As disappointments go, the iPhone 5 has to rank up there with Michael Jordan’s baseball career and Tiger Woods’ Ryder Cup record. I mean, seriously, it’s an iPhone 4S that’s been stretched and squashed, and yet I lie awake at night imagining the moment I can get my feverish palms on one – that’s the power of the Apple brand.
But does the same phenomenon apply to cars? In many ways the Aston Martin Vanquish is entirely different from the DBS is replaces; it has an all carbon-fiber skin for starters (not even the One-77 or V12 Zagato gets that), then there’s the redesigned interior and an extra 55 hp under the hood. At first glance though it’s undeniably similar; there’s a V-12 engine out front, it has classic 2+2 coupe proportions, there are vents on the hood and a familiar Aston grille.
“Why would we make an Aston Martin any different? You don’t just make something new for the sake of it, you make something better.” Those are the words of Aston’s CEO, Dr Ulrich Bez, speaking at the launch of the new Vanquish. And it’s hard to criticise his thinking, especially when you look at the evidence in isolation.
Okay, so the car’s low-slung profile will be familiar, but every inch of the carbon fiber bodywork is new – and it’s a jaw-dropping piece of design. A slightly more compact grille is surrounded by a flowing, bare carbon front splitter, hood vents and LED running lights, while protruding side strakes extend down the sides like tendons holding together the muscle. At the rear you’ll find LED tail-lamps inspired by the One-77 hypercar and an integrated spoiler that looks more like a sculpture than an aerodynamic aid.
“Ask anyone in manufacturing if they can make that [in aluminium] and they’d say it can’t be done. But carbon enables us to,” Marek Reichman, Aston’s Design Director, explained. “Aston Martin is all about evolving something until it’s perfect.”
The interior has taken even greater strides forward, with a brand new center console design – again inspired by the One-77. Astons have being crying out for a user-friendly interface like this, and it features some intriguing novelties. Touch-sensitive glass buttons vibrate when your finger makes contact, known as Haptic feedback, while the new Garmin sat-nav and properly integrated infotainment system are light years ahead of the DBS, with its clunky Volvo navigation set-up and fiddly stereo controls.
Fit and finish is typically sumptuous (each Vanquish interior takes 70 hours to trim, while each car takes a total of 300 hours to hand build) and on-board space has grown. The dashboard has moved forward by 20 mm, to create more room for the front passengers, and there’s a 13.0 cu-ft trunk – that’s 60 percent bigger than the DBS’, and enough to stuff two golf bags into. If you need a little more, Aston will remove the two ridiculously cramped rear seats for no extra charge.
Like the exterior, the 6.0-liter V-12 engine feels familiar, but it’s been overhauled completely, I’m told. Variable valve timing, a new fuel pump and a larger intake manifold have increased power by 55 hp to 565 hp and improved fuel consumption by around 10 percent, although official figures are yet to be released. It’s also mounted 19 mm lower in the chassis, to help the handling. The six-speed Touchtronic gearbox has been upgraded, too, with 37 percent faster shifts when you hit the Sport button on the steering wheel.
And the result? Well, close your eyes and you could be driving a DBS – which is no bad thing, of course. Delve a little deeper though and the changes start to become apparent. There’s now more torque at lower engine speeds, but like most non-turbo engines, the Vanquish needs revs to give its best. Hold on to a gear and you can sense more urgency as you close in on the limiter. When I say urgency I mean you can sense a deafening crescendo and a blinding turn of pace – keep your foot in and the Vanquish is a bit of an animal.
Aston quotes 0-62 mph in 4.1 seconds – two-tenths faster than the DBS. Anything around the four seconds mark is deep into supercar territory, but it never feels quite as ballistic as the numbers suggest. Whereas the Ferrari F12 berlinetta will rearrange your internal organs on full throttle, with the Vanquish you simply have plenty of performance for public roads, and then some. A new launch control allows you to harness the full 565 hp. Simply push the button marked L/C and move your foot from the brake to full throttle and, after a moment’s pause, the car screams off, with minimum wheelspin and maximum forward momentum.
The rich, multi-layered V-12 exhaust note is glorious – especially when you engage Sport mode and open up the baffles permanently. The flair of revs and sharp bark when you start the engine up is sure to get your neighbour’s attention though.
A quicker steering ratio means the Vanquish feels more alert, while the wheel weights up beautifully as you load up the outside wheel. The most noticeable chassis change though is the addition of three-stage adaptive dampers, which stretch the car’s breadth of abilities. Normal mode is surprisingly supple, rounding off sharp jolts like cracks and holes in the road. Sport mode noticeably firms things up and controls the body better when you’re darting down a smooth country lane. Track mode is best left for just that – unless you have a penchant for pain – it’s too firm for normal roads.
On really bad surfaces though it doesn’t matter which mode you select, physics takes over. Over the short-frequency ripples and bumps we so often encountered in the UK, the Vanquish’s home market, you’re bounced around the cabin like a pinball, while the springs try in vain to control the car’s oscillating mass.
Ah yes, the weight. Despite the full carbon fiber skin, plus carbon used for parts of the bonded aluminium chassis, the Vanquish only weighs 1kg less than the DBS. Any savings are cancelled out by extras like the new infotainment system and bigger carbon-ceramic brakes. Which is a disappointment to say the least. Ok, so the carbon skin means more of the mass is concentrated within the wheelbase, but 1kg? Have a good lunch and even that will be scrubbed out.
Which brings me back to my original problem. The Vanquish employs some quite sensational design, exquisite craftsmanship and future-proof materials, but when all’s said and done it ends up back where it started. And yet despite knowing it’s a DBS in a fancy carbon-fiber frock, I want one. I want one real bad.
Base price: $279,995
On sale: Early 2013
Engine: 6.0-liter V-12
Power: 565 hp
Torque: 457 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed Touchtronic II auto
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 183 mph