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Dec / Jan 2012
Veni, Vidi, Vanquish

Writer: Kevin Hackett

Taking design and performance cues from the early Vanquish and the stunning seven-figure One77, the 2013 Vanquish is the new king of Aston Martin’s model line-up and our Ultimate Vehicle of the year.


Let’s get something out in the open right from the start: nobody – nobody – thought more highly of the Aston Martin DBS than I did. Over the years, I’ve driven many thousands of kilometres in those drop-dead beautiful cars and every single one of them has been a complete joy. The DBS took the glamour and sophistication of the sculptural DB9 and threw machismo, testosterone and anger into the mix, resulting in a car that was as good to drive as it undoubtedly was to look at. While pedestrians might sneer at me as I pass them in a Ferrari or Lamborghini and while they might ignore me if I’m piloting a Porsche 911, the DBS never failed to raise a smile, a knowing wink or a thumb held aloft by appreciative onlookers. And now it’s dead. Killed off in the name of progress.

The DBS is dead. Long live the Vanquish. At least that’s what Aston Martin would have us believe. Having sold three times as many DBSes as the company had hoped for and having started to confuse the marketplace with a frankly bewildering array of DB9 and Vantage derivatives, it actually was high time the company got its act together. So, along with the DBS, the axe has also fallen on the pointless Virage. We now have a much more cohesive line-up, a new DB9 that has inherited the best bits of the Virage (and is actually more powerful than the outgoing DBS) and a flagship with a name that many hold sacred, the Vanquish.

The original Vanquish was the car that showed Aston Martin had a future. A brave attempt at merging beauty with untried technology, and the first model launched under the direction of Dr. Ulrich Bez, it was a flawed gem. Styled by Ian Callum, it looked fast even when it was at a standstill – good job too, because that was its usual status due to inherent reliability problems that continuously vexed Bez and his engineers.

Given that the four-wheeled love of my life has been replaced with a model that carries with it some fairly unhappy memories, it bears a heavy burden on its carbon-fibre shoulders. And that’s making me nervous. I really do want to love this thing. I really do want to believe Bez when he categorically states that “this is the best Aston Martin ever”.

I’m not sold on the styling though. Not yet anyway, though I may still be biased towards its predecessor. But I do concede that it might be a grower. What’s both important and laudable is the amount of effort that Aston’s designers and engineers have put into this project to make the Vanquish excel, especially given the constraints placed upon them by having to fend for themselves, while their rivals benefit from seemingly bottomless pits of parent company money.

The most remarkable change is the use of carbon-fibre for the entire body structure - other DB9 derivatives have always been skinned in aluminium. This, they say, has contributed to a 25 per cent increase in torsional stiffness and working with this material has also given the designers new possibilities: hence the scalloped roof, the One-77-style door strakes and the moulded rear spoiler in the boot lid.

The interior looks and feels pretty familiar but there are changes: a redesigned centre console with touch interfaces and new (nasty looking) rotary dials, while the pop-up sat-nav waves goodbye to the terrible Volvo tech of old. Not only does it actually work, it also looks nice. There’s more room in here too: leg, shoulder, elbow, and knee room are all significantly increased and the dash has been pushed back 200mm. In keeping with its grand touring aspirations, there’s also a handy 60 per cent increase in boot space.

Its engine is a modern masterpiece – six litres of full-fat V12 goodness that when ignited and soundly thrashed, releases the finest automotive music you’ve ever heard. There are more telling descriptions but we’re probably best keeping those to ourselves. Take it as read, this motor is a guilty pleasure that we should enjoy while we still have the chance.

To start it, you push the crystal glass-capped key into the slot on the dash while pressing the brake pedal. There’s a mechanical whirring for a second before BAM! Noise, glorious noise. The racket soon settles down into a civilised rumble and when you first take to the road, it initially feels like the Vanquish is all mouth and no trousers, because at low speeds everything is totally serene. The steering feels meaty and precise and the auto box (unfortunately there’s no manual available) shifts around without the clunks and thunks previously sent shimmying through the seat of your pants. 

Hit the Sport button and mash the loud pedal to the carpet however, and the car’s Jekyll and Hyde dual personality makes itself known in an instant. There’s an absolute ferocity, with the previous civility disappearing in a haze of full-on engine roar and neck-snapping acceleration. The rear end, even with the intervention of all the electronic trickery of its traction control system, feels lively and you’d need an incredibly wide, empty stretch of tarmac at your disposal if you’re going to be brave enough to disengage it completely. The upshot of this contradictory state of affairs is that the Vanquish makes you feel like a driving god without killing you.

Once you’re really on it, the depth and breadth of the new Vanquish’s personality begins to reveal itself. The revised adaptive damping has enough scope for most situations, even in the standard ride mode but in Sport, the car’s composure increases without any perception that the ride quality has suffered. Even severe road imperfections are heard rather than felt and if the surface gets really bad, the Vanquish still manages to smooth away any harshness. In fact, it’s in this area that the original DB9 platform’s steady but excellent evolution is most manifest.

The Vanquish makes you want to drive and drive, which is what a real GT car is all about. It should make you want to cover vast distances just for the hell of it and allow you to emerge from a cross-continent dash without feeling the need to call your chiropractor. I can’t think of another car I’d rather spend time in than this one, which is something I always said about the DBS.

As your familiarity with this Aston increases, there’s always the dangling carrot of Track mode to keep you on your toes. Press and hold the damper setting button and the chassis is reprogrammed for extra stiffness, making it feel even more alive, more dart-like. This still doesn’t turn it into a bouncing mess. Instead, it finishes the car’s transformation from docile gent to wailing nutjob. On the right road, in this Track setting, there won’t be many able to keep up with you.

I admit it, Bez is right. This is, by some margin, the best production Aston Martin ever. Yes, there are flaws but unlike some of its rivals, it offers everything you really need and nothing you don’t. It feels honed, refined and complete. But most of all, it brings total class to the streets and roads of this world and we can’t put a price on that these days.

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