Hyundai has revealed its customer racer for the 2019 World TCR season
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What is a Taraf? Good question. A quick rummage on the interweb tells us that ‘Taraf’ is Turkish for ‘side’. It’s also the name of a left-leaning newspaper in that country. Or, if you happen to be in Romania or Moldova, a Taraf is a folk music ensemble consisting of up to eight musicians. This reminds me of 1980s BBC panel show Call My Bluff. Clearly it is also a car. Yep, Aston Martin’s new super saloon, the Lagonda Taraf. Well, we say new, but TopGear.com first sat in a Taraf more than a year ago, and we’ve been chasing a drive in it ever since. At last we’ve had a punt. Because the car was originally conceived purely for Aston’s customers in the Middle East, the company didn’t feel the need to let anyone else have a go.
When Andy Palmer took over as CEO last year, there was a rethink, and now anywhere that’s EU-legislation-compliant in Europe and various other markets beyond can stick their oar in. Meanwhile, our persistence pays off in the form of a world-exclusive first drive. The Taraf will be an extremely rare sight, not least because the car costs £696,000 in the UK. Sheesh. Sheesh. Yes, we’re deep into fantasy land once again. Mind you, Aston has, um, rich form in this territory. In the past few years alone we’ve had low-volume specials like the One-77, V12 Zagato, CC100 Speedster (two of which were built for clients), Vantage GT12, and Vulcan. The all-new DB11 is imminent, complete with AMG-Mercedes transmission and electrical systems, but until then the famous VH architecture is being rinsed for all it’s worth. We don’t have a problem with that particularly: the GT12 is one of the best cars the company has ever done, and Aston’s design department contains some of the industry’s most inspired thinkers. We also don’t have £696,000, but Aston is banking on 200 loyal customers being substantially less borassic than we are. Is the Lagonda part of the equation significant? You bet it is. Forget 2009’s heinously unattractive SUV concept, and think instead of the pre-war saloons (engineered by W.O Bentley) and thunderous Le Mans racers. David Brown bought the Lagonda company and merged it with Aston Martin in 1948, but the most relevant car in the context of the Taraf is the 1976-89 Lagonda, a modernist masterpiece created by the late William Towns. Design wonks will tell you that the wedge was all the rage amongst the main car biz crayon-wielders in the late 1960s but, along with the Lamborghini Countach LP400, the Lagonda was the boldest proposal to make it into production. And quite possibly the boldest looking car, full stop. Interestingly, it was also airbrushed out of Aston’s history in a rather Stalinist manner by the previous management. The Lagonda Taraf brings that wonderfully bonkers car back in from the cold, a development we’re thoroughly chuffed about. Does the Taraf work in the flesh? It’s a deeply impressive looking thing, pretty much what its predecessor would have evolved into had it been allowed to. The surfacing is sublime, particularly the line that runs from the top of the front wheelarch and continues the length of the car beneath and past the window. The body panels are made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), and then receive a seven-layer paint job and many hours of polishing and elbow grease. Aston’s chief creative officer Marek Reichman ran Lincoln’s concept studio in the US and worked on the Rolls-Royce Phantom before joining the company. Like all car designers he has his signature moves, but you can tell he enjoyed this one.
Does the Taraf feel much different from other Astons? Actually, yes. There’s no getting away from the fact that the underpinnings are knocking on a bit now, not least the 5.9-litre V12 engine. The Taraf is also an imposing 5.4 metres long, so it’s weighing into territory currently very effectively patrolled by the likes of the Phantom and Bentley’s Mulsanne, both of which are considerably cheaper. But just imagine for a second that you are a telecoms magnate in Singapore, and you want something none of your magnate friends have. What you want is a Lagonda Taraf, according to Aston anyway. Will these people ever actually drive the car, though? Probably not. But they should. The Taraf has 540bhp, and despite its more overtly luxurious remit, it still moves and feels like an Aston powered by an impressively voluble V12 with a ‘here-I-come’ exhaust bypass valve. It doesn’t ride as well as its rivals, but despite its size and physical presence, it handles better than you’d expect. The ‘Touchtronic III’ eight-speed ZF ’box is as smoothly capable as ever, and everything feels perfectly well tied down. Top speed is a claimed 195mph, which we couldn’t get close to verifying, but the Taraf doesn’t feel like a car that would blow its window seals above 150 or dribble oil all over the valet’s brogues. Aston claims to have done 14,000-odd development miles, and subjected the Taraf to the full temperature horror of the desert region it’s primarily aimed at. Nothing on four wheels can really match a Mercedes S-Class for outright engineering integrity, but the Taraf is a solid piece of work. Inside? This is arguably more important. Aston’s Q division is expert in crafting wood, leather and no doubt other more exotic materials as per oligarchical whim. So fill your boots while emptying your wallet. But the Taraf’s cabin is basically a more spacious iteration of the familiar Aston set-up. The rear seats are lovely, of course, and our car had screens affixed to the front chairs for languid, long-haul entertainment. The audio system is a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen system, and there’s HDD navigation. But when it comes to toys, technology and connectivity, the Taraf is outgunned by the new BMW 7-Series, and lacks the untouchable imperiousness of the Phantom. So it’s pretty much illogical, captain. It doesn’t stack up as luxury transport, no. But Aston prefers to think of the Lagonda, rather grandly, as a piece of art, and there are surely 200 people out there who can relate to that. We’re just pleased to see the Seventies Lagonda given such an expertly executed reboot. And even more pleased we’ve finally got to drive it.