PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 12:00am

IMAGINE A 5.9-litre, V-12, 48-valve engine promising 435 brake horsepower via a five-speed automatic, gearbox and a top speed of 265 km/h. And at a price just three times the value of my flat.

The thought would be of little consequence to Johnny English, Her Majesty's Secret Service's most inept agent in the film of the same name. Or the Aston-owning Rowan Atkinson, who portrays the bumbling spy. But when an Aston Martin DB7 Vantage Coupe was delivered to my door, for my eyes only, I could not help thinking a spin around the New Territories was a licence to thrill. The ultimate diversion from surgical masks and rubber suits.

The head of the marque's new Hong Kong distributor, MF Jebsen International (2923 7333), greets me. His name is Jebsen, Markus Jebsen.

He quickly reminds me that the DB7 has several times been voted Most Beautiful Car in the World. The amazing thing is the design is ultra-simple. It is the original fastback, imitated and embellished by every car maker from Ford's 1966 Mustang to Jaguar. The front end is the original shark face, but otherwise resists falling into the latest rounded front quarters craze.

The waistline is classically high, so only the driver's head can be seen from outside, the greenhouse low and sleek, the hips subtly rounded, and 19-inch, nine-spoke alloy wheels fairly screaming: Let's go!

Inside is another world, a mix of sport, class, heritage and refined comfort. Indeed, the car embodies all the attributes Johnny English thinks he has, and Atkinson enjoys in real life. Swathes of the richest leather cover the seats, doors, and steering wheel, complemented by rich wood-grain trim sweeping over the fascia, all around the central console and reappearing on the door cappings. And it looks like real wood.

Setting the driver's seat is a delight, with electric motors to take it every which way, including up and down. Then I adjust the steering wheel for tilt, and pull it towards me - at last, I am ergonomically set.

Through the sporty three-spoke steering wheel I see classic, sporty instruments, black-on-white in a black panel, with speedometer and tachometer sharing equal prominence. No digital readouts here, thank goodness, but then such overstated flash wouldn't be English.

The handbrake is a problem, however. Positioned like a traditional shooting-brake, just inside the driver's door, the handbrake lever has to be lifted, the button pressed just so, and then lowered. In the end it is achieved by opening the door, making way to give the lever a serious heft.

With just a hint of regret that the shifter is not six-speed manual, we shoot into the Sai Kung traffic with a refined burst of power, and a rumble from the exhaust that raises the hair on my neck.

On the country highway I am soon in the spirit of James Bond, swooping handily round the medium curves, just daring any enemy agents to challenge me.

The suspension is firm without any sportscar jiggle, letting me sense every ripple of the road yet reducing serious wallops to distant, insulated blips. The steering is more masterful than positive, however.

Such a car deserves better than Ma On Shan! Minutes later we are heading the other way, scorching up the long hill out of Ho Chung, using the assorted traffic as a slalom course, effortlessly weaving left to right with consummate grace, and not a hint of danger to anyone.

On the long straight past the University of Science and Technology, I earn a degree of insight into the combination of performance and comfort, then slow for TV City, in case talent scouts loiter in search a Hong Kong Johnny English.

I hang around the studio for a little longer than I might care to admit, but with my stardom undiscovered, I cruise down Silverstand Hill, held back by a procession of vehicles, until I am liberated from the constraints of traffic in the overtaking of a Jaguar in a nanosecond. And off we sprint for a rollicking ride all the way to the Tai O Mun headland.

We stop there for a brief stroll to stretch our legs and Jebsen seems happy to let the Vantage sell itself. Instead of talking about the car, he reels off the facts and figures on the numbers of plant species in Hong Kong, obviously proud of his birthplace.

Moments later we take the tight curves in the best of Bond tradition, then a sharp left at the roundabout and on down the sweeping curves to Clear Water Bay and on to the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club.

On this scenic and almost traffic-free road, I understand the true magnificence of the Aston Martin's weight, balance and suspension. Driving the Vantage is like flying - under complete control and a feeling of security.

Heading back up the deserted road I test the acceleration, briefly. With my foot to the floor, mountains seem to dive in our direction, and the muffled rumble of exhaust sends serious injections of adrenalin into the bloodstream.

What sets the DB7 apart from other cars is the marque's refinement, comfort and incredible performance.

It seems almost a GT, in which we could drive at an effortless 220 to 250 km/h for hours across Europe, and after a long day's touring, be ready for an evening in the casino and a mission to save the world.

If you have the taste for action and $2,375,000 to spare, you might enjoy the new V-12 Aston-Martin DB7 Vantage Coupe as much as I do. It offers brief, head-turning acceleration on Hong Kong's roads and an understated power statement over the border.