Teamspeed First Drive: 2013 Aston Martin Vanquish
The Vanquish revives the name that launched the modern era Aston. Does it make another great leap? Text by Richard Aucock - Teamspeed Contributing Editor
What is it?
2013 replacement for Astonís range-topping DBS Why should I care?
The Vanquish is Aston stepping away from its old identikit policy and putting clear water between itself and the core-market DB9. It is not all-new but is new enough Ė and much more of a jewel than the DBS arguably was. How fast and how much?
573hp @ 6,750rpm, 457lb ft @ 5,500rpm 0-62mph 4.1secs, V-max 183mph MRSP $279,995
Aston Martin is refocusing. In recent years, the DB9 has been developed, first into the Bond car DBS, then into the inbetweener Virage. It made sense, in one sense: the range was nicely graduated, in terms of power, price and focus.
Just one problem. They all looked rather like one another. Journalists who focused on the minutiae may have been able to make a case for this approach but to critical outsiders, it was a sign not of laziness but of Astonís limited resource. And thus worrying: a DB9 with a bodykit or a new nose does neither a new car nor a viable future make.
Not that customers seemed to mind. The DBS sold well despite its heady price; the Virage sold more than 1000 units in just two years Ė and as thatís all Aston Martin wanted to sell in the first place, it was not disappointed to clear them so quickly. But still, something clearly nagged at the firm. So, given the opportunity to alter things at model change time, whatís it done?
Well, itís canned the Virage. Given its front end to the 2013 DB9. Canned the DBS and, at the very top of the range, launched a beautiful new car called the Vanquish Ė which owes not a single exterior body panel to any Aston Martin thatís gone before it.
All new, but not
This is not an all-new car. Astonís VH philosophy does not allow this, nor deem it necessary. It is instead based on generation 4 VH technology, whose key advance here is the adaptation of a full carbon fibre body. This has allowed Aston to create shapes, creases and curvatures simply not possible if using aluminium. And this is why the Vanquish looks, in the flesh, so different to any of those previous generation cars.
This isnít fully apparent in the images, although you can still see the sheer depth of the rear haunches, the fascinating sculpture in the side panels and a front end more dramatic than anything from modern Aston, including the One-77. That One-77 hypercar has also influenced the rear end, with a single hoop of tail lights and the one-piece integrated rear aero duct that Aston tirelessly created to avoid using a hydraulic pop-up spoiler (it even had to invent new ways of painting it, so difficult is access within the resultant ductÖ).
This is a genuinely beautiful car, with body styling so intricate, it appears almost iridescent. Itís as if the bodywork has been given a superpolished surface, more lustrous than any rival: thatís how involved and detailed the shape is.
Illusion jolted, not shattered
Pity the illusion is cracked once you step inside. The familiarly fiddly pop-out doorhandles are the first giveaway, having to step over the fly-off handbrake mounted in the footwell is another (1975 Jaguar XJ-S owners will be familiar with this device). Even the dials are the same, an irritating weakness Aston has carried over along with the glass Ďkeyí that slides in the centre of the dash to annoy and frustrate until you learn its quirks.
But then, soon, the new parts start to shine through Ė and theyíre much more fundamental than such parts bin carryovers. Footwells, for example, have much more space for big boots (and you donít get this without a fundamental chassis redesign). The seating position seems that bit more ideal. Forward visibility is excellent. And the all-new centre console is a work of art Ė high-tech art too, thanks to its use of smartphone-style touch-sensitive surfaces (complete with tiny feedback buzz by way of haptic confirmation).
Trims and materials are also more varied and more detailed than any Aston thatís gone before. The variety shown on the launch cars was telling, for Aston proudly makes the claim that all the fundamentals (such as sat nav, Bang & Olufsen stereo, parking cameras and sensors) are standard, with the optionability coming in the trims selected around them. Itís even redesigned the production process to allow much more flexibility here: the days of the truly bespoke Aston have arrived.
Donít think itís forgotten the details, either. The boot is 60% bigger and, at 368 litres, larger than a Golf GTI. There are far more stowage slots inside, making mobile phone stowage less of a fumble, and even the gorgeous new carbonfibre door mirrors have now been designed so you can see past them more easily when parking. An important consideration when manoeuvring a $280k car.
