Had it not been for a fictional playboy called James Bond, Aston Martin would have died long ago. For decades the company built cars in handfuls and lost a lot of money, sustained only by wealthy trend-setters and its association with a British icon of questionable reputation. It's fitting, then, that as a new Bond movie, Skyfall, debuts in theatres, we're testing a new Aston Martin.
The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish shares its name with the original V12 supercar, which was the first Aston built wholly under Ford's stewardship. But this second-generation Vanquish is a product of the post-Ford era (which sees the automaker under the leadership of a British consortium) and shares its basic design with the DB9.
Nevertheless, the new Vanquish moves the game on with a full complement of carbon-fiber body panels. Underneath that exotic skin, a revised version of Aston's aluminum VH platform architecture now incorporates carbon-fiber components as well, while the familiar V12 engine sees some upgrades, too.
When it goes on sale in the spring of 2013, the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish will replace the DBS as the company's flagship GT. We always liked the DBS, but with the DB9 also getting a major refresh for 2013, this Vanquish will have to be a great deal better to justify its much larger price tag.
Haven't I Seen You Before?
The original Vanquish was designed by Ian Callum and established the design language for every subsequent Aston. Those cues are instantly recognizable in the new Vanquish, designed by Marek Reichman. Despite the German-sounding name, Reichman is actually British and was also responsible for the DBS, Rapide, Virage and the One-77 hypercar.
The One-77 exerts obvious influence on the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish, particularly around the rear and in the exaggerated side strakes. Crafting the car's panels from carbon fiber has also allowed for some extravagant surfacing.
It's a more sophisticated, homogeneous and beautiful design than the DBS, which in places looks dangerously aftermarket, but is it sufficiently different from the rest of the Aston family? We're not convinced. There will come a point when Aston will need to do more than simply add scoops and slashes to the DB9's aesthetic.
Modernizing the Cabin
The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish's cabin will look familiar if you've been in a DB9. Aston has tried to drag the design from the noughties to the teenies, replacing the old rotary knobs with touch-sensitive glass buttons. These emit what Aston's calling a haptic response — they buzz when you prod them. They're a neat solution and look contemporary, though in our test car, they're part of a beige-on-beige color scheme that's definitely an acquired taste.
This is also true of the $1,020 optional steering wheel. A refugee from the One-77 project, this wheel is square-shaped, and yes, it feels as silly as it sounds.
Aston claims that it takes 70 man-hours to smother the Vanquish's cabin in dead cow and sew a million or so stitches into the optional quilted leather. The trouble is that even these posh hides can't hide basic lapses in functionality.
The seats are much too flat for a car with sporting pretensions, and the absence of a passenger grab handle is an oversight, as friends are left to claw at the beautiful leather when you floor the throttle on a good road. And on a bright day, the dash-mounted Bang & Olufsen hi-fi speakers reflect into the windshield.
Practical? Not So Much
Similarly, the 2014 Vanquish's aftermarket-type navigation system strikes us as a weak effort in a car of such stature. It's quite the contrast to a rival like the Bentley Continental GT Speed, which has slick, sophisticated cabin electronics, no doubt thanks to the vast resources of the Volkswagen empire.
The Bentley is also able to accommodate two adults in back, while the Aston scarcely offers room for the smallest of children. No surprise, then, that 2+2 seating is optional ($4,545) for the U.S. market. On the flip side, the 13-cubic-foot trunk offers ample luggage space.
More Potent V12
Push the glass-tipped key into the slot and you'll hear the familiar cry of Aston's 5.9-liter V12. This engine derives from the V12 in the original Vanquish, but it's been heavily revised for its role here.
Variable intake and exhaust valve timing has been fitted to the V12 for the first time. It also gets a higher-volume fuel pump, enlarged throttle bodies, a new intake manifold and fully machined combustion chambers.
