Aston Martin Vanquish First Drive
Aston's Stirring New Supercar Leaves Us All Shaken Up
First things first. Aston Martin should change the name of its brand-new car from Vanquish to Big Sexy. There are a couple reasons why, besides the "just look at it!" obvious. Vanquish just isn't a proper Aston name. Yeah, it sounds similar to Vantage, Volante, and Virage, but it has a meaning in English. A very undignified, chest-thumping meaning. The name's intent is too telegraphed, too immediate. Moreover, Aston chairman Ulrich Bez is German, and, as a result, comically pronounces the name of the car as "Wankwish." I say if your CEO can't properly pronounce your flagship, it's time for a name change. To Big Sexy. Because that's absolutely what the all-new Vanquish is.The Vanquish is also the latest evolution of Aston's scalable, bonded aluminum and carbon-fiber VH architecture, the same structure that's been underpinning Gaydon's vehicles since the DB9 made its debut in 2004 (save for the carbon-fiber monocoque One-77 and, of course, the Cygnet). The previous Vanquish also rode on a chassis of aluminum and carbon fiber, but it was nowhere near as stiff (and again, scalable) nor as modern as the one that underpins its successor. The suspension is all aluminum. The alluring body, meanwhile, uses a mix of aluminum, carbon fiber, and magnesium in an effort to keep weight down. However, the last super GT from Aston Martin we weighed (the mighty DBS) clocked in at 3812 pounds, and I seriously doubt the new Vanquish will be any lighter.
In person, the Vanquish is even more resplendent than it looks in photos. The only miscue, in my eyes, is the odd little carbon-fiber mustache up front. It's there because Aston's designers wanted to show off a bit of the carbon fiber that makes up so much of the car. But I don't find it as attractive as every single other part of the surface.
Sitting far back against the firewall is a thoroughly reworked version of the brand's 6.0-liter V-12 that actually displaces 5.9 liters. No matter. Featuring Aston's first application of variable valve timing, a new intake system, and a raised 11.0:1 compression ration among other tweaks, the big 12 produces a very potent 565 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. Discounting the more than $1 million One-77, it's the most powerful road car Aston Martin's ever offered. In today's world of absolutely bonkers power outputs for not a ton of money (Shelby GT500, anyone?), these figures might not sound world-beating. But please remember, these are naturally aspirated numbers from a free-revving 12-cylinder. And, well, count me tickled pink after getting to drive it for two days. The engine is absolutely what you'd expect in such a high-caliber car. That is, until the Vanquish S bows in a few years' time. The power is routed through a revised version of the familiar automatic six-speed transaxle. If you've spent any time in modern Astons, the powertrain is familiar, but pleasantly more potent.The biggest Vanquish news, aside from the drop-dead good looks, might very well be the work Aston's done on the interior. Until now (and, again, discounting the One-77), sitting in an Aston has always been a bit of a letdown. Things looked nice enough, but they really weren't, considering the class they compete in and the hefty six-figure price tags they pack. That has changed. The leather's finer and better-tailored; most of the controls are much better integrated -- in particular the now much smaller and nicer looking transmission buttons -- and there's just none of that "is this a kit car?" feeling. To steal a word from colleague Kim Reynolds, I found my time in the Vanquish's cockpit to be delightful. Gripes? The rear seats are, of course, still useful only for duffel bags (you wouldn't put groceries in here!), and can be deleted as an option. And, while greatly improved over anything I've ever seen inside an Aston Martin, the pop-up navigation screen is still undersized, and the way it's carved out of the otherwise beautiful center stack (still) strikes me as a poor afterthought. Oh, and the Bang & Olufsen stereo is of out-of-character low quality. But so what on that last one, because, well, that engine!
