Aston Martin Vanquish S: Driven

With Aston Martin creating new manual variants, launching a DB9 replacementand collaborating with Red Bull on a hypercar, the Vanquish flagship has been left a little neglected. No longer, as here is the Vanquish S: more power, more noise, more excitement and, well, more Vanquish hopefully.

Aston's initial claims for this car can now be substantiated with some numbers. That new (and hotly debated) front splitter means that lift at the front is significantly reduced - 18kg at 150mph, as opposed to 66kg for the standard Vanquish - without a drag penalty. In fact the drag co-efficient has been slightly reduced, now 0.369. Front and rear spring rates are up 10 per cent, rear roll stiffness is increased by three per cent and peak power of 603hp is now made at 7,000rpm, up from 6,500rpm. Aston says that this car aims to "improve Vanquish's Super GT characteristics by amplifying its sporting attributes." Could be quite something...

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.

Tour de force
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.

Power and glory
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.

In fact, the Vanquish S doesn't feel out of place when you opt for B-roads to avoid the MPV-dwelling masses. Because the car feels to have much greater composure and communicates better, it feels far less of a venture into the unknown. The Sport damper mode suits here, with a Track setting also available for those moments (and they do occur) when a body movement just goes unchecked a little longer than you would like.

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.

On the road the DSC Track mode feels perfectly calibrated and the ceramic brakes are never overworked, though a slightly firmer pedal might make them even better still. Furthermore, while the eight-speed auto has been reworked for "crisper" shifts, there remain better installations of this gearbox. Best stick with the paddles too, as the Sport auto can get a little muddled; gear changes mid-corner are never especially welcome!

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.

There are areas where rivals are better though, and they shouldn't be ignored just for the sake of supporting the home team. A 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 Β£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.

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
Weight: 1,739kg
MPG: 21.6
CO2: 302g/km
Price: Β£199,950





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