Slated for replacement, the Vanquish's last effort is a worthy one
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, its computers probably got the mother of all inferiority complexes. The Aston Martin Vanquish can relate to that: It launched in 2012, before new boss Andy Palmer (ex-Nissan) and new chief engineer Matt Becker (ex-Lotus) arrived. Both felt Aston’s range-topping super-GT had room for improvement. Putting Vanquish under even more pressure, the DB11 arrived last year; that V12 GT is substantially cheaper yet boasts a new platform, a similarly powerful (though twin-turbocharged) engine, a fresh design and a more up-to-date interior.
With that in mind, Palmer and Becker have evolved the Vanquish into the Vanquish S. Becker says he’s tried to retain the original car’s superb comfort and refinement while adding extra attitude. The basics are familiar: A 6.0-liter naturally aspirated V12 feeds power through an eight-speed automatic -- in a transaxle arrangement -- to the rear wheels. Although the exterior design might look a lot like the DB9 (since replaced by the DB11), the Vanquish S is actually entirely skinned in carbon fiber. Even some of the structure you can’t see is carbon -- the trunk floor, for instance.
The S mechanical upgrades relate mostly to powertrain and chassis. The V12 gets a revised intake system with a voracious appetite for air up front and new quad tailpipes out back, while modifications reduce driveline slack. Sliding the jewel-like key into the center of the dash is like pressing down the plunger on a box full of dynamite: This is one thunderous V12, with deep, dirty rasps and theatrical crackles -- one that responds savagely to every tickle of throttle, like a junkyard dog hearing the chiming of chain-link fence.
Much as we appreciated the Vanquish, the S’s improvement can be felt in just a few miles: The V12 now snarls at peak revs where once it petered out; the gear changes are sharper, the body is better tied down. It feels tighter, more responsive, more involving.
Power increases from 568 hp to 580 hp (Europeans get a fuller-bodied 595 hp). Torque is unaltered at 465 lb-ft, but you get a more generous serving of it through a broader portion of midrange. There’s still some lethargy below 3,000 rpm, but that just means you’re less likely to fishtail haplessly while leaving Cars and Coffee. Besides, before 3,000 rpm, you’re hardly bouncing up and down in your seat cursing the thing to get a move on.
And beyond that, everything suddenly intensifies: noise, revs, speed, all of it fizzing throughout the cabin. The extra output is delivered at 7,000 rpm --350 rpm higher than before -- and where once the soundtrack was monotone, it now escalates proportionately.
The transmission underlines this newfound connection. Shifts aren’t actually faster, but they’ve been recalibrated for a cleaner, more precise feeling. There’s no finger-drumming frustration when you try to wrong-foot the software, either. Pull the left-hand paddle shifter quickly four times and you’ll drop from eighth gear to fourth in double time.
The chassis is a great complement to all the powertrain mods. Spring rates go up 10 percent; the Bilsteins have been recalibrated for a better balance between rebound and compression damping --it was too focused on rebound previously, reckons Becker -- and there’s extra static toe on the rear wheels and a new rear antiroll bar with stiffer bushings. The 20-inch P Zeros and carbon-ceramic brakes carry over.
As Becker promised, the Vanquish S is exceptionally compliant, but there’s a tighter, more agile response to steering input: It’s playful without feeling unstable, and the suspension is tauter than the more leisurely DB11’s. Aston says there’s less understeer, too, something helped by a new carbon-fiber (naturally) splitter.
I can’t say that I’m particularly qualified to confirm that one after a wet test drive on public roads, but I will say the hydraulic steering feels substantially different, even though it’s exactly the same. The stiffer chassis requires a little more steering effort, so while the steering rack is still pretty light, there’s more meat when you wind off-center—and more feedback, with the leather rim brimming with road-surface texture.
You get some visual changes -- that splitter, the rear diffuser -- and some new options, including Bridge of Weir leather and forged five-spoke alloys, but really the Vanquish S concentrates more on letting the driver know the game has moved on than it does the guy on the street.
Palmer and Becker can be proud of the Vanquish S, a car they inherited. Problem is, they’ve already shown us what they can do with a blank piece of paper courtesy of the cheaper, similarly powerful DB11. And come 2018, that car will spawn a Vanquish S replacement.
The smart (and/or patient) money goes on either of the above. But as one last blast from Aston Martin’s past, with its natural aspiration and feelsome hydraulic steering, there’s still a lot to admire about the 2017 Vanquish S -- and much here to please the purist.