It was codenamed AM310, but there wasn’t much doubt that Aston Martin would resurrect the Vanquish name for its latest model. This was not an uncontroversial decision. Back in 2001, the first Vanquish was the debut Aston Martin launch for Ulrich Bez, the company’s CEO. He held the car back for almost six months.
It was the last all-new model to come out of Aston’s Newport Pagnell works. Ian Callum’s outrageous styling dripped testosterone; this car looked fast even on the back of a break-down truck. Unfortunately, that’s where many of them ended up.
As Bez now says: “What no one wanted to hear at the time is that the Vanquish was crap. I changed 200 things, and even then, it burned through gearboxes.”
Vanquish production ceased in 2007 and while its DBS replacement was more reliable, it never recaptured the Vanquish’s glamour quotient. Aston Martin, now based at Gaydon in Warwickshire, hopes the new Vanquish will generate the fairy dust of the original; star of James Bond films and The Italian Job remake.
The coachwork is sleek and stretched, although in truth all modern Astons look quite similar. The Vanquish borrows styling from the £1 million One-77 supercar. It also gets a pedestrian impact-friendly front, LED rear lamps and a lovely, seamless transition from the rear arches into the roof, although we’re not sure about the integral spoiler on the boot lid.
Depending on where you stand, Aston either cynically shuffles the same basic car over a wide range of prices, or it earnestly improves a basic recipe to perfection. Either way, the spec sheet contains no great surprises, with the familiar aluminium-alloy chassis and new carbon-fibre coachwork that saves weight (though this car still weighs 1.7 tons) but doesn’t add much structural stiffness. The suspension gets the latest adaptive damping and there’s a new under-bonnet brace to stiffen the front end.
Originally this 5.9-litre V12 was based on two Ford Mondeo V6s, but Aston has reworked it into a reliable thumper. Power is up 9 per cent from the DBS to 565bhp with a top speed of 183mph, 0-62mph in 4.1sec, 19.6mpg in the EU Combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 335g/km.
Like the first Vanquish, the new car has a single – and controversial – transmission option: a ZF six-speed automatic. It’s a well-proven unit used by Jaguar, but even if you accept the idea of an automatic sports coupé, there’s a better eight-speed ZF unit available, although companies with bigger ZF contracts, such as VW-owned Bentley and BMW-owned Rolls-Royce, are higher up the waiting list.
The air vents on the new car are an improvement, but memorable for all the wrong reasons is the squared-off steering wheel from the One-77, which recalls the unlamented Austin Allegro’s quadratic wheel. Fortunately it’s an option and the standard wheel is circular.
The cabin feels better trimmed than the DBS and there’s more room. A narrower transmission tunnel allows the seats to be wider and they have more forward and back movement, although the steering still needs more adjustment. There’s a lot more room in the boot (368 litres) and those vestigial rear seats hold more shopping. The facia gets a mild facelift, but it’s more botox than surgery. The transmission switches still look like they came out of a lift and should be emblazoned with ‘Lingerie’, ‘Haberdashery’ and ‘Menswear’. Rotary dials don’t rotate particularly smoothly and the steering-wheel switches and column stalks are recognisably ex-Jaguar. The satnav is new, though, with its touch-screen and joystick controls. You still get that ridiculous oblong crystal ignition key, which invariably doesn’t start the engine when you push it.
The burst of revs on start-up is loud enough to wake a sleeping dog and settles to a brash idle. The automatic transmission’s shortcomings include restricting ultimate engine revolutions so the Vanquish doesn’t sing like the Ferrari F12, but it does give peerlessly refined low-speed manoeuvring. You need it, as the first impression is of bulk, and expensive parking shunts. You start to wish Aston had made the Vanquish smaller.
It’s useably fast in the way the Ferrari F12 is fearsome. The engine does its best work from 3,000 to 5,000rpm, where it also makes the best noises. It doesn’t mind tootling, but prefers fast. The gearchange is smooth if occasionally lethargic, but the fixed paddles behind the steering wheel lack “tails” so your fingers search for the next ratio when you’re cornering. With all that torque, the engine never wants for an eight-speed auto, but it would calm motorway cruising and make the Vanquish feel more sporting.
The launch route was a brave choice. Barrelling over Suffolk Fens, on undulating dyke roads, the Vanquish occasionally felt under-damped, but that’s an illusion. These were extreme roads and the suspension handled them well. In fact the ride quality is one of the best things about the Vanquish. I’d like to say the steering was, too, but despite its relaxed feel and good weighting, it never manages the initial turn-in feedback of the DBS. Aston has always done great carbon-ceramic brakes though, and these are no exception.
There are a lot of question marks over Aston, not least the long-term commitment of its owners, its ability to access new technology at affordable prices and its long-term existence independent of mainstream car makers. And while we chatted with development engineers about the likely winner of this year’s Great British Bake Off (some things about this company are simply irreplaceable) I thought about the Vanquish.
This is supposed to be the pinnacle of Aston road cars and while it’s certainly more capable and efficient than its predecessor and lovely to behold, the decision to equip it with an automatic transmission is strange.
It also lacks that indefinable star quality, so while it’s a likeable and useable car, the new Vanquish cries out for a sprinkle more vim.
Aston Martin Vanquish
Tested: 5,935cc, V12 petrol with six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Price/on sale: £189,995/now
Power/torque: 565bhp @ 6,750rpm/457lb ft @ 5,500rpm
Top speed: 183mph
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.1sec
Fuel economy: 13.2mpg/19.6mpg (EU Urban/Combined)
VED band: M (£1,030 first year, £475 thereafter)