► Aston's V12 GT updated for 2017
► V12's power increased to 592bhp
► Costs £45k more than DB11
The Aston Martin DB11 might have replaced the DB9, but that doesn’t mean the DB9-based Vanquish is dead. Instead, it’s been re-booted in Vanquish S guise. The promise is more power, extra attitude, sharper handling, and all with the same GT comfort. The price rises from £192,995 to £199,950.
Shouldn’t Aston base a new Vanquish on the DB11 instead?
It will. That car’s currently testing, and is due to land at some point in 2018. The timing and positioning of the Vanquish S is a bit odd – the DB11 sits on an all-new platform, gets the new Aston look, is slightly more powerful, has more torque, costs £45k less, gets a new interior with Mercedes-based infotainment… – but it’s important to remember that the Vanquish was always more than just a DB9 with extra performance and new springs and dampers. In fact, its entire body was carbonfibre, and so too was some of the stuff you couldn’t see – the boot floor for instance.
Go on then, give me the back story…
The Vanquish launched in 2012, and we rated it highly. Watch our video from the time and we comment on how cohesive and enjoyable the Vanquish is to drive, but sum up saying it doesn’t excite quite as well as it might. It seems new CEO Andy Palmer and new chief engineer Matt Becker were of the same opinion.
Becker describes wanting a more connected feeling from the Vanquish, and of moving the yaw centre forwards – the feeling of where the car is pivoting when you turn in to a corner – for a more agile feeling with less understeer.
What changes between Vanquish and Vanquish S?
The chassis is the big one. Spring rates go up by 10% all round, while the Bilstein dampers are retuned with new software. Becker felt the old car was too focused on rebound – ‘trying to hold the car to the ground, as he describes it – so he’s tried to strike a better balance between compression and rebound damping. The gap between Normal and Sport suspension settings is also said to be wider.
There’s a new rear anti-roll bar with stiffer bushings for a small but significant 3% increase in roll stiffness, and extra static toe on the rear wheels.
Aerodynamics play a part too: the new front splitter helps cut lift at the front axle from 66kg to 18kg, while the rear spoiler – which is neatly cut into the carbon bootlid – is unchanged. The pointy bits that cap either end of the splitter help clean up the airflow around the front wheels, reducing drag. This means that despite the extra downforce, the Vanquish S is still able to break the all-important – and almost all-psychological – 200mph barrier.
The 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero tyres and carbon-ceramic brakes are unchanged, so too the speed and tuning of the hydraulically assisted steering rack – the DB11 has a faster electrically assisted system.
How does the engine compare to the old Vanquish… and the new DB11?
It’s a 6.0-litre naturally aspirated V12. A freer-breathing intake system helps push power from 568bhp to 592bhp, and while 465lb ft at 5500rpm is unchanged, there’s a thicker wodge of it spread through the rev range. That means that the Vanquish S produces almost exactly the same power as the DB11 (which squeezes 600bhp from a 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12), but has 51lb ft less torque.
A zero-backlash coupling cuts the slack out of the drivetrain for a more incisive throttle response – again, it’s that ‘connected’ feeling Becker has been targeting – and it’s also allowed the eight-speed Touchtronic III gearbox to be recalibrated for sharper shifts. The shift times aren’t actually any faster, the idea is simply to make them feel crisper.
What’s it like to drive?
The Vanquish S is a great car. Of course, when you first climb inside you are stepping back in time a little, because the 2016 DB11 has new instruments, switchgear, infotainment and – most important of all – much nicer seats, which make the Vanquish S’s chairs feel rock solid and lacking in lateral support. Which they are.
But the V12 reminds us of the cost of turbocharged progress. The DB11’s engine is, actually, extremely good, sounding fabulously rich, retaining much of that Aston character and responding promptly too. But the Vanquish S V12 sounds significantly more raucous – it gets new quad exhaust outlets – has a throttle that fizzes like an electric fence and winds out in a relentless 7000rpm frenzy where the DB11 throws in the towel at 6500rpm, and even the old Vanquish gave less power at a lower 6650rpm. The DB11 is more flexible low down – there’s a comparative lethargy to the Vanquish S’s sub-3000rpm oomph – which does suit a GT, but the flipside is the Vanquish S can put its power down better in the seriously greasy conditions we tested in and just feels, well, more exciting, more involving.
The gearbox certainly feels sharper than I remember from driving the previous Vanquish. Yes, a Ferrari dual-clutch gearbox is significantly faster, but the Aston’s shifts are smooth when you want them, perfectly quick enough when you’re letting off steam, and it’s obedient too: tap the left-hand paddleshifter four times when you’re in eighth gear and you’ll get fourth at the double, no messing about.
How about the all-important chassis mods?
I never disliked the old car, far from it, but the improved body control is instantly noticeable: very little roll, quick response to steering inputs, but still an elasticity that cushions you from the worst bumps. Becker wanted to keep the secondary ride characteristics unaltered – how you feel the texture of the road surface – but tidy up the primary ride, or the way the car moves up and down as the road ebbs and flows. That’s exactly how it feels.
The Vanquish S remains a comfortable, communicative car, and it feels more robustly tied down than the more leisurely DB11 when you crack on over crests and pummel into dips. And, yes, it does feel more nimble than before. Does it understeer less? I’m going to have to be all inconclusive on this one. I last drove a Vanquish three years ago, on the road, in perfectly dry conditions; in contrast, I tested the Vanquish S in filthy greasy conditions, so comparing how much front-end grip the two cars have was difficult.
The steering is interesting. It’s still got a user-friendly lightness to it as you tease it left and right, but there’s noticeably more heft to work against when you wind on lock, and I’m pretty sure there’s more feel too, with plenty of road-surface nuance finding its way to the leather-wrapped steering wheel. It is, remember, entirely unaltered. Apparently it’s all down to the suspension tuning – a stiffer chassis takes more effort to turn.
The Vanquish was already a very good GT car, but it didn’t quite hit the high notes when you really wound it up. The Vanquish S retains all the comfort and refinement that made its predecessor so enjoyable day-to-day, but adds the extra shot of attitude it always needed.
The case against remains the Ferrari F12, a car whose talents span GT comfort to trackday lunacy.
But the product positioning and timing also knocks the Vanquish S slightly off-balance. The DB11 is £45k cheaper and features next-generation everything, but you have to appreciate that the Vanquish is a more focussed-feeling machine, both in its tuning and its hardware, with old school natural aspiration and hydraulically assisted steering.
Meanwhile, the next Vanquish – thought to bring back the DBS moniker – is busy pounding test tracks ready for a 2018 launch.
Great car, the Vanquish S, I’d love to own one, but if I was set on an Aston, it’d be a DB11 or DBS that’d find a spot in my garage.