Aston Martin Vanquish S Maruti Suzuki Baleno RS
Aston’s DB11 might have stolen its thunder, but the gorgeous Vanquish S is still going out with a bang
YOU’D BE FORGIVEN for being a little confused about the Vanquish S. Yes, Aston Martin did replace the DB9 with the completely new DB11 last year. And, yes, the DB11 is just the beginning of that new platform’s bloodline, with a hotter, Vanquish-style ‘super GT’ due to land in 2018. But the Vanquish S is not that car. Instead, it takes Aston’s Vanquish rangetopper — first launched in 2012, based on the DB9 — and dials it up to, well, 11.
The Vanquish was already a pretty radical interpretation of the DB9 and the VH architecture that underpinned it: there was new carbon-fibre bodywork, performance leapt up, the suspension was sharper… It was a much more thorough reworking than the familiar design let on. We rated it highly.
But while it was a very good GT, the 2012 Vanquish didn’t engage as well as it could when you really turned up the wick. New boss Andy Palmer and new chief engineer Matt Becker realise this; hence the S. Becker hasn’t reinvented the Vanquish: with around 800 annual sales forecast and that 2018 replacement looming, he was never going to get a blank cheque. But he’s made some small changes that add up to a tangible, worthwhile difference.
These can be summed up as: 1) give the performance a greater sense of drama and engagement, 2) move the yaw centre forward and reduce understeer for a more agile, pointier feel, and 3) do this without compromising the existing car’s comfort. At a whisker under £200k (Rs 1.7 crore), it’s a £7k (Rs 6 lakh) premium over the Vanquish it replaces.
Inside you’re struck by some pretty awe-inspiring craftsmanship with alcantara, intricate, spiderweb-like stitching and swathes of Bridge of Weir leather, as well as some pretty awful seats; flat and hard, there are David Browns with more comfort and lateral support. The DB11’s seats are nicer and, of course, it has an all-new interior with improved switchgear, instruments and Mercedesbased infotainment.
Sliding the jewel-like key into the centre console diverts your attention from this. The naturally aspirated 6.0-litre V12 ignites with thunderous rasps and fizzy gunpowder crackles ripping from the new quad exhaust pipes. Blip the throttle and it responds like there’s a doctor under the bonnet rubber-malleting the throttle butterflies’ kneecaps. The DB11’s 5.2-litre V12 is very responsive for a turbo engine, still sounds delicious and — again confusingly — makes marginally more power and 70 Nm more torque, but the S is more visceral in sound, delivery and feel.
Compared with the old Vanquish, power rises from 576 PS to 603 PS thanks to a revised intake system that gulps more air, and while peak torque of 630 Nm is unchanged, there’s a fatter wodge of it spread broadly through the mid-range.
Acceleration is relatively modest lowdown, but that allows for impressive traction given the performance and the greasy roads we tested on, and by 3,000 rpm a switch is flicked, the V12’s energy perks up, and there’s a more determined sonic build up to peak power at 7,000 rpm; the Vanquish stayed a little monotone given the same treatment and peaked 350 rpm less spectacularly, while the DB11 throws in the towel 500 rpm earlier and doesn’t go nearly as When Harry Met Sally when you get there. Plus the S actually feels faster in comparison to its predecessor than the modest power hike suggests; the carry-over ceramic brakes with their feel some pedal and force-field stopping powers are certainly welcome.
A zero-backlash coupling means there’s less slack in the driveline too. Borrowed from the DB11, it again boosts the powertrain response, and has allowed the gear-shifts to be recalibrated for a snappier response. The time to actually swap between eight ratios is unaltered, but they feel faster, especially in Sport mode, and the transmission is obedient too: you can drop from eighth to fourth almost as rapidly as dropping ‘heel-and-toe’ into conversation might clear a dinner party.
Becker spent a previous life fettling Lotuses — lauded for suspension and steering excellence — so it’s no wonder much of his attention has been focused on the chassis. Spring rates go up 10 per cent all round and the Bilstein dampers have been re-worked with new software and a wider spread between Normal and Sport. Becker felt the old car was too focused on rebound damping, trying to keep the car pushed to the ground, and has targeted an improved balance between compression and rebound. There’s also a new rear antiroll bar with stiffer bushings for a small but significant three per cent increase in roll stiffness, and extra static rear toe on the rear wheels.
The suspension changes — notably the rear axle fettling — help move the yaw centre of the car forwards, but so too do aero changes: front lift has been cut from 66 kg to 18 kg thanks to a jutting front splitter.
You notice the improved body control, the sense of the car moving as one piece as you flick it quickly left and right, while still feeling elastic and cushioned. Body movements do feel more ruthlessly curtailed than the more leisurely DB11 over quick crests — it can feel like a Bond DB5 with twin ejector seats in more extreme situations — but the voodoo of balancing copious road surface information with a supple ride defines this chassis. I’ll be honest, years after last driving a Vanquish in the dry, and in today’s pretty filthy conditions, I wasn’t leaning all over the front end marvelling at the reduced understeer; I need to queue up for another go.
The hydraulically assisted steering feels noticeably different, however. Which is strange, because the tyres are the same P Zero 20-inchers, the rack is no faster and hasn’t been retuned. Instead, it’s all down to the revised suspension — the extra effort taken to induce body-roll makes the still-quite-light-and-delicate steering weightier off-centre and, apparently, more linear. I’m pretty sure it’s more feel some too — not the pins-and-needles tingle of the amazing V12 Vantage S, but tactile and more detailed than the electrically assisted DB11 none the less.
No doubt about it, the Vanquish S is now a hugely accomplished super-GT, comfy for day-to-day stuff, invigorating when you take the long way home and let it off the leash. It’s just that the timing feels out of kilter. Presumably, that’s all to do with new boss Palmer’s arrival and the way he’s impressively balanced the breathless, quick-the-guests-will-be-here-soon sprinkling of fairy dust on existing, aging products while introducing new ones. But the Vanquish S would’ve felt much more natural arriving at least a year sooner. So while I enjoyed driving it very much, I’d put my own imaginary cash into the newer and £45k (Rs 38 lakh) cheaper Aston DB11, or wait for that Vanquish replacement to put the DB11 back in its place.
Vanquish S is the only Aston with an all-new carbonfibre body. So there, DB11
‘Filograph’ quilted leather is optional and gorgeous, but the DB11 owner gets a better cabin
Forged 20-inch diamond-turned alloys are new… but optional