Oh, what a noise
So, itís generally nicer all round, then. The clincher is what itís like on the road, though. And part-conviction comes the moment you press the key into the middle of the dash, and the engine fires into life. Nay, make that explodes. The noise is absolutely incredible Ė rich, deep, sonorous and prominent even at an idle.
This One-77-derived silencer doesnít need the throughflow of gases to sound immense, either. Itís there even without you doing anything. But, saying that, when they are flowing, it sounds even more awesome Ė every inch the combination of historic classic and modern screaming circuit racer.
Then you clock the speeds that youíre generating while enjoying this chorus: boy, the Vanquish is fast. Not on paper Ė at 4.1 seconds to 62mph, itís barely faster than the old DBS (and the top speed is actually slower). On the road though, this mechanically rich and basically all-new engine is a rocketship, in a way the old one wasnít quite so.
What Ďs the difference? Torque. It means you donít have to be nailing it in order to release its best: as itís more forgiving of normal mode, non-redlining motoring, so is able to generate more shove at any given time. Whatís to thank for this? A new variable valve timing system, again One-77-derived, which gets to work from 3,000rpm rather than 4,500rpm.
It even overcomes the datedness of the transmission. The ZF auto transaxle unit has just six speeds, when rivals have eight, and generally feels a step behind the competition both metaphorically and on the road when theyíre able to step down more smartly than this. Enter again the fortune of that extra torque: it means youíre less dependent on a swift downchange to get you out of trouble.
So itís real-world faster and aural heaven. It has looks to die for and the interior is better. What about the dynamics, then Ė something Aston Martin gradually improved on the DBS to turn the final Carbon Edition into a thing of beauty?
Hereís the interesting part: generation 4 VH has bought three-stage adaptive dampers, instead of the two-setting ones of old. Itís enabled Aston to make it both more comfortable and more sporting, which sounds like a bit of a marketing clichť but actually bears fruit out on the road.
Rounding out perfection
Itís the improved ride quality that you first notice. Thereís more pliancy around town, more cushioning to bumps and knobbles; it feels as if the car is using more of its suspension travel, with more control, taking the edge off any harshness that used to infiltrate the old model. At higher speeds too, itís beautifully measured and, once again, seems to breathe over the road surface. Thatís something the DBS did so well, too: softening it at low speed hasnít spoiled this delicate high-speed absorbent control, then.
But switch it to full-on sport mode and the body becomes clamped down appreciably. Roll is cut, the mechanical integrity of the pure suspension and honed, more centralised weight destruction bears fruit. The front end is lighter, the engine is lower, the centre of gravity is cut, the rear tyres are wider Ė all factors that help the Vanquish become even more incisive, dynamic and remarkably wieldy across twisting roads. It shrinks to a far smaller, far cheaper car, and gives you every bit of confidence to treat it such (quite a feat for a car so pricey Ė even if the ride, at times, does also mimic a smaller, stiffer car with its liveliness: weíre blaming the choice of gnarled English B-roads, for now).
If mastering these different settings sounds potentially awkward, fear not. To encourage you to play with them, Aston has fitted both suspension and electronics-altering switches to the steering wheel itself. A crisper throttle map, louder exhausts and stiffer dampers are but a thumb-stretch away. Clever, convenient, and something not many makers have mastered so well.
Focusing the positives, blurring the negatives
So thatís the 2013 Vanquish: the vibrancy of the DBSí highs have been enhanced, its negatives dialed back. Aston Martin has created a better car.
We are not shouting from the rooftops in excitement because it has not made an all-new car, and so, some of the compromises seen in the old car are still apparent. Not as prominently, no, but still apparent, and this is why the Vanquish doesnít stir in quite the way its talents deserve. Maybe they will with time. Hereís hoping.
Whatís not in any doubt is that it looks superb. The body is uncommonly beautiful, with masterful delicacy and the sort of finish and presence thatís every inch befitting of the stonking list price. This is why people will buy Vanquish: they bought DBS for similar money and this is near-immeasurably more sensual.
This should be your focus, not the fly-off handbrake or spidery dials. They get in the way of what Aston has achieved here: a corking next-generation enthusiastsí car. Not another leap, then, but a very welcome step on.