The V12 Vanquish is a seriously fast car, make no mistake. Although it isn't quite as rocketlike off the mark as the 911 Turbo and its maximum speed is 10 mph short of the 550 Maranello's, the V12 Vanquish reigns supreme in the 60-to-125-mph bracket. This is also the most melodious supercar engine we've listened to for a long time, even if its aural statements are inspired more by Metallica than by Mozart. Idle speed is a busy overture for four camshafts and a pair of orchestral intake manifolds. Part load is a rich mix of valve riffs and a dozen dark-voiced backup singers. Full throttle is a blend of hoarse intake rasps and stereophonic exhaust trumpets that will leave tattoos on your eardrums. The sound engineers should do a hot lap of the Nrburgring Nordschleife in the Vanquish, capture the music in motion on CD, and present it to those customers who are going to have to wait for twelve to twenty-four months for their toy. The first year's production, a mere 300 units, is, of course, long since spoken for.
It is almost impossible not to succumb to the new Aston Martin's visual attractions. But it is equally impossible to climb into this car, push the engine-start button, take off, and immediately feel comfortable with the controls and with the car's dimensions. The V12 Vanquish demands a particular driving style: minimalistic, focused, always eager to adjust to its traits. This isn't all that surprising, really. For how many decades did we try to come to grips with the once-lethal Porsche 911? The V12 Vanquish is, of course, much more user-friendly than early 911 Carreras, but it is less straightforward than a modern 911 Turbo. Why, for instance, do you have to go into neutral to select reverse? Why is traction control occasionally achieved via clutch slip rather than by brake actuation or throttle management? Why is the sport mode switched off with the engine? There are many questions and no immediate answers.
When it comes to supercars, making a choice is an emotional thing--like buying a pair of Lobb brogues instead of a pair of Gucci loafers, like selecting New Balance over Nike, IWC over Breitling, Bang & Olufsen over Nakamichi. The more you can spend, the more important are subjective factors such as prestige, presence, and personality. At this level, ability is taken for granted, exclusivity is a bonus, satisfaction is a must. No, the $228,000 V12 Vanquish is not necessarily a better car than the $111,000 911 Turbo--just as a $73,000 Blancpain Tourbillon watch tells the time no more accurately than a $50 Swatch. But the Aston may well be a more stimulating purchase--and not just for Anglophile gentlemen drivers. After all, it is rare, it has flair, it is beautiful and beautifully made, it offers plenty of power and panache, and, despite some flaws and quirks, it is a compellingly competent automobile.