Output increases to 565 horsepower at 6,750 rpm, with 457 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm — gains of 55 hp and 37 lb-ft, respectively, over the DBS. This is also more power than the old V12 Vanquish S made (520 hp and 425 lb-ft).
Crucially, the extra power is delivered with an extra dose of refinement. The last Aston we drove, a Virage, exhibited excessive induction noise and transmission whine. In the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish, the V12's deep bass roar and sonorous crescendos come with an added dose of culture.
First Aston With Launch Control
Meanwhile, the ZF six-speed automatic returns to drive the Vanquish's rear wheels. Aston's engineers tell us there was still development potential left in this gearbox and thus no need to switch to the eight-speed automatic used by most rivals, including Bentley.
There were likely cost considerations, too, but we're still able to rip off some superbly smooth shifts with the Vanquish's paddle shifters. It's a good thing, as Aston doesn't plan to offer a conventional six-speed manual gearbox.
The Vanquish is the first Aston Martin to feature launch control. You put a foot on the brake, press the "LC" button, paddle shift to 1st gear, release the brake and nail the throttle. The transmission will automatically shift from 1st to 2nd, but not to 3rd. It's all very easy and Aston claims a 0-60-mph time of just over 4 seconds, which is right in line with Bentley's estimate for the Continental GT Speed.
Aston says the 2014 Vanquish's top speed is 183 mph. The GT Speed will reportedly hit 205 mph.
A True GT
Aston engineers tell us the updated chassis is lighter and stronger than previous iterations, with 25 percent more torsional rigidity than the DBS. The engine has also been lowered in the chassis by 0.75 inch to achieve a better center of gravity.
The suspension still consists of double wishbones all around, and the standard adaptive dampers offer three selectable modes: Normal, Sport and Track. Large, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes are also standard.
On the move, the most obvious change relative to the DBS is not the suspension but the steering, which now uses electric assist. It's light and quick, with just 2.6 turns lock-to-lock compared to 3.0 in the DBS. It doesn't offer much in the way of on-center feel, but as the miles go by, the whole setup starts to feel more intuitive.
On bumpy British back roads, the suspension is best left in Normal, which gives enough compliance while still providing good control over bumps and undulations. When we find some smoother pavement, though, we switch to Sport, which offers firmer damping characteristics that we prefer. Track is a full-on attack mode, but most of the time its aggressive calibration feels at odds with the car's gentlemanly pretensions.
Overall, this may be the best application of Aston's VH architecture to date. The DBS's grand touring dynamics always felt at odds with its boy racer looks, but the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish looks and feels like a GT of the old school. It's more sporting than a DB9 but easier to live with than a V12 Vantage. It's also more engaging to drive than the Continental GT, though we'll reserve judgment until we've tested the 2013 GT Speed.
It's This... or a Gulfstream G650
Aston Martin's marketing executives are quick to point out that their cars vie for sales alongside helicopters, boats, even jets.
In that context, the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish's lofty base price of $282,110, (including a $2,115 destination charge and a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax) doesn't seem nearly so outrageous. Granted, that figure excludes some pretty basic amenities like ventilated seats, an alarm system with motion sensors and even an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Bluetooth, a USB input and a back-up camera, you'll be glad to know, are standard.
Then again, if you're cross-shopping a Vanquish with a Gulfstream G650, you're probably not concerned about standard and optional equipment. More likely, you simply want the very best of the new Astons, and in 2013, the Vanquish is that car.
And while the new Vanquish is not all-new, it's a logical and attractive evolution of the DB9. It feels better resolved than the DBS it replaces, and it delivers a more emotional driving experience than the portly Bentley Continental could ever hope to provide.
It's true, though, that alongside the Bentley, not to mention the elite models from mainstream manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, the Vanquish feels a bit old-fashioned, even crude in some respects. Customers may not care right now because it's simply stunning in the metal, but there will come a time when Aston will need to take a bigger, bolder step. It can't rely on good looks and Mr. Bond forever.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.