A terrible wave of sadness engulfed me from the driver's seat of the Aston Martin as its speedometer needle crept towards 130 miles per hour. My anguish only grew as the upcoming corner filled the windscreen. As my right foot pressed firmly against the aluminum brake pedal, I began to feel pity for the affluent owners of the all-new 2014 Vanquish who will never have the opportunity to wring their very capable super GT sports cars on a racing circuit.
Exiting the turn, the 6.0-liter V12 roared to life and I snapped back to reality - any trace of mourning quickly disappeared.
It is not anyone's role to decide how an Aston owner treats his or her motorized piece of art. Whether the aluminum and carbon-fiber machines spend their useful life serving as transportation for British royalty, stuck in LA Basin traffic at the hands of well-heeled CEOs or as the latest getaway car in a Bond film, short of writing the big check our judgment ends at the daydream.
But fantasy is reality in the world of automotive journalism, and this is why I am at NOLA Motorsports Park outside New Orleans running a $300,000 vehicle at speed.
After a five-year absence, the Vanquish has been revived. Yet its arrival, as a 2014 model, spells the end for the DBS, as the fresh new coupe will replace the outgoing vehicle as Aston Martin's new halo car (simultaneously, the Virage has also been quietly dropped from the lineup after a short two-year run).
Like all late-model Astons (with the exception of the Toyota-based Cygnet), the new Vanquish starts with an all-aluminum monocoque chassis that the automaker calls its "Generation 4 VH" platform – it has been upgraded several times over the past decade. Affixed to the lightweight, but extremely rigid, framework is an aluminum, magnesium alloy and composite body (every single body panel is now carbon-fiber). Compared to its DBS predecessor, Aston Martin claims the new structure is lighter and 25-percent more rigid. Furthermore, a full 75 percent of the parts are new.
The brakes are carbon-ceramic discs with six-piston calipers shared with the One-77 supercar.
The structure serves as an excellent platform for the adaptive independent suspension. Both the front and rear of the chassis is suspended with double-wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bars and three-stage monotube dampers (the driver selects between Normal, Sport and Track modes from the cabin). The brakes are carbon-ceramic discs with six-piston calipers (over 15.7 x 1.4-inch rotors) shared with the automaker's One-77 supercar in the front and four-piston calipers (over 14.2 x 1.3-inch rotors) in the rear. The lightweight 20-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in next-generation Pirelli P-Zero tires in staggered front and rear sizes (255/35ZR20 and 305/30ZR20, respectively), while the steering is speed-dependent, rack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assistance.
Hand-assembled at the automaker's dedicated engine plant in Cologne, Germany, is Aston Martin's familiar 6.0-liter V12 engine. For its new role, the powerplant has been upgraded with dual variable valve timing, an improved fuel pump, larger throttle bodies, a revised intake manifold and fully machined combustion chambers (the automaker calls the updated engine an "AM11"). The result is 565 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 457 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. The standard transmission is a rear-mid-mounted six-speed Touchtronic 2 automatic and the rear-wheel-drive coupe is fitted with a mechanical limited-slip differential.
With an overall length of 185.8 inches, the Vanquish is almost four inches shorter than a Bentley Continental GT, but about ten inches longer than an SRT Viper. The Aston Martin and Bentley nearly share the same wheelbase and width, but the lightweight Vanquish undercuts its fellow British competitor by a whopping 1,282 pounds on the scale (3,833 pounds vs. 5,115 pounds). In terms of performance, Aston Martin quotes a sprint to 60 mph in just under four seconds with a top speed of 183 mph.
Aston Martin quotes a sprint to 60 in under four seconds with a top speed of 183 mph.
But the mechanicals are only half of the equation, as the cockpit of the Vanquish is every bit as stunning as the machinery under its vented hood.
The base price of $279,995 (plus $2,115 destination) delivers more than just a carbon-skinned aluminum tub with a powerful V12 - the occupants are pampered extraordinarily well too. The Vanquish is offered in both 2+0 and 2+2 configurations (the optional second row will only fit your friends if they are missing all limbs below the abdomen), but the wise choice is to go with the standard two-seater and use the space aft of the bucket seats for storing soft things that don't fit in the moderately sized rear trunk (it will hold a pair of golf clubs).
