The king returns to subjugate Bond’s aging ride
Every single time, it’s an experience. An event. A high-point in the day, week, month, or even the year, and I’m doing it again.
I grab the sapphire and steel Emotion Control Unit, slide it into its home in the center of the dash, and allow the 6.0-liter V12 engine to roar to life. This time, however, I’m doing so with Gaydon’s newest flagship stunner. You see, the Vanquish name has returned to take its rightful place near the top of the Aston Martin throne. Sure, the hyper-exotic One-77 and uber-rate Zagato stand above it, but those are Gods biding their time on Earth, while the Vanquish is a mortal king ready to reclaim its rule from the outgoing DBS.
This isn’t the Vanquish of old, however, because the old dog has arrived with a slew of new tricks. Is it enough to make James Bond-himself hand over the keys to his DBS? Let’s forget about Fleming’s fictional man for a moment, because it’s not his turn… it’s mine.
The setting is the brand-new NOLA Motorsports Park, which is located about 40 minutes away from the drunken landing strip that is Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The rain clouds are sitting just off of the horizon, which means I need to get acquainted with the car rather quickly. This shouldn’t be a problem because there are a handful of cars parked in the pit area like $300,000 skittles. Instructor, hand shakes, seat belts, and I’m off.
The first thing that makes itself apparent with the 2014 Vanquish is the fact that it’s exterior style is very much Aston Martin. Thankfully, however, it’s the automaker’s look taken a step forward. The entire car looks like it’s been stretched just a bit, and the result is an on-street stunner. Some may scoff at the use of exposed carbon fiber, but it helps give the right touch of aggression that the otherwise sultry exterior desires. In fact, all of the body panels are carbon fiber, it’s just that a few bits happen to be of the exhibitionist variety… and that’s alright with me.
Up front, it’s standard the Aston Martin mug with the slightest touch of updating. Not a full facelift, just a nip and tuck to stay fresh. Out back, however, is a bit of styling magic. The rear LED taillamps work together to form a nod to the Aston Martin badge itself. It works quite well, and the rear view is a wonderful sight to behold.
While the outside works well with the eye, it’s the interior space that just plain works. I’m referring specifically to the infotainment system. Every Aston Martin I’ve ever driven has always let me down in this one area. The buttons are tiny, the system is confusing, and I wind up making a phone call when I wanted to make use of the navigation system. Now, thankfully, the system has been totally overhauled. Instead of tiny buttons, I’m treated to an easy to use touch system that also works with larger buttons that provide haptic feedback. It works as smoothly as the latest smartphones, and it’s a massive improvement over the outgoing system. If this doesn’t filter down into the rest of the Aston Martin family, I’ll personally fly to Gaydon and start challenging the engineers to slap fights until they relent.
Besides the improved infotainment, the rest of the Aston Martin is right up to the levels of luxury you’d expect to find. The seats are as comfortable and supportive as they look. The Vanquish has borrowed a bit from the One-77 here, as the optional squared-off steering wheel makes an appearance and gives the cabin a unique look over the competition and the rest of the lineup. I thought it would be odd to use, but it feels rather perfect in my hands. A minor gripe is that the shift paddles are mounted to the column and don’t turn with the wheel.
Speaking of those buttons I mentioned a moment ago, there’s a new button in the center stack. It has a picture of a checkered flag and the letters “LC” on it. Yes, it does in fact stand for Launch Control. Want to see it in action?
The system is very simple to use. Come to a stop, stand on the brake, press the button, then go full throttle. The transmission will work out the 1-2 shift on its own, and the rest are up to you. It’s nice to see Aston Martin offer such a system, but it’s a bit tame for my tastes. In fact, I imagine similar or even more aggressive launches could happen without the use of the LC button. On top of that, I don’t expect to see many a Vanquish owner lining up at a stop light to face off against whatever else happens to pull up in the next lane. It’s beneath them… also, they might lose.
It’s not because the Vanquish is slow. The run from 0-60 miles per hour happens in just a tick under four seconds, per Aston Martin. That is fast, but it’s certainly not supercar fast. Actually, it’s not even luxury sedan fast anymore. The super zone lies within the lower quadrants of the three second range, and insanity occurs below there (Paging the Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo, and a few million dollar ultra exotics). Still, there’s something about the Vanquish not being as fast as the competition that doesn’t matter. Part of that is the exterior styling, another part is the noise, and the entire package comes together to form a super grand touring machine fit for those who will give up a few ticks of a stopwatch for a whole lot more.
