In this season of wishes our desires often turn to exotic vehicles with a bow on top. And when it comes to automotive dream fulfillment, Aston Martin undoubtedly tops the list . The small but proud British brand's sleek vehicles have long been associated with James Bond, and with sales of just a few thousand cars a year, you're far more likely to see one on film than at the neighborhood diner. Like other limited-volume exotics, Aston Martin's allure is one of a rolling example of unattainability for mere mortals.

If sampling one of these vehicles is a treat, then getting into the entire lineup is an automotive banquet. And that's exactly what we did recently in the foothills just north of Los Angeles. Of course, "the entire lineup" of Aston Martin consists of four main models and their various convertible and special editions.

Meet the Aston family

The brand's "entry level" car -- one that still costs six figures -- is the Vantage, a 2-seat coupe and roadster. After that is the DB9, a 2+2 GT coupe or convertible ("Volante," in Aston speak). Then there is the most passenger-friendly Aston Martin, the 4-door, 4-passenger Rapide S. At the top is the Vanquish, Aston Martin's flagship 2+2 GT that's available as a coupe or convertible and whose starting price is nearly $300,000 -- more than many people pay for a house. 

With the exception of the base Vantage, all 2016 Aston Martins are powered by a monstrous V12 engine and can reach speeds approaching or eclipsing 200 mph. While all Aston Martins boast serious performance, in a world where its rivals can hit 60 mph in 3 seconds or less, the company's offerings are neither the quickest nor the most powerful. And while 2016 brings updates such as touch-sensitive infotainment controls to the DB9 and Vantage, you won't be treated to Audi or Mercedes-like technology in an Aston Martin. Neither will you find options such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure mitigation or even blind-spot monitoring -- the latter of which would help ease the bad sightlines that result from these cars' otherwise gorgeous exterior design.

Aston Martin officials concede that while driving aids like blind-spot monitoring would have a place on one of these British supercars, other such technology doesn't. These cars are meant to be driven, they contend, so don't expect a fleet of autonomous Aston Martins any time soon.  For Aston, craftsmanship of the interiors and bespoke color combinations trump technology. With that in mind, here are our impressions of the latest Astons gleaned over a day of driving hard on Mulholland Drive.

2016 Aston Martin Vantage

It's almost laughable to use the word's "value proposition" with a car that starts around $100,000, but that's Aston's assentation with the V8 Vantage (it's also available in higher-spec form with a V12). But even an entry-level Aston is still an Aston, meaning it boasts some of the most exquisite design money can buy, and the thrilling performance to back it up.

The V8 Vantage is Aston in its rawest form. Available with an automated 7-speed transmission or 6-speed manual linked to its 430-horsepower 4.7-liter V8, the latter is far more recommendable than the former. The 7-speed Sportshift II paddle-operated transmission is essentially a manual transmission that can shift for itself, and it feels like that, too. While putting it in Sport mode ironically tones down the transmission's harshness, gear changes are very noticeable. 

Far more enjoyable is the 6-speed manual transmission. An Aston Martin V8 Vantage so equipped is not only less expensive, but more engaging. There's something distinctly rewarding to shift your own gears in an extoic British sports car with timelessly elegant design and old-school hardware that includes hydraulically assisted steering and an engine that wails like a hyena. If you want the purest form of Aston Martin excitement -- and the least-expensive to boot -- the Vantage is it.

2016 Aston Martin DB9

Described as "the core of what we do," the DB9 is Aston Martin's mid-range 2+2 grand touring coupe and convertible. Hand-built and powered by a 510-horsepower naturally aspirated V12, the DB9 is the stuff of James Bond fantasies for well-heeled drivers the world over. It's more comfortable than the Vantage, and has more creature comforts to boot. 

Like every other Aston Martin, the DB9 emphasizes driving and design over passenger comfort and the latest technical innovations. So while the V12 wails and the DB9's captivating looks assure a proud spot in the valet line, your passenger will still have to fuss with a laughably small vanity mirror while you deal with poor sightlines and an all-but pointless sun visor. 

This is nearly the end of the line for the DB9, and it is showing age. Aston has confirmed that the DB11 will be unveiled in 2016, and we are eager to see the evolution of Aston's iconic DB lineage.

2016 Aston Martin Rapide S

If you are an Aston adherent who desires to treat more than one other person to the experience, the Rapide S is your car. In addition to being the only Aston that will reasonably seat four adults, it is also the most practical thanks to its liftback design. The Rapide S is the 4-door Aston Martin, and its rear compartment is as notable as its front. 

The Rapide S has a pair of rear seats that are just as well-bolstered as those in front. But this is no Escalade. Rear-seat legroom is only ok, and our feet felt cramped while playing the part of passenger. We liked the climate-controlled seating, separate ventilation controls and available dual-screen entertainment system, but the tall front seats block the view out, and the cup holders are laughably small. And why is there no power-operated liftgate on a luxury car that starts around $210,000?

For the driver, though, the Rapide is all Aston. As with the other models, the Rapide features that lovely V12, which in this application makes 552 horsepower and can hit 203 mph. For such a large car, it was surprisingly athletic, handling Mulholland's myriad twists and turns with enthusiasm. When pushed, the Rapide S was playful in corners, with its rear kicking out briefly before traction-management kicked in to save ourselves from being featured on the nightly news.

2016 Aston Martin Vanquish

As the flagship, the Vanquish makes a proper case for Aston as true luxury car -- as it should for nearly $300k. Our test model was the most opulent and comfortable Aston of the group, featuring leather seats that were as buttery as the standard 8-speed automatic transmission deeper below. This Aston also features amenities one would expect in other luxury brands including climate-controlled front seats and touch-based infotainment interface. The navigation system is small but acceptable.

The Vanquish features the most robust version of the brand's 6.0-liter V12, here tuned to make 568 horsepower. With a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, the Vanquish can move, but does so with surprising grace. Its steering is well-connected to the road without being fatiguing in everyday driving. If you're looking for a refined, head-snapping and head-turning British cruise missile, the Vanquish is it. 

Like all Astons, the Vanquish comes at a steep price and trades the latest tech wizardly for dazzling design and the kind of esoteric badge envy of which few others can dream. After driving Aston's full line back-to-back, it became clear that this brand isn't about winning the ever-higher horsepower or tech wars as much as it is respectfully evolving a stable of exotic sports cars built on pride and provenance.

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