Pictures don't do the cockpit justice. Full-grain leather, Alcantara and polished aluminum cover every square inch with the exception of the gauges and windows (the aroma from the leather is intoxicating). Of course, there are full power accessories, heated seats, Garmin-based navigation, iPod connectivity, A2DP Bluetooth integration, Wi-Fi Hub5 and so much more as standard equipment, but lacking are today's latest innovations such as a high-def heads-up display, radar-based cruise control and infrared night vision. Truth is, none of those gadgets were missed.
This "Cayucos Orange" coupe features the difficult-to-maintain satin paint ($6,380) option.
For the most part, the options list is primarily limited to cosmetic appointments. These include wheel options (graphite, black, liquid silver and diamond-turned finishes), tailpipe finishes, carbon fiber accents and special colors. The "Cayucos Orange" coupe in the images features the must-have flat-sided "One-77" steering wheel ($1,000), difficult-to-maintain satin paint ($6,380) and full black leather interior. It wasn't my favorite (I personally preferred the glossy blue), but the unique finish sure made it easy to photograph.
The Vanquish instrument panel is noteworthy as it not only features a stylishly refined version of the One-77's dash, but new technology for the brand. Considering that previous Aston Martin dashboards have been rather ergonomically challenged (I called the layout a "smorgasbord of buttons and switches" in my 2013 V8 Vantage review), this is a big step in the proper direction. Overall, the configuration is slightly more logical (and consequently more pleasing to the eye) while introducing new capacitive glass buttons with illumination and haptic feedback. At the customer's request, Aston will do the center stack surround in carbon-fiber twill, carbon-fiber fishbone, Piano Red, Piano Black or Piano Ice mocha (that last color sounds odd, but is rather stunning in person).
Regrettably, I never had a chance to play with any of the new buttons, interface with the navigation system or hear even one single note out of the standard 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSpoke 15-speaker audio package, as our group spent the entire day at a racetrack.
NOLA Motorsports Park, opened just one year ago in Avondale, Louisiana, is an impressive new racing facility that will eventually have a five-mile road circuit (making it the longest race track in North America). Today, the park remains under construction, so our group was limited to its 16-turn North Track (2.75 miles in distance). The asphalt is absolutely flat, but the circuit is fast and technically challenging. With the exception of imminent rain, the track would prove enjoyable.
There was a pause after inserting the crystal key fob into its slot at the top of the console, as the electronics needed to perform a full system check. Given the green light, and less than one second later, the twelve-cylinder engine fired over and settled to a muted growl. The exhaust, also borrowed from the One-77, was subdued until the "Sport" mode button (on the 5 o'clock portion of the steering wheel) was pressed. Once its indicator light illuminated, the flaps opened and the exhaust took on a much angrier note. (The Sport mode not only changes the exhaust note, but also livens up the throttle and programs the Touchtronic gearbox to deliver 37-percent quicker shifts.)
After a series of cautious track exercises, with instructors scrutinizing our moves like parole officers, our group was finally allowed to put some heat into the tires. At best, I was driving 8/10ths, but it was still much harder and faster than I would comfortably (and legally) flog a carbon-fiber Aston Martin on public streets.
It didn't take long to realize that the Vanquish is a real man's car.
It didn't take long to realize that the Vanquish is a real man's car - strikingly old-school in control feel, power delivery and handling characteristics.
The primary controls, such as the steering, throttle and brake, require a firm hand (or foot) for actuation. While some may find the driver interfaces too heavy, I liked the weight of the thick three-spoke wheel in my hands, the firm spring under the accelerator pedal and the short travel of the brake, and they each delivered very clear communication as to what I was asking them to do. Most automakers today are on a fast track to reduce the amount of physical effort required to drive, so it was nice to find Aston still delivering welcomed feedback.
Aston's claimed 0-60 time of four seconds feels about right from the driver's seat (it may be a tick quicker under optimal conditions), but numbers don't express how well the naturally aspirated powerplant delivers its thrust. The proven 6.0-liter whirls like a turbine and will eagerly spin the needle on its tachometer counterclockwise until it hits fuel cutoff at redline (estimated at about 7,000 rpm).
