As much as I hate stereotypes, I still like to think that every car has a perfect setting. A low-spec BMW 320d? It surely belongs in the middle of M25 gridlock, with a miserable-looking driver at the wheel. A Ferrari 488 GTB? Obviously Mugello circuit in Italy (normal punters don’t get access to Fiorano, silly). And an Aston Martin GT car? We’re talking the south of France. Preferably in June, when it’s baking hot and before the tourist riff-raff arrive.
However, as I find myself behind the wheel of Aston Martin’s latest grand tourer - the Vanquish S - it’s December, and I’m in the rather less glamorous Warwickshire. Oh, and the roads are soaking wet, and it’s the Winter Solstice - otherwise known as the shortest day of the year. Today is not a day to be driving a near 600bhp, rear-wheel drive car in the wet - it’s a day to be hiding from the elements with a big mug of tea.
Five minutes after getting behind the wheel however, it’s clear this thing isn’t a liability on these greasy roads. Far from it: foot flat to the floor in first, and there’s a squiggle from the rear, as there is in second gear, but that’s about it.
But this shouldn’t be a surprise: Aston Martin is good at understanding what a grand tourer is supposed to be. Don’t be fooled by the new ’S’ on the boot - Aston hasn’t suddenly made the Vanquish into some firm, hilariously uncomfortable Nurburgring lap time chaser. This is not a sport or supercar, it’s still a super GT, and a bloody good one at that.
The big selling point - other than the drop dead gorgeous looks - was and still is the engine. Only Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Ferrari still make naturally-aspirated V12 performance cars (I’m not counting any of Rolls-Royce’s products as ‘performance cars’), and this 5.9-litre 12-banger really is something special.
It doesn’t make the Vanquish feel like a car that does 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds thanks to a fairly linear power delivery, but a surge late in the rev range makes last-gasp gear changes hugely exciting. Thanks to a freer breathing inlet manifold power is up from 568 to 595bhp, and while the Aston boffins were at it, they also bunged in a new stainless steel exhaust system.
The AM geeks among you will spot the new quad tailpipe arrangement, and Gaydon has worked hard to make the Vanquish sound better than ever. I was even shown a graph to explain how it’s better, which if I’m honest I didn’t entirely understand. My ears however - they like what they hear.
God singing in the shower, one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons stepping on a carpet made of Lego; whatever ridiculous analogy you want to throw out there simply cannot adequately describe what this car sounds like. The sound of this naturally-aspirated V12 rattling around the Warwickshire hills will live with me forever.
Next up on the fiddling agenda for Aston is the suspension. The S has retuned damper internals, spring rates and anti-roll bar bushes. So, all little tweaks rather than radical changes, making the Vanquish that little bit sharper.
With the adaptive dampers slapped in Sport Mode, the Vanquish becomes your back road best friend. It feels big and fairly heavy (even with carbonfibre body panels it still weighs over 1700kg), but the damping is brilliantly judged. Body roll is kept in check and the S is rarely flustered by crappy, broken up road surfaces.
As we’ve already touched upon, grip from the rear is impressive too, despite all that V12 anger being lobbed through the 305-section rear tyres. And when the rearmost boots do lose grip, it’s completely manageable and undramatic. It’s like you’re getting a gentle tap on the shoulder, rather than a big kick up the arse.
So far so good, but problems begin to arise as I start to slow down a little and pay more attention to the cabin. Yes, there’s some beautiful leatherwork and stitching (although I’m not so sure about the stitched leather roof of this particular car), but after spending time in the DB11 earlier this year, the older Vanquish feels particularly third rate in places.
Let’s start with the indicator stalks: they feel cheap and flimsy, and if someone heavy handed were behind the wheel (cough Alex Kersten (cough) I’d be genuinely worried about them getting broken. The sat nav would be an inferior to Google Maps five years ago - let alone now - and the vibrating buttons on the centre console are borderline nasty.
This might sound like I’m nit picking, but for a car that costs £199,950, you expect better. Especially when that’s not all that far away from the base price of a Ferrari GTC4Lusso, not to mention almost £50,000 more than the more modern, actually slightly more powerful DB11 - even if the latter car isn’t as focused or exciting as the Vanquish.
But the interior could be made from MDF off-cuts and stuck together with superglue for all I care, as the way the Vanquish S looks, drives and sounds more than makes up for every single one of my misgivings.
As the light of this exceptionally short day starts to fade, I’m loving every minute behind the wheel of this Aston. Every turn on the beautifully linear, feedback-laden hydraulic power steering is joyous. Every burst of acceleration, with the V12’s brassy tones thundering out the tailpipes and the eight-speed transaxle-mounted ‘box rapidly chopping through gears, makes my day a little better each time.
"It's not a revelation and it's not a gamechanger, but the Vanquish S is still one of my standout drives of the year"
Driving a car like this is always going to be a real treat. After all, the Vanquish blends an old-school N/A V12 with modern chassis dynamics - is there a better combination in the automotive world than that?
It’s important to remember what this car is. It’s a tweaked version of a car that’s been around for a while now, using bits and pieces that are even older. But this Aston manages to be much more than the sum of its parts.
It’s not a revelation and it’s not a gamechanger, but the Vanquish S is still one of my standout drives of the year. It has the charm, charisma and downright sex appeal few other motors have right now. We should be ecstatic that cars like this are still made. Because pretty soon, they won’t be.
Best make the most and stay out until sunset.