The Aston Martin Vanquish has always been a bit of a slow-burner. After the euphoria of starting its sweetly ferocious 5.9-litre V12 (they call it a 6.0 but it has 5935cc and I’m a pedant) and the first few dozen miles just enjoying the noise and the lovely sensation of performance that just goes on and on, somehow the elation starts to ebb away. The ‘box feels a bit too soft-edged, the ride is pretty smooth but the steering response and agility seems to suffer for it and the engine just seems too smooth and linear. The car lacks a little bite… It’s almost too polite.
Leave the Vanquish now, maybe a few hours in, and you could almost be disappointed by it. But strangely more miles in the seat seems to reignite the enjoyment rather than chip away further at the car’s appeal. Yes, you’ll still hope for another suspension setting beyond ‘Track’ to get some real control and response, and the engine lacks a clean, hungry relentlessness at the top end that characterises the best normally aspirated engines. However, you have to balance that against the car’s easy fluidity and a balance that’s wonderfully progressive. It might be a world away from the rabid and mildly terrifying Ferrari F12, but it is a fantastic GT car that’s pretty convincing when you start chucking it about like a sports car.
The problem is that the new DB11 does that job convincingly, too. And it has more power, faster steering for extra agility, a stiffer chassis for added control and suspension efficiency. Oh, and it’s cheaper. A lot cheaper. The DB11 went on sale for £154,900 whilst the slower, older Vanquish – a car with seemingly the same brief – cost £192,995. What to do? Simple. Evolve the Vanquish into the Vanquish S and make sure to ramp up the ‘super’ side of the older car to give it a niche all of its own. Aston Martin still won’t call the Vanquish S a full-blown supercar but it is now a ‘Super GT’.
As you might expect from Aston Martin, the Vanquish hasn’t suddenly sprouted wings, found 150bhp and been equipped with a roll cage. ‘Evolution’ really is the name of the game. The changes are detailed and extensive, though. They’ve been overseen by Matt Becker, formerly of Lotus, who’s a shit-hot driver (sorry for language but it’s the best description of his freakish car control and incredible attention to detail) and also cares deeply about the geeky stuff that you can’t talk about at parties but deep down really care about. Stuff like steering feel, yaw centres and roll stiffness. Most of the time I have no idea what he’s talking about, but the result he’s aiming for often chimes precisely with the stuff I like. The Vanquish S was all about ramping up the excitement.
The basics are a price of £199,950 for the Coupé or £211,950 for the Volante, with the former able to polish off 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds and hit 201mph. Power is up from 568bhp to 595bhp at 7000rpm, while torque maintains the same 465lb ft peak at 5500rpm but with more of that total available across a larger chunk of the total rev range, creating added low- and mid-range response. Although if you live outside the UK you’ll have to make do with 580bhp. The eight-speed Touchtronic III automatic ‘box has been updated with the DB11’s ‘Zero Backlash Coupling’ which connects the flywheel and propshaft and is said to offer greater driveline stability. This has the benefit of improving low-speed refinement and allowing for faster shift speed and enhanced engine response throughout the rev range. Spring rates are up 10 percent front and rear and there’s a three percent stiffer anti-roll bar. In combination with heavily revised aero the yaw centre of the Vanquish S has been moved forward. That means less understeer, a feeling of reduced mass and a shorter wheelbase. At least that’s the theory.
Matt’s presentation was full of grown-up radar charts and graphs, but just the way the Vanquish S looks reduces me to a small child again. The new deeper front splitter with little corner fins might cut front lift from 66kg to 11kg at 150mph, but at 0mph it raises a human heart rates by at least 36 percent, I reckon. In combination with new diamond-turned wheels and the bare carbonfibre rear diffuser, the lean, wide and hunkered-down Vanquish S looks familiar but nothing less than sensational. It’s cool inside, too. Jeremy hates the strange near-square steering wheel and I‘m sure you’re already thinking ‘Allegro’, but the small flat-sided ‘wheel’ feels perfect to me. In fact, aside from the overcooked and ugly vents for the climate control system, the interior with its crazy stitching patterns feels pretty damn special. Then there’s the noise. My god, the noise. Vanquish S has a new intake and exhaust system and as a result the V12 sounds magnificent and malevolent.
The noise alone gives a pretty clear sign of this car’s intent and sure enough the S really does enhance the Vanquish’s angrier attributes. The ride feels almost too stiff at very low speeds and although it soon smooths out there’s an underlying tension that was missing before. The steering’s rate of response is quicker, the car just feels keener to change direction and yet the added agility doesn’t feel artificial nor edgy. There’s a real cohesion to the way the Vanquish S negotiates a road.
Sadly, the roads are streaming wet for our time with the S and so any tales of heroic derring-do are somewhat scuppered. What I can say is that grip levels remain high and that while 10 percent here and three percent there might sound like rather tame and inconsequential numbers, the reality is that the Vanquish S feels and sounds much more exciting than its predecessor. The performance gains are also pretty transformational. Whereas before the V12 felt linear and refined after its flamboyant starting roar, there’s now a real ferocity to it at all times. Mid-range response is so much sharper and the way it revs out with ever greater energy and that multi-layered howling noise is fantastic. With harder-hitting gearshifts it really is some drivetrain. The DB11 has a very fine turbocharged engine, but this old-school 6.0-litre has it licked for sense of occasion. In fact, just like the fearsome F12, I’d completely understand if you bought a Vanquish S for the engine alone.
When I scrunch back onto the gravel driveway of Aston Martin’s Gaydon headquarters after a day swarming over roads I know well in Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, I’m rather taken aback by how much I like the Vanquish S. I’d expected a bit more noise and not much else, but actually the whole attitude of the car has shifted. There’s an underlying steel to it now, a deep-seated quality to the set-up and a greater sense of balance. It just feels like a more ballsy, entertaining car and perfectly moves the Vanquish away from the all-round appeal of the DB11. This is something else. And it’s bloody impossible not to smile when it’s firing you along and that V12 is howling and crackling its approval. Big fun. Huge, in fact.