Five of the best

As­ton Martin’s model up­dates for 2016 tested in the moun­tains around Los An­ge­les

Octane - - IGNITION // NEW CAR NEWS - Words David Lil­ly­white

How dif­fer­ent is a Van­tage from a Van­quish? A V8 from a V12? A coupé from a Volante? As­ton Martin pro­vided the chance to com­pare 2016 mod­els back-to-back, on a 40-mile Los An­ge­les street cir­cuit that went from free­way to gnarly moun­tain roads.

It was a rare op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple the dif­fer­ences be­tween DB9 GT (pic 1), Rapide S (2), V8 Van­tage GT (3), Van­quish (4) and V12 Van­tage S(5) – to a fas­ci­nat­ing de­gree. Big­gest change for 2016 is the range-wide fit­ment of the AMi II in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and touch­sen­si­tive con­trols (6), seen be­fore only on the Van­quish.

First, the V8 Van­tage GT, the rest-of-world equiv­a­lent of Europe’s N430 with sim­i­lar ac­cent colours but added side stripes. It has the same 430bhp flat-plane V8, and six-speed auto or man­ual trans­mis­sion. With the lat­ter, it comes in at a com­pet­i­tive $105,000 (about £60,000).

Here, cheap­est is best, be­cause that man­ual makes for the most charm­ingly – and ex­cit­ing – old-school sports car. It’s phe­nom­e­nally fast, and just loves be­ing thrown around. The auto, lit­er­ally an au­to­mated man­ual, jerks the changes if left to its own devices. Stick to the pad­dles and it’s bet­ter, and bet­ter still if you ease off the gas mo­men­tar­ily on each change.

Next up, V12 Van­tage S. Is there a more en­ter­tain­ing mod­ern GT in the world to­day? Squeez­ing that 565bhp V12 into the short, light Van­tage frame was a stroke of ge­nius that still amuses, six years af­ter its in­tro­duc­tion. It’s just about ca­pa­ble of be­ing civilised – if you are – but drive with a bit of verve around the twisty bits and the trac­tion con­trol light flashes on and off in time with the driver’s cack­les of laugh­ter. The seven-speed Sportshift III pad­dle-op­er­ated transaxle is a much bet­ter shifter too, but the sus­pen­sion is stiffer than the V8’s and you’re right on the edge of ac­cept­able (for a GT) com­fort.

The V12, eight-speed, four-seater Rapide S next. Too long for the tight turns? Not a bit of it. The ex­haust howls (it’s qui­eter in­side with the boot di­vider upright) and it at­tacks the cor­ners with as much verve as the DB9 and Van­quish, which we’ll come to in a mo­ment. It’s not as ag­ile as ei­ther Van­tage but it’s a sports car, no doubt about it. And un­less you’re more than six feet tall, you’ll be OK in the back even on long jour­neys. Re­turn­ing to the Rapide af­ter a year or so, it was the big­gest and best sur­prise of the lot.

DB9 GT, then. This one might be feel­ing its age, not so long for this world, but the GT has given the DB9 a new lease of life with the 6.0-litre V12 now pro­duc­ing 540bhp, even if the six-speed pad­dleshift isn’t as slick as As­ton’s eight-speeder. It’s a great thing but it sits awk­wardly now be­tween the more ag­ile Van­tage mod­els and the more lux­u­ri­ous Van­quish Car­bon here.

Oh, the Van­quish! An eight-speed, 568bhp V12 of GT per­fec­tion – and at three times the price of the V8, it re­ally should be. Truly civilised when it needs to be, a hooli­gan when it doesn’t. A top speed of 201mph and 0-62mph of 3.6 sec­onds, and won­der­fully pre­cise when thrown around. The in­te­rior is the best of the lot too.

Which brings us to the cen­tre con­sole. The new switches look great and work well, but you can’t feel your way around them – so it’s too easy to flick the air­con onto max defrost when you’re, say, reach­ing for the tem­per­a­ture dial. The sys­tems are much-im­proved though, with bet­ter graph­ics and op­er­a­tion, and for your in­ner hooli­gan, a power and torque dis­play. You’ll be try­ing to reach the max­i­mum lim­its within min­utes.

Favourites? Im­pos­si­ble! They’re all so very dif­fer­ent. Though I’d find it hard to re­sist a V12 Van­tage S coupé…

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