2013 Aston Martin Vanquish
England can feel like the land that time forgot. The quaint villages dotting the countryside are short Sunday strolls apart, the roads connecting them no wider or smoother than necessary for horse-drawn carts. Ask a woman her weight, and she’ll give it to you in stone before slapping you. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Aston Martin can sometimes seem like the car company that time forgot. Replacing the DBS for 2013 as Aston’s sportiest, most expensive offering, the Vanquish wears styling that is directly, obviously traceable to the 1994 DB7. Behind the familiar face rests a 5.9-liter V-12 that debuted in 2000 and a central architecture dating to the 2004 DB9.
This is not to suggest, however, that Aston is sitting completely still. Although the aluminum structure remains largely the same as the DBS’s (and DB9’s and Vantage’s and Rapide’s), the front-end structure is significantly lighter and is redesigned to allow the engine to mount 0.7 inch lower than in the DBS. Every body panel is new and now made of carbon fiber, contributing to a 25-percent increase in torsional rigidity and a weight reduction of about 150 pounds, according to the manufacturer. Still, figure on a curb weight of about 3850 pounds. Updating the big V-12 with variable timing on both the intake and exhaust cams (now hollow), larger throttle bodies, a revised intake manifold, and a few other tweaks bumps output from the DBS’s 510 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque to 565 and 457, respectively.
Hydraulic steering assist survives in the Vanquish. It’s a nice reminder of the way things still are in fewer and fewer cars. Quick, with a sporting but restrained weight that builds nicely in proportion to cornering forces, the rack allows appropriate feedback for something that its maker is unwilling to call a sports car, but the line goes a bit fuzzy at the limit. We do dig the available squared-off steering wheel, borrowed from the limited-edition One-77.Aston Martin still describes the Vanquish as a grand tourer, but a sporty grand tourer—the more laid-back being the DB9. The ride is quite firm, tending more toward sports-car stiff than GT supple. On smooth roads, the unyielding suspension contributes to surprising nimbleness and neutrality. Over rough tarmac, the Vanquish maintains its composure even in fast, lumpy corners, only—but readily—getting squirrelly with a midcorner throttle kick. The dampers offer three settings—normal, sport, and track—but even in normal, there’s hardly more body roll than there would be if the axles bolted directly to the subframes. And “track” is a rare bit of truth in advertising; nobody will ever want to use it anywhere else.
When compared with other V-12 sports cars in its pricing stratosphere, the DBS always seemed underpowered. Now, with 565 horses, the Vanquish…still seems underpowered. The Lamborghini Aventador has 691 hp. The Ferrari F12’s 730 beats Aston’s output by 165 horses. At least Aston’s flagship is no longer outmuscled by BMW’s SUVs. Nonetheless, we estimate the Vanquish should hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, which, if well off the pace of today’s hottest smart-phone wallpapers, does minimize the risk of being embarrassed by Mustangs and Camaros. And Aston’s V-12 is a thing of aural beauty; a sharp bark on startup and a guttural swell to redline can almost make you forget that Ferrari’s V-12 GT has 29 percent more power. Almost. Twenty-nine percent is a lot.
Through a carbon-fiber driveshaft hidden inside an aluminum torque tube, the V-12 spins gears inside the same rear-mounted six-speed automated manual transaxle the DBS used. Aside from the composite body, perhaps the only way in which the Vanquish is cutting-edge is that it offers no conventional manual transmission. But like high-tech transmissions everywhere, the Vanquish’s can be controlled with paddle shifters, and it zings the revs on downshifts. Sport mode allows the driver to hold the redline longer than in the other settings, but lest grand-touring drivers be caught off guard by the rapid onslaught of rpm, shifts eventually will occur automatically, no matter what. Huge carbon-ceramic brake rotors—15.7 inches up front and 14.2 out back—are standard and help even inattentive drivers bring things back below the speed limit in a hurry. They’re actuated by a pedal that, like the rest of the car, is nearly perfectly calibrated for those who want to go fast but aren’t too intent on going the fastest.
People spending nearly $300,000 on a grand tourer probably are pretty intent on being comfortable, though, and the Vanquish delivers on that front. Occupants see almost nothing that isn’t leather or faux suede, and Aston boasts that there are about one million separate stitches in each quilted Vanquish interior. Sure. We’re not gonna count. Those trimmings are standard at the car’s $282,110 base price, as are heated front seats; a 1000-watt, 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system; and navigation. The sweeping center stack of the DB cars remains, but the controls are redesigned in the Vanquish for a more modern look, complete with haptic-feedback clusters for climate and infotainment functions. Although it looks elegant, this cabin can be a surprisingly noisy place. Aston explained away wind noise from the driver’s door as a preproduction fit issue, but the tire noise emanating from all four corners isn’t going to be fixed by a last-minute tweak.
Allow us, then, to amend our opening statement: Maybe England isn’t so much the land that time forgot as it is the land of “good enough.” Driving on the left side of the road, using imperial units—these things are good enough. Why bother with the way other people do things? This philosophy underlies Aston CEO Ulrich Bez’s answer when asked why there’s no redline on the counterclockwise-reading tachometer. He explains that those last few hundred rpm don’t really make a difference, that most drivers aren’t going for a best lap time on a track and don’t need the few extra 10ths of a second provided by redline shifts. His company seems to bank on its customers’ sharing this conviction. For people who want Aston Martins, this one is most definitely good enough.Aston pushed the dash forward more than an inch, and we’re told the doors and the center console are slimmer, too. The result is a noticeably more spacious Aston, although the passenger-side footwell still ends early and abruptly. And in moving the dash forward, Aston lost its glove box. Hey, you could get more elbowroom by removing the doors; the challenge is to figure out how to minimize such compromises. Then again, things that normally go in a glove box can go in the back seat—or the void where you’d expect one. As with the DB9/S, the seat is useless for people larger than your average garden gnome. It is, however, optional. Forgoing it won’t get you any more front-seat travel, but it will keep friends from getting into your Aston and laughing.