Aston Martin says its Vanquish is the greatest car it has ever made. Can anything ever live up to such billing? Monaco passes judgement
YOU may believe that driving to “review” a car as supernaturally appealing as the Aston Martin Vanquish is the definition of the world’s best job. From most standpoints, it would be hard to disagree.
It comes with no small amount of fanfair: even Aston Martin say it is the greatest car it has yet produced. Quite some claim from a stable of greatness and throughbred achievement, in its 100th anniversary year.
Yet many who attempt this very thing struggle to make it look as fun as you’d expect; we have sympathy for motoring writers obliged by editors or convention to find flaw and conjure comparison, and answer questions it seems only they ask. How do you “measure” a machine that is, to most, more a rolling work of art than mere car? Some are shoehorned into “shoot out” tests and direct comparisons, when those buying them won’t make such comparisons.
If you are in a position to buy an Aston Vanquish, weighing in at around £190,000/$300,000, chances are you are already an Aston owner, or looking to satisfy a very long standing itch. How it compares for luggage space isn’t going to dissuade you. Is the correct yardstick not how the Vanquish performs against your expectations? Surely that is a better measure of satisfaction, and value?
A MAGNET FOR THE EYE
You expect it from Aston Martin, but the Vanquish is beautiful, from any angle. Proportions are perfect, and every curve finds a willing partner to blend into – an exceptional technical achievement, given its carbon fibre body. We needn’t labour the point: you can look at pictures and never tire of its shape or balance, but they can grasp only a fraction of its staggering real life appeal.
The interesting thing is how its beauty effects people. Even in Monaco – more than used to eye-catching adornments on water, road, or arm – people constantly stop to stare, double-take, or mouth appreciation. It’s warm-hearted and genuine too… not once was there a scowl or sneer, which cannot be said of many other such eye magnetry.
Astons don’t come with bad reputations. It certainly helps on busy autoroutes: it was a mini social experiment to observe our accompanying vehicle having to wait patiently for passing spaces. For the Vanquish, other drivers were eager to let it pass. You can see them looking around in their mirrors for it. They sweep aside… they want to see it pass. And hear it.
Can the tracklist ever live up to such an album cover? Believe us, this supermodel can sing. One reason everyone knows to stop and stare at the Vanquish is its collossal 6.0-litre V12, booming its presence from about a quarter mile or so… 565hp-worth of aural battering ram, and hands down one of the top two or three best sounding engines on the road.
In normal driving it’s not ridiculously loud or sharp, it’s very well masked, but thumb the ‘S’ driving mode button on the wheel, and it’s like removing ear plugs; the low rumble becomes a bark, soft shifts get punchy, and downshifts positively crackle with aggressive overrun. It’s an animalistic transformation, and the S-button mirrors the effect in chassis performance and revised engine characteristics too. It has to be one of the most transformatory mode changes you’re likely to experience – each thumb press to a different mode is a different car.
Our trek to Monaco and back gave us plenty of variety in roads and conditions, as befitting a test against which to pit a Super Grand Tourer. Fog, skies-worth of endless rain, boring autoroutes, snowy mountain roads, exacting back roads, town and country in blazing sun, and countless three-point turns for pictures – we lived it, and as imposing as the Vanquish is in sheer presence, in driving it is equally everyday-usable and awe-inspiring.
Two times a day in and out of a nine-storey underground car park proved that its overhangs are exactly where you think they should be, its turning circle is surprisingly good, and it parking sensors are pinpoint accurate.
This isn’t one you’ll be kerbing again and again. On open roads, it is wonderfully accurate and faithful. Driving aids keep a lid on its power when on, and its 1800kg+ weight is well hidden in left-right-left transitions, though you also get a satisfying sense of actually making some difference yourself as a driver.
EXPECTATION VERSUS REALITY
So as a Super GT, how does it fair? It’s docile around town or a beast on backroads, but for its nominally true purpose – we’ll come to what we think it’s real purpose is in a moment – how does it match up to your hopes for crossing continents?
In total we notched up around 2500 miles in a week – and extend our sincere thanks to Aston Martin’s game attitude to our unusual request, given that most test requests it entertains involve toddling round for a couple of days – to ascertain a little more certainly how it performs beyond the showbiz stuff.
To begin with it’s very comfortable, despite grippingly snug and vaguely padded bucket seats of fixed angle. How does this compute? The two seats are adjustable in every conceivable direction and angle and hold you such that weight is evenly distributed, so like Goldilocks’ porridge they can be made just right. No aches or pains, even at the end of a remarkable 920-miles-in-a-day run from the foot of France to our Cambridge, UK, offices. That’s pretty astonishing.
It carries a lot too. Stated baggage volume is 368 litres, plenty for two people, but by using the two non-seats in the rear – more like little shelves – it was able to help carry a seriously impressive volume of luggage and camera gear for four people, approximately doubling the bag capacity of the boot.
Systems are easy to work out too. Everything is controlled off a large pusher dial in the steeply raked centre console, or by a small number of additional touch pads featuring “haptic feedback” – a mildly unsettling version of a mobile phone’s vibrate function. Selectables are highlighted on a pop-up LCD screen in the centre – push the big dialler to confirm or burrow deeper into the menu – and it’s all pretty intuitive and self-explanatory.
The 6-speed auto box is also button controlled, arrayed across the centre stack: P, R, N, D. This takes a bit of getting used to, but not so differently than having to quickwire into your brain which side the indicator stalk is in a new car. Compared to a central lever, it does take a more conscious effort for reverse and the car must be absolutely stopped and the brake on; it’s not second nature for a while, but it’s not rocket-science hard either.
Overriding the automatic is simply a case of using one of the two arced paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Shifts are fast enough, but not so fast that you get an ungentlemanly kick in the back or miss out on the essential gearchange engine bark.
Also on the wheel is the aforementioned S button for altering engine and gearbox modes, and a chassis damper/traction control button that moves from, in essence, Limo to Backroad to Racetrack – stiffening suspension and rolling back traction control (though never turning it off). There’s little need to cycle modes that often on the go, and you’re more likely to be in and out of ‘S’ mode purely for the trebling in exhaust noise.
REALITY VERSUS EXPECTATION
So, measurement time, and those questions of how you measure a car like this, and what is it’s real purpose. Firstly, we threw everything at it, and it feels as bulletproof as it looks. The 920-mile hit was done on three coffees, a packet of crisps, and a sandwich (eking around 22 mpg… it’s old school thirsty) as much because it was such a relaxing place to be rather than any race against the clock, even during stop-start rush-hour around Paris.
It lopes along with an ease that belies its immense potency. Comfort is something you don’t notice until you notice – which is to say it was only truly appreciated on seeing how much a colleague in a chase car obviously ached on the Eurostar train in which we crossed to the UK.
Throughout our Vanquish time one thing was always paramount – a sense of being in something very special, primarily down to pure driving experience, and secondly from the obvious appreciation shown for it, lacking that tinge of venom some save for other types. Everyone knows it is something special.
Thankfully, it totally delivers against that feeling of something special. We know no other machine that so perfectly balances an almost unmatchable reputation earned over 100 years, with an execution that reaches those almost unreachable expectations. For us, the true purpose of a car like an Aston Martin Vanquish is to be as great as you hope it will be. And it is.
Aston Martin Vanquish
Top speed 183mph
Engine 6-litre V12-cylinder
Max power 656bhp @ 6750rpm
Max torque 620Nm @ 5500rpm
– City: 13.2mpg
– Highway: 27.7mpg
– Combined: 19.6mpg
Price (Basic) £194,110