Aston Martin Vanquish MY15: Review

The wheel-mounted S-button is glowing red for sport mode and I long ago lost count of exactly which of the eight tightly-spaced ratios I'm in.

Sinister Aston + epic scenery = win
Sinister Aston + epic scenery = win
Barrelling through the Scottish Highlands six litres and 12 cylinders are providing a pretty spectacular musical score, the sound inside tempting the use of words like 'operatic' to describe volume and fury. With all these gears to play with the carbon shift paddles are getting plenty of use; down three clicks for the hairpin, up two for the following straight, stability control triggering flatulent flutters of exhaust noise as the wheels unweight over crests with the throttle still pinned.

Amid all this scenic beauty and the amazing experience of driving an Aston Martin through it navel gazing something as utilitarian as a gearbox might seem a little geeky. But the observant among you will have picked up on something significant in that opening paragraph - having said it didn't see the point Aston Martin has after all upgraded the Vanquish with the ZF eight-speed gearbox known and loved from baby BMWs to Range Rovers, Jaguar F-Types, Porsche Panameras and beyond. For Aston Martin though this was no act of whimsy - it's genuinely A Big Deal.

V12 as before; it's what's bolted behind it...
V12 as before; it's what's bolted behind it...
Back to front
Being the first manufacturer to engineer the ZF 8HP transmission into a transaxle configuration demanded a significant investment of both money and time. This was no simple calibration job. Firstly there's the physical problem of bolting that big box of ratios to a subframe of its own, with a propshaft and torque tube where an engine should be, and a differential requiring direct attachment at the back. Then you have to throw the whole engine management system in the bin, because the new gearbox needs full synchronicity and only the latest systems will do it properly. One hell of a job, all told. But one worth doing.

The official MPG figures have jumped in the right direction by an average of 11 per cent. In plain English, this 1,739kg, 578hp super-coupe will cruise at an astonishing 31mpg. It now achieves an official combined figure of 22.1mpg, and the CO2 emissions have dipped below the magic 300-barrier to 298g/km. Not exactly key figures for PHers but they're an indicator of just how much was left on the table when they mated the new AM11 engine to the previous six-speed auto.

And better efficiency means better performance.

Does anybody like the stupid square wheel?
Does anybody like the stupid square wheel?
Give and take
New Bosch ECUs and exhaust system changes release just 2hp more over last year's model. But the dash to 62mph is now claimed by Aston as a 3.6-second sprint, down from 4.1 seconds in the old model. And with a claimed top speed of 201mph, small children everywhere will be rejoicing. Yes, the Vanquish is officially a 200mph car, as it always should have been. And while purely theoretical to most owners, the detail changes to the car and its efficiency are going to be immediately apparent from the first few miles.

The test route begins on the northern shores of Loch Ness, takes us through Inverness, over the waters of the Beauly Firth (where the North Sea meets the River Beauly) and all the way over to the west-coast of Scotland to Gairloch. It's the kind of route that you might spend all year planning and dreaming about.

Vanquish shape is growing on us
Vanquish shape is growing on us
Through the comfortably urban and suburban settings of Inverness, the big Vanquish is a pussycat. The stiffer damping (15 per cent front, 35 per cent rear) and 20 per cent stiffer rear bushings are not really noticeable at all. And if you leave the paddles alone and the sport button off, the big V12 propels the car from traffic light to traffic light with the minimum of noise and fuss. Throttle response is both sharp and smooth. But you might notice the eight-speeder is a little keen to upshift. Actually, it's very keen. It's how Aston has managed to lop so much fat off the old economy figures.

The fear was that the new ZF eight-speeder would be "a bit fussy and always hunting around for ratios" according to product manager Andy Haslam when we asked him on the launch for the Volante version last year.

Skip to the end
To be honest on your first experience with the new car the only annoying thing is how quickly it scuttles to seventh or eighth gear and a relaxed burble. But when it comes to the welcome sight of a national speed limit sign you'll also be amazed at how quickly you can block-shift back down to second or third to make a dramatic and noisy exit into the wilds.

Not a bad test route, all told
Not a bad test route, all told
As the roads get faster, you might start using the paddles in the regular D mode. Shifts are firm, quick and civilised. Think DSG, but with a 6.0-litre V12 instead. Nothing like a 'regular' automatic.

If that's not enough for you there's the aforementioned Big Red Button. Not only does it open the exhaust valves but it also sharpens up the shifts wonderfully. Tapping the other button on the 7' o'clock to engage sports mode on the active dampers (or hold it down for track mode) and the Vanquish is no longer a pussycat.

Feedback is far less remote, and the car tips over the edge of GT and down the other side into true sports car territory. I've driven the 8HP box in various sizes and versions, but always in torque-laden, forced-induction cars like the BMW M135i or Jaguar XFR. Putting eight ratios in those cars is superfluous, their torque bands so huge and flat you don't need to shift much anyway. But in the rev-happy, naturally aspirated V12 it's an exhilarating experience. Details like the odd key, the artisan trim finish, odd optional 'quartic' steering wheel and infuriatingly dash-mounted transmission buttons all fade to the background.

The only real criticism can be that Aston Martin ever launched the Vanquish without this drivetrain in the first place.

5,935cc, V12
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 578@6,650rpm
Torque (lb ft): 465@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.6 sec
Top speed: 201mph (electronically limited)
Weight: 1,739kg
MPG: 22.1mpg (claimed)
CO2: 298g/km
Price: £192,995 (£205,740 as tested)

[Sources: ZF]


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Comments (129) Join the discussion on the forum

  • JonnyVTEC 06 Aug 2014

    Is there space in the boot for the gearbox humble pie?

  • dazwalsh 06 Aug 2014

    There is only one shape a steering wheel should be and thats round. Im 50/50 about the new vanquish, its stunning but too closely styled to the db9, which is a prettier car and far less fussy.

  • steveb8189 06 Aug 2014

    Lovely car and sounds like a decent improvement over the past model year. Impressive improvements in 0-60!

    Can someone help me out with the gearbox though - it's been a while since I understood autos..

    This is an 8 speed with a clutch and a torque converter right? I thought auto meant no clutch but torque converter, semi-auto has just clutch (as does DSG). What is this then?

  • mrclav 06 Aug 2014

    Now that is lovely. I'll pass on the steering wheel though.

  • downr 06 Aug 2014

    its a shame that these gorgeous cars all use the similar beautiful design. Why cant they be completely different like each generation of Porsche 911, or the Audi family range, or the BMWs? Oh....

    (Just getting in there first before some fool writes that) :P

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