It’s not like there’s bad news happening under the hood either. Aston Martin engineers have set their wrenches to work on the familiar 6.0-liter V12 engine. The result is a revised mill that pushes out 565 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque, while also reducing emissions and raising fuel economy. It hasn’t gone green, of course, so expect sub-20 miles per gallon out on the highway. All of the power is sent rearward by way of the Touchtronic 2 six-speed automatic gearbox. There’s no automated manual Sportshift here, and that’s a good thing. Just grab a paddle, change gear, and the shifts happen without the odd pause that has your passenger wondering if you just learned how to drive a car.
I wasn’t thinking about emissions or passengers, however, as I entered the fresh tarmac of NOLA Motorsports Park. This brand-new complex features a full-track length of over 2.5 miles. That’s just the part that’s finished though, because a second portion is being built that will put the full-track length at 5.37 miles, making it the longest race track in North America. The completed portion is fairly featureless in terms of elevation changes, because it has none. Still, the main straight is wonderfully long, and the rear sweepers create an excellent rhythm section that puts you way off line for the second and third portion should you ham-fistedly enter the first section.
It’s not the ideal place to put a heavy grand touring car through its paces, but the 2014 Vanquish was surprisingly ready for the task. I put the coupe into Sport mode by way of a button on the steering wheel, and set the adaptive damping system to Track (instead of Normal or Sport) and set off. Mashing the throttle yields a rebel yell from the exhaust pipes, which borrow their sound system from the One-77. Sport leaves the baffles open, and pressing that button makes me feel like I’ve just let all twelve cylinders get Footloose. A chorus rises quickly and it’s not singing Silent Night. Instead, Dethklok has taken hold, and we’ve entered the Metalocalypse.
The excellent exhaust note is, of course, not shocking given what lies below. What is shocking, however, is how well the Vanquish takes the turns. The steering feedback is crisp, the car stays online, and it goes where I need it to be. When it comes time to reduce my speed, the brakes provide a progressive and stable platform for me to gather everything together and prepare for the next turn. There’s no fade or choppiness, just smooth linear braking. I’m not shuffling, fighting the throttle, or calculating how much tire I’m losing based on the screams the rubber is letting loose. Granted, I’m at 8/10ths instead of 10, because I’m not a track rat with countless hours of time under my belt. I’m not an idiot out there either, and I’m having a blast.
Eventually, the rain begins to take over the track. I take three more laps, and this time it’s in the wet. In the wet, in a car with a base MSRP of $279,995. Still, I’m following a car driven by an instructor and he is showing no signs of holding back, so I stay as close as I can. I’m sure the gent in front of me is actually just one-handing it while talking to his wife via the Bluetooth, but I’m still pushing hard and the car is keeping me confident despite the growing amounts of water and occasional bits of standing water on track. I’m a living example of the Work Hard-Play Hard ethos, and it comes courtesy of the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish allowing me to stay on track, even during a Louisiana downpour.
The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish signals the return of super grand tourer to the automaker’s lineup. Yes, the DBS has been sitting atop the hill for some time now, but that ride now looks brash compared to the all-new Vanquish. The lines of the new car flow better without the Vanquish looking like it belongs to a different family. It’s unmistakably an Aston, with some iconic features of the brand, yet it also looks to the future with a slew of new styling cues. Additionally, the revised engine, upgraded infotainment system, carbon-fiber bodywork, bits borrowed from the One-77, and adaptive damping suspension system make the Vanquish an all-around evolutionary step forward over Mr. Bond’s outgoing ride.
It doesn’t have to be the fastest (It’s not), the most expensive (It’s not), or the most comfortable (It’s.. well, it’s pretty damn comfortable). There’s just something extra special about any Aston Martin. A Lamborghini Gallardo is a blast for the weekend. The Porsche 911 Turbo will decimate most of its competition. A Bentley is certainly a classy shuttle to and from the office, golf course, Maestro’s steakhouse.
The Aston Martin Vanquish provides bit of all of that… and the feeling is timeless.
[Disclaimer: Aston Martin invited us to sample the 2014 Vanquish. The automaker flew us to New Orleans and put us up in a wonderfully old-school luxury hotel. After a night of good food and better drinks, we awoke to sit on a bus that shuttled us to the new NOLA Motorsports Park for track time. The weather didn’t fully cooperate but we got in more than a handful of laps.]
Images Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker