The most affordable, desirable and beautiful Aston Martin for decades goes on sale next month. The DB7's classically sculptured lines echo the DB models of the Fifties and Sixties - featured in a number of James Bond movies - when Aston was the most charismatic name in the car industry.

The 165mph DB7 is powered by a 3.2 litre six-cylinder supercharged engine developing 335bhp. At pounds 78,500 it may not seem cheap, but it costs pounds 55,000 less than the Virage - currently Aston's cheapest model.

But the price is not the only surprise. Previous Astons have been hand-built on a separate chassis at the firm's cramped Newport Pagnell factory.

This old-fashioned process meant the Virage Volante, for example, would take 2,500 man-hours to build - compared to 30 for a Nissan Micra. A DB7, however, will emerge from a high-tech plant in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, after just 150 hours of labour, thanks to modern manufacturing techniques developed by parent company Ford. The powerplant is closely related to a Jaguar engine and the body has the unitary construction of most modern cars.

Critics say the reliance on parts from Jaguar and Ford and the new construction systems are a betrayal of Aston's past, but realists say that an engineering revolution at the famous company was necessary merely to get the car into production.

There are plenty of traditional touches to the DB7 to keep purists happy: the cabin is swathed in leather, the fittings are pure Aston Martin, the ride and

handling have been given the thumbs-up by former world champion racing driver

Jackie Stewart - who is a director of the company.

And the producers of the next James Bond film are once again expected to give the DB7 the ultimate accolade - of naming it as 007's choice of transport.

(Photograph omitted)

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