It's hardly the blowout price of late-night TV commercials, but the Aston Martin DB9's $155,000 base sticker looks like a bargain compared with the range-topping Vanquish at $236,000, particularly when the two cars are so close in spec and appearance. It begs the question: Why pay more for a Vanquish?
The new Vanquish S provides a riposte, the main thrust of which is an additional 60 hp for its superb 5.9-liter V-12 (now 520 hp to the DB9's 450). New cylinder heads with modified combustion chambers, new fuel injectors, new spark plugs, and new forged-steel connecting rods are features that help account for the power boost.
The Vanquish S hurtles to 100 mph-less than half its claimed maximum-in just under ten seconds. Acceleration that makes you gasp and squeal with delight is complemented by an inspirational howl as the power curve's 7000-rpm peak is approached. Clearly, Maranello is not the only place where they know how to make magnificent V-12 music.
Moving that much closer to the 100-hp-per-liter mark has not made the engine peaky. It now delivers 425 lb-ft of torque-the standard engine packs 400-and about 80 percent of that grunt is on tap at 1000 revs. This, allied to revised final-drive gearing, provides performance that's appreciated in nip-and-tuck situations on the open road.
Backing up the more potent powerplant is the Vanquish's optional Sports Dynamic chassis, standard on the S, which includes lowered ride height, sportier spring rates, and faster steering responses. Bigger brakes, now with six-pot calipers up front, provide even more stopping power.
We faced ferocious winds and torrential rain as we hustled the exceptionally stable Vanquish S along English freeways and Welsh mountain roads. Aston's biggest hitter felt very taut and purposeful, but comfort has not been sacrificed on the altar of handling. The ride is surprisingly civilized, and road-noise suppression is remarkable in view of the enormous tires.
Supercars aren't supposed to be practical, but it is difficult to imagine anyone other than a dimensionally challenged, sadomasochistic contortionist getting into the Aston's back seat. The trunk is tiny, despite the absence of even a space-saver spare, but our main quarrel is with the six-speed manual transmission that harnesses electrohydraulic technology to change gears in the paddle-shift and automatic modes. Downshifts are fine, but the system can't seem to deliver consistently smooth upshifts, no matter what you do with the throttle.
The S is priced $19,000 higher than the regular Vanquish, but in the strange world of supercar prices, it's undeniably a stronger value than the standard car, which it likely will supplant. But does the S justify paying extra over the DB9? While the enhanced Vanquish does provide more order in the Aston universe, that clumsy transmission would deter us.