Five of the best
Aston Martin’s model updates for 2016 tested in the mountains around Los Angeles
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…