AUG 05th 2014

Driven: Can refreshed Aston Martin Vanquish challenge its foes?

Just two years after launching the Vanquish Aston Martin has given it a serious overhaul. Not that you’d know looking at it; the exterior revisions signified by a new lighter ten-spoke alloy wheel, inside the changes limited to some new headlining finishes and colour choices. So it looks the same, which to most will be no bad thing, though Aston Martin could be accused of being a bit of a one-trick pony design-wise.

Aston Vanquish_am_ku14oyp_09020140805The Vanquish might be the zenith of its current forming, the added muscularity over its DB9 and Vantage relations thanks to the extensive use of carbon fibre in its construction. It’s still very close, though that’s never done rivals Porsche any harm, and any Aston, and the Vanquish in particular, has the capacity to turn heads like little else. Which is kind of the point.

That’s always been a bit of an issue though. For all the Aston’s good looks on the road the Vanquish struggles to justify its place among its same, sometimes lesser-priced rivals. Aston Martin itself calls the Vanquish a super grand tourer, deliberately distancing itself from the purer sports cars of Ferrari and Porsche. Launch Vanquishes back in 2012 wouldn’t have seen which way a Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren 12C or Porsche 911 Turbo went, this revised car going some way to addressing that.

The numbers have changed, though the most significant don’t relate to the engine, but to the gearbox. There are now eight ratios from a new automatic transmission. Specifically ZF’s eight-speed unit, fitted here for the first time in transaxle layout. The engine’s output creeps up a handful of horsepower to a 568bhp maximum, its 6.0-litre capacity and V12 format remaining unchanged. The bhp gains centre around engine management revisions, the calibrations better suited to the Vanquish’s new gearbox and also having a small beneficial effect on economy.

The transformative effect of that gearbox is remarkable. In the old six-speeder the ratios felt mis-matched to the engine, resulting in frustrating stabbing at the wheel-mounted paddles when cornering. Second would often leave you running out of revs mid-bend, third bogging down and leaving you waiting for the big V12 to spool up to higher revs to deliver its substantial punch. The new ZF unit changes that, it feels quicker everywhere, whether left to its own devices, or when shifting yourself via the paddleshifters.

It’s best enjoyed in Sport mode with the dampers wound back to comfort, the quicker shifting and sharper throttle response suiting the engine and gearbox perfectly. In fully auto mode the transmission adjusts to suit your style, resetting every time you start, its shifts never anything but slick, the only real signifier of a swapped ratio being the change in note from the big V12. The softer damper setting is preferable for a smoother, more compliant ride, the firmer set-up only making the Vanquish busy, adding intrusive frequencies through the car on the road.

Aston Vanquish_am_ku14oyp_04720140805In comfort mode the Vanquish delivers a ride quality that’s remarkably supple, despite suspension revisions that has seen a 15% and 35% front/rear increase in damper stiffness and rear suspension bushes. Those new wheels help, bringing down the unsprung weight, while Aston’s detail revisions to the steering ECU bring benefits for both feel and accuracy.

The Vanquish still feels like a hugely rapid and very capable grand tourer rather than an out-and-out sports/super car, its 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds and top speed figure exceeding 200mph now puts it more comfortably among its foes.

The 6.0-litre V12 and that eight-speed transmission work so much more effectively, while the chassis changes add a level of dynamism and control yet retain the Vanquish’s impressive ability to provide a decent level of ride comfort. The interior remains a sometimes frustrating but mostly forgivable mix of difficult to read instruments and tricky to operate infotainment, but you’ll live with them for the glorious sound the V12 makes from everything from start-up to its redline. Pleasingly different in its goals rather than frustratingly so. It might be two years late, but the Vanquish now feels like the car it should always have been.

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