Going out in style.
The dinosaurs didn’t know extinction was coming. They carried on romping and stomping as the sky turned to fire and that meteor took out much of Mexico. In a similar vein, we doubt anyone at Aston Martin has been brave enough to tell the venerable Vanquish that it’s living at the far end of an overdraft of borrowed time. This is a car that sits on an architecture that already has been replaced and which is still powered by the gloriously anachronistic naturally aspirated V-12 that Aston has been using for nearly two decades.
But while the new, turbocharged DB11 is an empirically better car by almost any metric you choose to employ, it can’t match the exclusivity of Aston’s range-topper. Buyers who opt for the Vanquish will have to find an extra $80,000 to get a car with less equipment and less power than its supposedly junior sister DB11, which costs “only” $214,820. But they will find themselves at the pinnacle of Mount Aston. It’s impossible not to see the continued appeal of this grandest of grand tourers, a car that makes a Bentley Continental GT look like something bought at Sears. Now, the Vanquish has been given a final freshening and the deployment of the S badges that Aston reserves for its ultimate incarnations.
The Vanquish S gets more power, although the increase must be well within the margin of variation of the non-S’s engine. A fractionally freer-flowing intake system aims to sharpen the top end in the 5.9-liter V-12 and takes the output rating up 12 horsepower to 580 hp—still 20 horses less than the new twin-turbocharged V-12 in the DB11. Strangely, Aston claims a higher, 595-hp output for the engine in European spec, although it says the engine is in the same state of tune and offers no other explanation.
Close to Screaming
None of this really matters. The Vanquish continues to have a naturally aspirated Aston Martin V-12 that is one of the finest engines in the world. It’s special from the moment it fires into noisy life with a leonine snarl; most automakers who still produce V-12s tune them to sound soft and creamy, but the Vanquish S’s engine is loud and often angry. Its character shifts with both revs and load, sometimes yowling and sometimes—when closing in on its 7000-rpm limiter—close to screaming.
Yet it doesn’t quite manage to deliver a corresponding amount of fury. The Aston is certainly fast. The company claims a 201-mph top speed and a 3.5-second zero-to-62-mph time, 0.3 second brisker than the stated acceleration time for the non-S Vanquish (the last standard Vanquish we tested sprinted to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds). Yet it lacks the almost instant low-down urge that comes from turbocharging, which many similarly priced competitors now deliver. The big engine pulls cleanly at low rpm, but it needs to be worked hard to truly deliver, and Aston claims that power peaks right at the 7000-rpm redline, 350 rpm higher than in the standard Vanquish. The upside of natural aspiration is that throttle response remains scintillating and the standard eight-speed ZF autobox has been retuned to shift with more aggression.
Changes made to the Vanquish S’s chassis, although modest, have had a greater—and counterintuitive—effect. Spring rates have been stiffened by 10 percent (these on top of the 10 percent increase the Vanquish was given in 2015), and there’s also a brawnier rear anti-roll bar and firmer suspension bushings. Yet expectations that this toughening will increase the hardness of the Aston’s core seem off the mark: It actually feels noticeably more compliant than before, riding out bumps and rougher road surfaces with impressive disdain. We’re told the broadened bandwidth should be mostly credited to a smarter algorithm controlling the Bilstein adaptive dampers, allowing them to react more quickly.
Still Big But Nimbler
The Vanquish S still feels big, but it can be hustled at an impressive pace thanks to high grip levels and accurate steering responses, which have also benefited from the suspension sharpening. The steering has gained some weight over the non-S Vanquish, although with no loss in feel; we’re still not keen on the squared-off steering wheel, though—what’s wrong with round? Driving on cold and greasy English roads revealed another advantage of the engine’s relative lack of low-down torque—the Vanquish manages to find impressive traction where turbo rivals would be battling their traction-control systems. Aerodynamic modifications have also reduced front-end lift at speed—Aston says this falls from 146 pounds to 40 when traveling at 150 mph. We had no chance to confirm this.
Inside, the hand-finished cabin continues pretty much as before, with beautiful materials and elegant design mostly distracting occupants from the reality that there really isn’t very much to play with. Aston’s aged VH architecture means that plenty of the stuff you’d find on a mainstream car costing a tenth of the sticker on a Vanquish S just isn’t there. There’s no adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, or automated emergency braking. Would James Bond care? Also, the navigation system has been upgraded from the dreadful 2005-ish Volvo system that Aston previously used to something that could be accurately described as half-decent.
Trying to quantify the Vanquish S by rational criteria is an exercise doomed to failure. It is more expensive than the DB11 but is also much less spacious, slower, and with much less equipment. Offered in the coupe form we drove ($297,775) and also as a convertible Volante ($315,775) that we haven’t experienced yet, it’s due in dealerships come April. It is still hugely desirable and the car perhaps sticks closest to the values that made Aston great. We will miss it when it departs, but the grand old dame is going out in style.