The test drive for the Vanquish S is simple: collect the car early from Gaydon (funny how much easier that prospect makes a 5am alarm) and drive the car as far as you want, as long as you're back for the product presentation by 3:30pm at the latest. It's cleaned and fuelled, call if there are any problems. See you later.
Eager to make the most of that time, it would be false to say much attention was paid to the Vanquish S's styling enhancements. It's probably now a less elegant car than the standard Vanquish, although the assertive look is befitting of a car with a more sporting remit. And it's functional. Think of it like a less extreme Ferrari F12 to F12 Tdf transformation; ultimately less attractive, but at least everything is serving a purpose. Oh alright, someone Tweeted to ask if that rear diffuser was a plough attachment and it's quite hard to ignore that now. Moving on...
After the DB11, the interior of the Vanquish S does look a little second best. And the DB11 cabin is hardly flawless. The buttons here are fiddly, the graphics low-res and the displays too small. The materials are gorgeous and the driving position spot on, but Aston's Second Century could do with reaching the Vanquish S soon. Think what an S-Class Coupe offers at half the money, as an example.
You know what follows next, don't you? Some dramatic "thumbed the starter button to rouse the V12" episode, all concerns lost in a flurry of upshifts and oppo dabs, Rule Britannia and driving until dusk. While this hopefully doesn't go the full Queef, that train of thought it quite hard to avoid with this engine; it really is something special.
There's throttle response a DB11 could only dream of, a mid-range muscularity that will have you believe displacement really has no replacement and, of course, a sublime, operatic sound at all revs. All this will have become apparent even before the average speed cameras on the M42. The eight-speed automatic goes about its business almost imperceptibly and you will never cruise above 2,000rpm in the UK, making refinement superb. Indeed Aston aimed to keep the S as compliant as the standard Vanquish in normal mode and, while without a direct comparison, it feels to have achieved that. Perhaps there's a little more tyre noise than expected, though never enough to be genuinely irksome - it remains a fabulous GT.
Like all journeys to Wales, reaching the border takes longer than expected. Once past Leominster however, the A44 becomes more interesting and the Vanquish S can reveal another side to its character. On a fast sweeping A-road, in the sections that aren't populated with people dithering in Xsara Picassos, the Aston feels supreme. The front end is so much keener than the standard Vanquish, right from the first few degrees of steering lock. It's a big car but you can have absolute faith in where that front end is going, placing it with an accuracy previously unknown to the big V12. Grip levels are higher too, with that information communicated back through lovely Aston steering that, good though it is, the EPAS DB11 can't match.
Even just in Sport mode however (for both dampers and powertrain), the S feels to have an ever so slightly wilder side the standard car lacks. It goads you into chasing revs with that higher peak power figure and even more thrilling noise, you'll turn in harder because the front end is so much more positive and chase the throttle more quickly with faith in the traction and composure. It isn't a frenzied drive in the way a Ferrari equivalent might be, but the Vanquish S is deeply rewarding and fantastically engaging. Well, it is until some other turnip in another dawdling Qashqai slows you down. Having Matt Becker on the Aston team hasn't suddenly made the Vanquish into an Exige, but the way the S involves its driver without overwhelming them and flows with a road so beautifully is... well, they're nice traits to have.
Then once you've finished a very swift driving tour of Wales (and really must get back for that briefing), the Vanquish S returns to being the consummate grand tourer, quiet and comfortable and luxurious. It's a car you just want to keep on driving forever and ever, so well suited as it is to so many situations. Any concerns that the Vanquish was lost in the Aston line up can be dismissed with the S.
Ferrari GTC4 Lusso, for example, has a powertrain of greater quality. More than 600hp comes cheaper in a Bentley Continental GT. And, as mentioned, there is that S-Class Coupe if you want the ultimate in two-door opulence. The S65 AMG has more power too...
None of that stops the Vanquish S being a deeply talented and very charming car though. "The car it always should have been" is a tired old cliche, but the S gives the Vanquish a more defined role in the Aston range and, at £7,000 more than the standard car, is certainly the one you should buy. Without question. It's a masterclass in balancing sports car with GT, a more focused compromise than the DB11 and the better - to our minds - for it. If you can look past the plough attachment - buy it in a dark colour perhaps - then there is a great deal to like about the Vanquish S, and nearly as much to love. Bravo.
ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH S
Engine: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 603@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 465@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.5 seconds
Top speed: 201mph