On the same roads and in the same weather, the Aston is not as confidence-inspiring as the Porsche. The 911 carries a preponderance of its weight in the rear wheels, but it boasts four-wheel drive, electronic stability control, and meaty steering that provides all the feedback in the world. It's a case of solid German engineering versus charisma and character. The V12 Vanquish, like the Ferrari 550 Maranello, is an alluring and idiosyncratic thoroughbred that knows full well that its owners will relish the challenge that comes with the state-of-the-art execution. The Porsche just gets the job done--effectively, effortlessly, and with far less drama and emotion.
The Aston Martin uses a six-speed sequential manual transmission similar to the Ferrari 360's. Developed by Magneti Marelli, the paddle-controlled gearbox is capable of executing a shift in less than 250 milliseconds, but in many ways, it still isn't as satisfactory as a good conventional manual. There are two modes to choose from: Select Shift Manual (SSM) and Auto Shift Manual (ASM). In SSM, you do most of the work. Although the system automatically blips the throttle before downshifts--perhaps its neatest feature--there is always a brief pause before the next upshift, which can be made less obvious by a slight lift before pulling a higher gear. Instinct, intuition, and practice are required to avoid hiccups and delays, but even the most experienced driver will struggle when it comes to maneuvering the car into and out of reverse, especially on a slope. Although a hill holder (which can be found in most manual-transmission Subarus) would solve the problem, Aston preferred to do things the Italian way, which means that you pull both paddles to select neutral, then select upshift for first gear or press the console button for reverse. And don't forget to hold your foot on the brake! This is what makes uphill starts tricky, unless you are particularly deft with the left hoof or with the emergency brake, which is crouched inconveniently between the driver's seat and the doorsill. ASM provides a quick kickdown action followed by brisk acceleration, but the self-shifter is just not as velvety and progressive as a classic autobox. At this point, the Porsche Tiptronic manu-matic comes to mind--admittedly less involving but simple and reliable.
It's not the size or the weight that makes the Vanquish a grand tourer; above all, it's the glorious twelve-cylinder engine. Never mind that it started life as a pair of Ford V-6s, and never mind that it is only 40 horsepower more powerful than the closely related unit fitted to the DB7 Vantage, which costs a significant $85,000 less. The normally aspirated 5935-cc 48-valver develops 460 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. In V-12 terms, it falls halfway between Ferrari's 456M and 550 Maranello models. It wins the horsepower sweepstakes against the Porsche's 415-horsepower, 3.6-liter twin-turbo horizontally opposed six but loses out in the power-to-weight ratio department. This does not stop the Aston from roaring from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds and pushing on to a top speed of 190 mph.