I’m not a fan of the Sean Connery James Bond movies. There, I said it. And I’m guessing I’ve upset half of those reading this mag. The other half are probably more familiar with the work of Daniel Craig portraying the iconic British spy — and, no, I don’t like him either. For me, it doesn’t get better than those tacky hits of the Eighties starring the one and only Sir Roger Moore. So it was apt that when presented with the brand new Aston Martin Vanquish at Millbrook Proving Ground last weekend in England, I found myself raising a Moore-like eyebrow at the sublime looking supercar. I was a little puzzled by it. That’s because it looked, for all intents and purposes, like a facelifted DBS. It seemed Aston had failed to design anything that was really different from the previous halo model.
This is not a criticism because the Vanquish, which also borrows heavily from the gorgeous limited-edition One-77, is an absolutely stunning piece of engineering. It’s bold, beautiful and proves that Britain is at its very best. But how do you improve on cars like the One-77?
Aston seems to be facing this very conundrum. It’s built some of the prettiest things on wheels and for me, it doesn’t get better than a 1963 DB5 or a 1977 V8 Vantage. But CEO Dr Ulrich Bez has an answer for those who feel all Aston’s recent designs are too similar. “I have four kids and they share certain similarities in the way they look. But their personalities are totally different — just like our cars,” he said over dinner at the majestic Tyringham Hall.
Following a close-up inspection of the Vanquish — built from a new generation bonded aluminium and carbon-fibre VH structure and carbon-fibre composite body — it’s managed to blend all that is good about the marque into one exquisite package. The front end features the signature Aston grille, flanked by sharper Bi-xenon headlights and LED light blades.
The sleek face wears a huge front splitter made from carbon fibre — oozing power, presence and sporting potential. Its profile is as dramatic as they come; the curvy rear fenders, vents and side strakes that extend into the front door skins are just stunning. Around the back, it boasts a fabulous decklid spoiler that has been crafted from a single carbon-fibre piece.
There’s more beauty to behold including the exposed carbon-fibre roof, 20in diamond turned wheels and dual exhausts. Dr Bez was right.
Aston has also increased the chassis’ torsional rigidity compared to the DBS by 25 per cent while the centre of gravity has been lowered by a new engine cradle design. The suspension hasn’t changed much (it still has independent double wishbones and coil springs at the front and back), however, the adaptive dampers now get three settings — normal, sport and track compared to the two on the DBS.
The cabin is so luxurious that I felt a sense of guilt for hopping in wearing a pair of jeans, t-shirt and trainers. Bond would have donned his trademark tux.
The Vanquish has more legroom and the hand-crafted cabin has far more flair than the DBS. The beige full-grain leather and Alcantara trim looks superb while the fit and finish is exemplary. The standard equipment list includes a 1,000Watt Bang & Olufsen audio system, Bluetooth phone pairing, iPod/iPhone integration and an in-car Wi-Fi hub. Best of all are the touch-sensitive glass buttons that vibrate when pushed. Or in Aston speak, they create a ‘haptic response’.
My test car was fitted with a square steering, found in the One-77, but this is an option I doubt many would want. You really can’t reinvent the wheel.
I didn’t have an ejector seat, flame thrower or machine gun. But if you ask Aston’s personalisation and design service — known as the Q department — nicely, well, you never know...
Aston’s kept faith with the 48 valve, 5,935cc front mid-mounted V12 (they call it a 6.0-litre) under the sloping bonnet, but it’s gained significant improvements in performance by adding variable intake and exhaust valve timing, a bigger throttle body and an upgraded fuel pump. Mated to a rear-mid mounted six-speed touchtronic automatic, the revised motor adds 55bhp over the DBS for a total of 565 horses at a screaming 6,750rpm. And 620Nm of torque is not to be scoffed at either.
While waiting for my turn to have a blast around the speed bowl, a 3km circular banked circuit used for high-speed testing, vehicle engineer Paul Thomas told me it was the first Aston to gain launch control and with this engaged, 0-100kph can be achieved in 4.1 seconds while its top speed is 295kph.
Suitably excited, I jumped into the Vanquish and floored it. The fully catalysed stainless steel exhaust system (with active bypass valves) exploded into life with a deafening roar and the glamorous Aston took off with brute force. I was pinned to my Vanquish-embroidered seat and already touching 200kph before I knew it. I’d have hit 295kph with an extra lap but had to ease off the throttle as my time around the bowl was up all too soon.
Next was a torturous hill route that featured progressively steeper gradients and some very tight corners. Here, the Vanquish’s quicker steering (a speed-dependent electronically controlled rack-and-pinion power-assisted unit), rigid chassis and ventilated carbon ceramic brakes would be severely tested. Nothing faltered as I made my way around the twists and turns — the 1,739kg Vanquish proving nimble and ultra light on its feet. With the V12 sounding at its best between 2,500rpm and 4,500rpm and the gears changing smoothly and ever so quickly, it made mincemeat of this supposedly tricky circuit. It was evident that it enjoyed cruising along as much as it loved being thrashed. And it was on the one mile straight where I buried my foot into the plush carpet that I enjoyed it most. Here, the glorious V12 was unleashed in all its fury and its sheer power had me feeling rather giddy. It did not disappoint. With sport mode engaged, the Vanquish changed up from first to second automatically but then left the rest of the gear changes to me. I hit the sweet spot each time — the sound emanating from the exhaust tips was just incredible — but I found the column-mounted shift paddles on the small side and difficult to reach. This and an all too narrow windshield which affected visibility (I soon grew used to it) were my only complaints. A manual gearbox would have been nice, but like Ferrari, Aston has ditched a row your own.
Sure, the F12 Berlinetta would blow the Vanquish away in terms of performance — it’s a full second quicker from 0-100kph and has way more horses to play with. But crucially, it lacks the refinement and class which the Vanquish has in abundance. Because of that, I’d take this over the Fezza, given the choice.
Funnily enough, I’d liken the Vanquish to the two Bond actors I dislike the most; Connery and Craig. It’s suave and sophisticated like dear old Sean and athletic and tough like the chiselled Daniel. Combined, you’d have the ultimate Bond. And this is the ultimate Aston.
Though ham-fisted Roger is my all-time favourite, the Vanquish lacks any of his tacky traits — it truly is class personified.
In terms of power, it may not have vanquished the opposition, but in terms of everything else, it’s left me, yep, shaken and stirred.