In terms of track use, the transmission earns a seven on a ten-point scale. With the Sport button engaged, the gearbox is surprisingly intuitive as it holds shifts well and downshifts under hard deceleration. Shifts were quick, but not perfect as I still found one or two turns when I'd press the pedal to the floor and the transmission would drop harshly to a lower ratio nearly unsettling the chassis. The paddle shifters were useful, but I found frustration with their position (fixed on the column) and small size.
Numbers don't express how well the naturally aspirated powerplant delivers its thrust.
Bonus points to Aston Martin for its Adaptive Damping System, as it seemed to work very well during the track sessions. Initiated by pressing a button on the 7 o'clock portion of the steering wheel, it toggles easily through its three settings (press and hold for Track mode). The new track was exceptionally smooth, so evaluating the damper's reaction to broken pavement was impossible, but I did note the lack of body roll and stability of the platform despite quick transitional maneuvers. There was plenty of grip from the tires, and the traction control (left "on" at the request of the automaker) seemed unobtrusive even at the limit. The carbon-ceramic brakes were exceptional – seriously hard to fault – as they showed no signs of fading despite my attempts to push them harder and harder with each subsequent lap.
All in attendance had a chance to try Aston's new launch control, but it left me unimpressed. While its actuation takes mere seconds (press the "L/C" button on the lower left part of the center console, hold firm pressure on the brake, ensure the steering wheel is straight and then floor the accelerator), the launch isn't nearly as violent, or as quick, as others in the segment. After very brief initial wheelspin, the Vanquish seemed to bog momentarily before the engine and tires compromised on available grip and launched the vehicle forward.
The lackluster launch control was one of the few items on my "dislike" list, along with the aforementioned paddle shifters (I prefer them on the steering wheel, where they stay near my fingers), odd navigation system display (it is still pointed down at passenger's chests, not at eye level) and some questionable ergonomics (the horn buttons have been moved from the center pad to the rim on the One-77 steering wheel).
All in attendance had a chance to try Aston's new launch control, but it left me unimpressed.
My "like" list included the sexy styling (few realize that the rear decklid and integrated spoiler is one continuous piece of carbon-fiber – imagine trying to paint its underside),
confidence-inspiring brakes, wonderful power delivery, aggressive-yet-sumptuous exhaust note and the various heavy-handed controls. The very inviting (and wonderfully fragrant) passenger compartment takes top honors, too.
Like nearly every other Aston Martin, the 2014 Vanquish is absolutely delightful to drive. Terms like "balance, poise and character" come immediately mind. Of course, there exist no words in the English language to justify a near-$300,000 automobile (who would have thought it was possible to make the Bentley Continental GT Speed seem like a bargain?), but after an hour in its pleated leather seat, I was nearly motivated to liquidate all of my assets to get on the waiting list.
By early afternoon, dark clouds had enveloped the racing circuit and heavy rain started to fall. It didn't take long for standing water to accumulate in many of the corners, thus alarming the track officials (and those paying the insurance premiums on the Vanquish fleet). Track closed. The decision would mark the end of a very enjoyable day in Louisiana.
In the oddest of circumstances, none of the journalists at this event were allowed to drive the Vanquish off the racing circuit. Needless to say, that is in sharp contrast to the typical Vanquish owner who may never have the opportunity to pilot their vehicles around a track. The arrangement is genuinely disheartening, as the coupe is wonderfully behaved at speed (my pity waned when I learned that owners may attend one of Aston Martin's many performance driving events – do it).
Aston has been meticulously, and rather successfully, polishing the same engines and platforms for years.
It's no secret that Aston Martin is an automaker short on resources and capital (potential good news – just last week Italian private equity firm Investindustrial announced a minority stake investment in the supercar-maker). And, as other multi-brand conglomerates take advantage of shared platforms and engineering, Aston has been meticulously, and rather successfully, polishing the same engines and platforms for years. While some would argue that the all-new coupe is nothing but an amalgam of DBS and One-77 with a fresh carbon-fiber skin, I dismiss their pointless bickering and instead remind them that the Vanquish is the best passenger vehicle the automaker has ever created.