Aston Martin’s leisurely six-speed automatic transmission has been a literal weak link for the British brand, often lagging the majestic beat of its V-12 engine.
But for the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish and four-door Rapide S, the eight-speed ZF automatic—familiar in everything from BMWs to Bentleys—turns a sore point into a selling point. This eye-blink-quick gearbox, in its first rear-transaxle application, is one of several performance gains for these refreshed 2015 Astons.
These are gains you can feel, as we learned on scorching runs through the Scottish Highlands on some of Europe’s most magical high-speed roads. Even piloting right-hand-drive cars on the wrong side of narrow roads couldn’t spoil the fun.
Already shipshape in their knee-weakening style and luxury, updates to the $210,645 Rapide S; $290,645 Vanquish coupe; and $308,645 Vanquish Volante convertible focus on what’s below deck. Visible changes are limited to a few new leather trim colors (including California Poppy and Fandango Pink) and whims like hourglass-shaped quilted leather, including on the headliners.
One big interior issue remains: The homely, obtuse Volvo head unit and Garmin navigation system that traces back to Ford’s otherwise benign revival of Aston. Mercedes-Benz will ride to the rescue in coming years with modern electronics, along with hand-built AMG biturbo V-8s. (Mercedes will supply that gear in return for a five percent stake in Aston Martin.)
But smooth directions aside, these Astons have no trouble going places. Both models roar to 60 mph a half-second quicker than before, at 4.2 seconds for the Rapide and a sparkling 3.6 seconds for the Vanquish. That’s despite only nominal gains in horsepower and torque, accomplished via reduced exhaust backpressure and the latest Bosch engine management system. Totals are 568 horses for Vanquish and 552 for Rapide S, up by three and two respectively. Both cars produce 465 pound-feet of torque, eight more than before.
Credit mainly the paddle-shifted transmission, with its wider gear spread and delightful gear changes in as little as 130 milliseconds. Despite higher final-drive ratios for zestier acceleration, the eight-speed also boosts top speeds to brag-worthy heights: 201 mph for Vanquish and 203 mph in the Rapide S, up from the low 190s.
Sitting near the shores of Loch Ness, the 24-mile long bathtub of the mythical monster Nessie, the Astons’ cutaway chassis reveal their own buried mysteries: The latest VH bonded aluminum structure, with a more-rigid rear subframe and uprated suspensions, wheels, tires, and brakes. Vanquish dampers are 15 percent stiffer up front and 35 percent at the rear, with both cars getting 20-percent stiffer rear bushings. Larger, thicker front brakes halt the Rapide S. For both models, a new brake booster generates surer pedal feel and increased initial bite. Optional 10-spoke, 20-inch forged alloy wheels with unique tire compounds trim nearly 15 pounds from the standard wheel package. Aston claims its unique tire compounds reduce rolling resistance for better fuel economy and reduced C02 emissions, yet still deliver better high-speed control.
Quite dramatically, the transmission heightens the oceanic surge of the 5.9-liter V-12. There’s a wider range of sensation between Normal and Sport settings for both the adaptive suspension and transmission. Stability control programming is revised to take advantage of the newfound performance gains.
The Rapide feels more spot-on, pleasingly agile for a car that weighs nearly 4400 pounds. And cutting a swath through rugged Scottish mountains to the Atlantic coast, the Vanquish banishes any remaining traces of DB9-style softness. It rocks the road like a legitimate GT supercar, with no sacrifice in comfort. Steering is near perfect for this type of car, revised for more heft and confidence.
The transmission also proves – if the argument wasn’t already settled – that today’s best torque-converter automatics can shift virtually as well as a top dual-clutch gearbox. ZF’s elite eight is also more graceful in everyday driving or snarled traffic than most dual-clutches.
Priced above the DB9 coupe and every Vantage model, the Vanquish and the Rapide S better justify their ultra-exclusive pricing. These mid-cycle reboots should solidify the top of the Aston range – until Mercedes’ cavalry arrives to solidify a new generation of Astons.
2015 Aston Martin Vanquish/Vanquish Volante Specifications
|Power||568 hp @ 6650 rpm|
|Torque||465 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm|
|Tires||Pirelli P-Zero 255/35 ZR20 front, 305/30/ZR20 rear|
|Curb weight||3834/4065 lb (coupe/convertible)|
|Fuel economy||13/21 mpg (city/highway)|
2015 Aston Martin Rapide S Specifications
|Power||552 hp @ 6650 rpm|
|Torque||465 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm|
|Tires||Bridgestone Potenza 245/40R20 front, 295/35R20 rear|
|Curb weight||4387 lb|
|Fuel economy||14/22 mpg (city/highway)|