neutral by pulling them towards you at the same time and then push the big red illuminated "engine start" button.

Suddenly there is a roar from the engine; press your foot on the brake and pull the right-hand paddle into first gear to set off. The clutchless paddles look daunting at first but it doesn't take long to get the hang of them. The car is impossible to stall because it shifts down the gears if you come to a sudden halt or simply can't be bothered to flick down the gears yourself.

But if you are pootling along slowly, say in a traffic jam, the Vanquish struggles. It soon becomes apparent that this is a car which prefers travelling at speed, slipping past traffic on the motorway with ease.

Reversing is a real pain; you push a separate button on the central console to reverse but the view out of the back window is restricted due to the sizeable rear braking light obstructing the driver's line of vision.

Nevertheless, on the whole I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to drive, particularly as it is a big car. Road holding is impressive as the wide tyres boast excellent grip and the car is so low-set that it hugs bends – vital on a machine capable of these speeds. The Vanquish is a comfortable ride, the cabin feels safe and cosy and not as exposed as cars such as the Lotus Elise.

But, although the padded roof was a nice touch, I wasn't keen on the overwhelmingly red interior – red leather seats and dashboard. Certain features, such as mirrors on the sun visors, and cup holders, were also missing. And the cheap plastic buttons on the central console reminds the driver that Aston Martin was indeed bought by Ford in 1987.

However, one redeeming feature is the impressive array of gadgets in the glove compartment, including a posh pen and notebook, folding pen-knife and a small torch. Although the Vanquish is not entirely built by hand (in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire as previous Aston Martins have been), aficionados will be relieved to hear that there is still a hand-built feel to it.

The one problem with the Vanquish is getting your hands on one. Only 300 are being built each year so even if you can afford the £158,000 asking price, you will have to wait until 2003 at the earliest to get behind the wheel of your own car.

Vanquish means to conquer, overpower or overwhelm. That's exactly what the new Aston does; it's an expensive car but also a beautiful one and a real pleasure to drive. But would I spend that much money on a car? Before I drove the Vanquish the answer to that question would have been "Definitely not". Two days of driving around in it and I am thoroughly converted. Now all I need to do is win the Lottery.