There has always been a strong argument in favour of ignoring the findings of very brief exposure to esoteric machinery, and the revised Aston Martin Vanquish cements that approach. It is possibly the least accomplished car in its class – whatever that class may be – and it is also quite possibly the most enjoyable car of its type to use regularly. How so?
I assume that, like many others, I didn’t give the ‘new’ Vanquish enough attention when it arrived at the back end of 2012. It somehow served to reinforce all of Aston’s problems at the time – yes, it was pretty and it sounded good and it was very, very competent. But it looked much like every other Aston since 2003 and still used the same V12 derived from the original 2000 Vanquish. Ferrari had just launched the 740hp F12 which was way more expensive, but also seemed to come from a new generation of super-GTs that left the Aston looking very last-gen. A fact not helped by the 6-speed ZF automatic transmission that limited top speed to just over 180mph – not helpful showroom codpiecery when an F12 will hit 211mph. Such meaningless numbers do sadly sell metal.
The inclusion of the ‘old’ 6-speed transmission could have been viewed as a cost-driven decision, but at the time Aston said the new ZF ’box wasn’t available in a transaxle application. Having made a casing itself, late last year Aston did what it should have done from the start and fitted the 8-speed ZF masterpiece. With no engine modifications whatsoever, top speed rose from 183mph to 201mph. Henceforth, the motor trade will refer to those 2013/2014 6-speed Vanquishes as ‘the slow ones’.
There were a few other mods for the 2015 model year (said with American accent) car – increased damper rates, some set-up changes and a larger diameter rear anti-roll bar. A little more sports; a little less GT.
Even revitalised and preened with 200mph credentials, the Vanquish doesn’t startle you with its talents. It looks derivative, the cabin is pleasant and the backwards sweeping rev-counter is an old-gag that didn’t quite work in 2004. By contrast, the moment you jump in an F12, you cannot believe the power, the TRON dashboard or the general sense of awesomeness. Or the power.
The new gearbox is good though – it slips shifts on part throttle, at low speed and it is pleasingly intuitive. Some gearboxes allow you to induce up and downshifts in a way that leads you to suspect the car can read your mind, and this is one of them. It isn’t the best application of this particular gearbox though – downshifts can send a little jolt and I get the feeling that someone decided to add some ‘life’ to the upshift quality by inserting a slight jolt there too. I really wish they hadn’t.
The motor is one great 576hp lump of gorgeousness, and its 465lb ft lends it the kind of flexibility that makes me wonder why I’ve just written that the car needed another two gear ratios. But again, it isn’t a scintillating motor, not like the F12 or the Aventador. It does its best below 7000rpm and even though it feels damn fast, the motor always feels well contained – well, it does on summer tyres. On winters the traction control light will wink in fifth gear, but that’s another story.
And so after your first exposure to the new Vanquish, you nod in appreciation, conclude that Aston has done a decent job, but that it is still so far behind an F12 that you can really only recommend one to someone who simply must have an Aston.
Then the following day you trundle into town and feel marginally more positive, noticing how much quieter it is than an F12, and how the gearshift in manual mode really is very enjoyable. The day after you throw two of your children in the little rear seats and head off somewhere else. Try that in an F12.
I’ve been living with the Vanquish like this for two weeks and with each passing day its charms and personality shone through brighter and brighter. The stellar B&O hi-fi, the sound-booth-clear hands-free telephone, the perfectly judged bottom-roasters. The fact that the doors open at -4 degrees, and the window-droppers work at that temperature too. All of them combine to create a car that cleverly straddles those disparate disciplines of being painless when needed but always remaining special in the manner a £190k Aston simply must do so. I shall not mention the shambolic flip-up sat nav though. It’s become something of a joke on Astons these past few years, but new CEO Andy Palmer assured me it will be fixed very soon.
The steering deserves special mention – it is superior to the Ferrari’s in every way and the chassis has a balance that allows it to work on UK roads. That isn’t often the case these days.
I will never fully come-to-terms with the Emotional Control Unit (that’s Aston for key) and the way you have to plunge something into the dashboard, but as someone who felt the red plastic key to his Ferrari FF was disgracefully tacky, the crystal-topped thingy does at least befit the value of the vehicle. Like most other things about the Aston, it makes you feel very good about yourself. One notable aspect of this is the way other road users in the UK respond to the Vanquish – they are almost all positive. It’s just rakish enough and visibly Aston enough to carry positive 007 connotations. People let you pull-out at junctions. Try that in a red F12.
The noise is syrupy V12 from idle, and pleasantly subdued in normal mode. Push the Sport button and it grows shoutier from idle and then beyond a certain throttle position you’re treated to some barely silenced V12 loveliness – it’s a very expensive noise, more rounded intake and exhaust combined than the F12, which just grows wild above 6000rpm. I also liked the fact that if you select Sport mode, it will remain in that mode the next time you start the car.
I didn’t touch the sports damper button. The car is already right on the edge of what I’d call sensible spring and damper rates for UK use. Going firmer would just spoil the enjoyment.
The boot is shallow but one of those spaces that allows you to burrow wide and stash surprising amounts of clobber. I also love the exposed carbon weave on the inside as the lid flips-up. When you press the ‘open boot’ button on the key fob it actually does so, this doesn’t happen on many modern cars.
And it is beautiful, isn’t it? I could do without the Tango seat inserts, but with my burgeoning admiration and enjoyment of the way it drove, so the shape became even more graceful and special. Yes, it looks like an Aston of the past decade, but it is subtly different, more aggressive and even more delicious. Every time I park it, I look back at it and try to suppress a grin. That, as much as any of the technical prowess, is what matters in this type of car.
And so what began as a grudging appreciation of a car that I felt was a certain improvement over its predecessor slowly became something rather intense and satisfying. If, after the first day, you’d asked me if I’d have taken a Vanquish over an F12, I’d have laughed at you. I’d still have an F12, but then I am moderately obsessed by that machine – but for many people I think the simple charms of the Aston might make it a more appealing companion. Less frenetic, less angry but with added deportment and, finally, a proper gearbox.
If this is what Aston can do with limited resources, just imagine what might be possible with AMG’s powertrain and electronics resources, and the likes of Matt Becker from Lotus now developing the ride and handling. If I was Stuttgart or Maranello based, I’d be watching what happens at Gaydon with some trepidation.