Cars & Tech

Power play: the Aston Martin Vanquish S

Yes, it's pretty, but what kind of machine is the new Vanquish S? Grand tourer, supercar, or something in-between?

Words by
Chris Hall

I find it hard to think of the Vanquish as an old-timer. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the original was being turned invisible in Die Another Day (admittedly, not the finest moment for a Bond car), but in fact fifteen years have passed. Such is the pace of change at modern-day Aston that the current generation Vanquish – new in 2012 – is reaching its swansong with this, a new Vanquish S. Tarted up on the outside, breathed upon in the engine department, it has generally been given the chance to be the best Vanquish it can be.

To look at, there’s nothing out of touch about this car. For my money, it’s still the best-looking car on Aston’s books. But the arrival of the DB11 last year casts a question mark over the Vanquish S’s purpose. Both cars have the same power (a hair shy of 600bhp) and the same number of seats; the DB11 has modern electronics pinched from Mercedes and costs about £45,000 less than the Vanquish S.

Hmm. Tough one. On my driveway, it looks sensational. But so sensational that I’d forgo having, say, a Porsche Boxster as well as a DB11? Leaving London for the weekend, it clearly was my mission to find out whether the Vanquish S can really wear two hats – grand tourer and supercar.

Aston Martin Vanquish S

To the question of grand touring first: we weren’t headed far but you would comfortably get enough baggage for a week’s holiday in the boot. Plus you can store plenty on the back seats – I certainly wouldn’t make anyone sit in them; children could fit but the seats are so hard I’d only use them as some sort of punishment. A 200mph naughty step, if you will.

A grand tourer should get you from A to B in style (tick!) but also accurately – to wit, does the sat nav work properly? Sort of. Getting it to talk to me was tricky and it didn’t seem to respond to live traffic updates. You’re better off plugging in your phone and using Google Maps. Apple Carplay is also on board, so the old generation infotainment system (thoroughly upstaged by the Merc one in the DB11) gets a free pass.

Heading out of town the Vanquish showed it will cruise effortlessly at speeds that I can only describe as “legally unsound”. The eight-speed gearbox keeps the engine quiet at low revs – a benefit negated by the considerable road noise from those 21-inch wheels. You can turn up the fabulous sound system, as long as you didn’t plan on having an in-depth conversation.

Of course, there’s another noise most Vanquish owners will prefer to hear – the V12 engine as expressed via four enormous sports exhaust pipes. It’s epic – only the V10 from Audi’s R8 comes close, mostly because so many marques have gone full turbo. Aston Martin is among them – the V12 in the new DB11 is turbocharged and the Vanquish’s replacement will be too – so this really is a swan song. In full supercar mode (not hard to reach: two buttons on the steering wheel transform the engine and the stiffness of the ride) the S is suddenly quite feisty.

Down familiar country roads it will really shift, and although there are electronics at work keeping you out of the hedges, it doesn’t take much to get it a bit skittish. There’s a lot of weight to move around – nearly two tonnes with petrol and people on board – and it takes a bit of practice to place the front wheels precisely, so you’re likely to stay well within your comfort zone. The good news is that doesn’t neuter the Vanquish S at all; because the engine is naturally aspirated and the gearbox so responsive, an addictive burst of speed is only ever a moment away.

Driving around Surrey and Kent, this car shone on A-roads. It’s honestly too powerful – and too wide – for anything smaller. I could live with that; taking the long way round would be a pleasure. A more interesting aspect of the “would I buy it, if I could?” test is other people’s reactions, and here the Aston scores well. People let me out of junctions. They didn’t sneer in quiet country towns, and if they objected to the full-on shouting of the exhausts on the open road – well, I’m afraid I was long gone by that point.

In a way, this is an old-school supercar. It’s got foibles. It has rakish looks. Things do occasionally go wrong, and you forgive it because at its best it’s incredible. It’s definitely the best the Vanquish has ever been – which just makes it such a shame that it comes along now, destined to perhaps only ever be a footnote. Would it be an illogical purchase? Sure. Would I admire you for doing so? Absolutely.

Aston Martin Vanquish S, The Jackal