Another cool thing about the new Vanquish is the introduction of Aston's first ever launch-control system. How does it work? Are you sitting down? You push a button. That's it. Well, you touch the brake pedal, hit the button, and floor it. Ta-da! BMW should come have a look. There are also three-way variable dampers, consisting of Normal, Sport, and Track. I preferred the way the car rode in Track mode, but as you'll see below, the roads were against its usage. One option is the oddly shaped and massive, yet totally functional, steering wheel lifted out of the One-77. In the lower right corner of it you'll find a button labeled S that remaps the throttle for better responsiveness, and places the surprisingly good transmission into a sportier mode. I spend perhaps 95 percent of my time in the car in S, and I think most owners will do the same. One reason is that since the shifts are held longer, you get to hear more from the exhaust (the muffler is also lifted straight from the One-77), and believe me, this car makes grand and glorious noises. Of course, you can control all this yourself via the paddles, but, annoyingly, on left-hand-drive examples, you then have to reach across the center stack to reengage automatic. On right-hand-drive cars, D is next to the driver. A small thing, but still...Aston turned a group of us journo types loose from its Works center in Newport Pagnell (the location of its former factory) in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London. For two days I was able to experience some of the absolute worst roads I've driven in my life -- and I've driven in Russia. Just appalling. Compounding their badness was example after countless example of Britain's war on the automobile. Our group would routinely leave a 30-mph zone to be greeted with 200 yards of open tarmac before hitting another 30-mph stretch. As a result, I did a few hundred miles of creeping along, suddenly blasting up into triple digits, and then jumping on the Vanquish's humongous carbon-ceramic brakes to then putt-putt around at perhaps 20 mph. I'm not sure what the U.K.'s endgame is vis-a-vis the car, but the country really does seem to hate the fact that you like to drive. At least, the scenery is splendid -- a good thing because you get to take in a whole damn lot of it.But the miserable roads perhaps weren't an oversight on Aston's part. See, like all other serious performance car companies, Aston Martin develops its cars on the famed, the fabled, the ubiquitous Nurburgring Nordschleife. In fact, when I was there in June. saying farewell to our long-term Cadillac CTS-V Wagon ("Return to Sender," November), we stood on the 'Ring for days watching an undisguised brown Vanquish complete lap after furious lap along with a camouflaged DB9 successor and every other coming soon sporty car extant. Why do performance-focused OEMs go through the trouble and expense? One reason is that the Nuerburgring isn't repaved very often, and the asphalt is infamously crap. So, at speeds of around 125 mph, you're able to fully load a vehicle's suspension through a seemingly neverending onslaught of turns. This work paid huge dividends with the Vanquish as it was able to easily endure the most distorted and damaged sections we faced, even at very, very naughty speeds. My apologies to Her Majesty. While by no means a track star like, say, a Lotus Elise or a Ferrari 458 Italia, Big Sexy here handles near the top of the Grand Touring class. As you would absolutely expect.
When you combine world-class looks, that delightful interior, a huge, angry-sounding V-12 that will happily push the car to more than 190 mph and excellent handling characteristics, it's "easy" to make a great car. But you'd feel that way after a mile or so. What got me about the Vanquish was that the more I drove it, the deeper I fell for it. The car has a deep well of charisma, and even after hundreds of miles, I feel that I barely scratched the surface of its considerable charms. Even with two days behind the wheel (yet, half of that time spent crawling through tiny villages), I was left wanting more time with the Vanquish. That's not often the case with other supercars, as their track-focused nature tends to beat you up. Even my (other) favorite Aston Martin, the V12 Vantage, is something of an (admittedly wonderful) one-trick pony. After 10 feet you realize, "Ah, I'm driving Lemmy Kilmister!" and that's kind of it. The Vanquish, however, is on the other end of the spectrum. It's a gentle giant for gentlemen. As always, it's good to be stinking, filthy rich.
Historically, this car will go down as the car Bond drove in "Skyfall." Among cars (and marketing types), that's about the best you can hope for. However, there's much more to the latest, and just maybe greatest, Aston Martin yet built. I feel that the Vanquish, and Aston as a brand, is now occupying the automotive space vacated by Maserati, the latter of whom will forever remain Ferrari's redheaded stepchild. Think of it like this: You're the type of person who feels the need to spend north of $300,000 on a car with two doors. The obvious choices are the pissed-off Italian farm animals. Either a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. Cars that--for the people who purchase them -- are perfectly extroverted. Or is that obnoxious? But, as the product placement suggests, would Bond drive either Italian make? He'd sooner get a tattoo. The Vanquish really is the gentleman's wild ride. Like Daniel Craig's interpretation of 007, the car is refined, well-groomed, and seductive. Right up the moment that it snaps your neck. What a freakishly fine ride.