The Aston Martin Vanquish S sits at the pinnacle of the British sports car maker’s range. Costing £199,950, it offers a V12 engine mounted ahead of the driver, 2+2 seating – meaning the two rear seats are tiny – and lively rear-wheel-drive dynamics.
Aston calls it a ‘super GT’, and as such it has a tricky brief, tasked with thrilling its driver when he takes the long-way home but pampering occupants when loaded with bags and speeding to the south of France. You might consider a Ferrari F12, a Bentley Continental GT, or even Aston’s new DB11 instead.
Evolved and improved
The Vanquish was originally launched in 2012, and while it shares much of its design and basic underpinnings with the 2004-2016 DB9, that comparison undersells its comprehensive re-engineering. Most notably, the Vanquish is unique among series-production Aston Martins in boasting a bodyshell and panels manufactured from carbonfibre.
There’s even carbonfibre where you can’t see it, including the boot floor. The result is a stiffer, lighter structure and, more surprisingly, extra interior space. The powertrain and chassis were also developed to give the DB9 an inferiority complex.
Just over four years on, the Vanquish S replaces the Vanquish, while carrying over the majority of components. The front and rear bumpers are embellished with carbonfibre, and new options include five-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels and Bridge of Weir leather, but the man on the street will struggle to differentiate old and new.
What’s it like inside?
The interior features a suitably low-slung driving position and some incredibly high-quality craftsmanship, but it is dated by the all-new DB11, particularly the Vanquish S’s far less advanced – if still easy-to-fathom – infotainment system, and the hard, unsupportive seats, perhaps its biggest failing.
Really, though, there’s more to what you can’t see than what you can. New boss Andy Palmer’s brief to his team was to ratchet up performance and driver engagement without compromising the original car’s admirable comfort.
More importantly, how does it go?
The 6.0-litre V12 power has been increased from 568 to 592hp thanks to a freer-breathing induction system, the gear shifts have been recalibrated to feel sharper and the chassis tuned for extra agility – even the new front splitter sticking out from the front bumper pushes more air down on the front tyres at speed, increasing grip.
Starting the old Vanquish was already like uncorking bottled thunder, but new exhaust silencers turn the S into the Brian Blessed of V12s. It’s beautifully judged with feisty crackles and rich baritone roars under harder acceleration ceding to a more subdued and cultured soundtrack at a cruise.
There’s also a proper flourish towards 7000rpm peak power, not the monotone anti-climax of old.The unhurried power delivery below 3000rpm might make you wonder if the floormat is tangled under the throttle, but that’s because the Vanquish hasn’t adopted the turbochargers favoured by many rivals.
There’s still life in the old challenger
The advantage is a crisper sound, zingy throttle response, and a linear lunge of power that lasts all the way to 7000rpm; the more you work the engine, the more you get from it, and there’s great satisfaction in that. The DB11’s turbocharged V12 might be more flexible at low revs and it is more frugal – the Vanquish S manages 21.6mpg/302g/km CO2 to the DB11’s 24mpg, 270g/km – but it can’t quite get under your skin like this.
The chassis, too, impresses. Springs that are 10% stiffer, retuned shock absorbers and adjustments to the rear axle create a tightly tied-down feeling, so when you point the steering quickly left and right, the car follows neatly, instinctively and with very little body roll. You certainly notice the suspension is more aggressively sporty than the DB11’s during faster driving, and yet the bump absorption is so pillowy, it’s a match for an executive saloon.
The steering underlines the sense of driver connection, with enough assistance to make the Vanquish feel wieldy and unintimidating, but enough feel and weight to key you in to the road surface.
All things considered, the Vanquish S is a fantastic car. It expertly manages the tricky GT car balancing act and does exactly what Aston promises in feeling significantly more engaging than its predecessor without noticeably impacting on day-to-day comfort.
The elephant in the room, however, is the Aston Martin DB11. It’s an all-new design with a higher-tech, more comfortable interior and a similarly powerful V12. For some, the prestige of the Vanquish nameplate will be all that matters. Yet the fact that the newer DB11 delivers so much of what the Vanquish S offers for a substantial £45k less makes it the smarter buy.
It’s worth noting, too, that the DB11 will form the basis of the Vanquish replacement, and a due-date of 2018 means it’s not so far away.