COVER STORY: DB11 MEETS VANQUISH S

Two brilliant 600bhp V12 As­tons, two ab­sorbingly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS RICHARD MEADEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MATTHEW HOW­ELL

In many ways, 2017 rep­re­sents a piv­otal mo­ment in As­ton’s his­tory. One per­fectly en­cap­su­lated by th­ese two mag­nif­i­cent cars. Though unashamedly rooted in the past, the freshly minted £200k Vanquish S is the new­est model to join the range, while the re­cently launched, state-of-the-art £155k DB11 points to a bold new fu­ture. That both co-ex­ist in a par­al­lel present leaves us spoilt for choice – and gifts us a tan­talis­ing op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the con­trast­ing char­ac­ters and di­ver­gent goals of th­ese sub­lime 600bhp V12-en­gined GTS.

Such machines de­serve a grand stage on which to play out this most civilised of civil wars, and there’s no more spec­tac­u­lar back­drop than the North York Moors. Their sprawl­ing scale gives us the space to stretch their legs, while the three-hour trip north al­lows us plenty of time to re­lax into each car, as­sess­ing their abil­ity to cos­set over long dis­tances be­fore see­ing how well they carouse. Th­ese are the roads, miles and mo­ments we dream about. So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s get go­ing.

It’s a mark of this test’s ap­peal that man­ag­ing ed­i­tor Peter Tomalin de­cides to un­shackle him­self from his desk and dust off his string­backed driv­ing gloves. So, while he waits at Tomalin Tow­ers for the DB11, I pack an overnight bag and head north in the Vanquish S. Re­splen­dent in elec­tric blue with sharp flashes of white, this lat­est, hottest and by all ac­counts most ex­plicit Vanquish is a real heart-pounder from the mo­ment you clap eyes on it.

For th­ese and a whole host of other rea­sons we’ll discover over the next few days, the S is a wel­come and well-de­served re-boot for the Vanquish. Billed from launch as As­ton’s su­per- GT, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Vanquish sug­gested a new begin­ning. But it didn’t quite de­liver. Some blame could be lev­elled at the early cars’ six-speed Touchtronic trans­mis­sion, but even the fit­ment of the live­lier eight-speed gear­box didn’t give it the spark it needed as the se­riespro­duc­tion flag­ship.

Spark isn’t some­thing the Vanquish S could be ac­cused of lack­ing. Press the starter and those sharp­ened looks are im­me­di­ately backed up by an ex­plo­sive ur­gency as four size­able ex­haust pipes herald an al­to­gether spikier and more com­bat­ive car. So this is what Andy Palmer and Matt Becker meant by Sec­ond Cen­tury As­tons driv­ing like they look.

If the more ex­tro­vert looks and ex­u­ber­ant en­ergy are new, the Vanquish S re­mains fa­mil­iar ground from be­hind the wheel. From the broad cen­tral ‘water­fall’ that cas­cades from dash­board to trans­mis­sion tun­nel to the ana­logue in­stru­ments that are fussy to read but beau­ti­ful to look at, this es­sen­tially is how As­tons have been for well over a decade. I’m not a fan of the white stitch­ing, which looks like Spi­der­man got a sew­ing ma­chine for Christ­mas, but there’s some­thing en­dur­ingly pleas­ing about sit­ting low down in the high-waisted cock­pit, nes­tled in a firmly sup­port­ive sports seat.

It sets the tone for what is an im­me­di­ately im­mer­sive driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s dom­i­nated by the larger-than-life pres­ence of the colos­sal 5.9-litre V12. Thanks to re­vised in­duc­tion and man­age­ment sys­tems, this nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine is a real force of na­ture, with far more zip and keener throt­tle re­sponse than any pre­vi­ous Vanquish’s. The steer­ing is lighter than you ex­pect, with greater di­rect­ness and clar­ity, which you feel and ap­pre­ci­ate al­most from the mo­ment you set off.

For a big and ap­par­ently an­gry car, the Vanquish S does a sur­pris­ingly con­vinc­ing job of mooching. Yes, you’re al­ways aware of the car’s in­tent, but the mus­cu­lar looks are bal­anced by sup­ple damp­ing that fuses sup­port and con­trol with gen­uine pli­ancy. It’s tempting to ramp up the re­sponse and sus­pen­sion firm­ness via the Sport and switch­able damp­ing modes, but when making steady progress is the pri­or­ity it’s nice to have the op­tion of keep­ing the S at a gen­tle, sooth­ing sim­mer.

There’s some road noise, as you’d ex­pect from a car with such big boots (255/35 ZR20S at the front, 305/30s at the rear), but you’re well enough iso­lated for the Vanquish S to ful­fil its role as a gen­uine GT. Al­beit one that’s champ­ing at the bit. By the time I ar­rive at our ren­dezvous point in Pick­er­ing, on the edge of the moors, I’m al­ready a big fan and can’t wait to let loose on some of my favourite roads.

Tomalin isn’t far be­hind in the DB11. Parked amongst other, more hum­drum cars on the fill­ing sta­tion fore­court, it looks par­tic­u­larly fine in a sim­ple, un­der­stated shade of sil­ver. Stylis­ti­cally, there’s a lot go­ing on. Cer­tainly more than we’re used to with As­tons of the re­cent past. But those ar­eas that chal­lenged the eye are now the ele­ments I’m com­ing to love most. It’s an el­e­gant yet dy­namic-look­ing car.

We head for the moors in con­voy, climb­ing out of Pick­er­ing, head­ing to­wards the coastal town of Whitby on the jaw-drop­ping A169.

I stick with the Vanquish be­cause I want to com­plete the pic­ture I’ve been build­ing be­fore I switch to the DB11. Be­sides, I know there are some in­credi­ble stretches of road that lie be­tween us and pho­tog­ra­pher Matt How­ell’s favoured lo­ca­tion, close to the slightly sur­re­al­look­ing RAF Fyling­dales and it’s huge wedge­shaped radar in­stal­la­tion.

Revs. For the first time, the Vanquish thrives on revs. Doesn’t need them to make rapid progress, mind, but given the choice you now hold a lower gear and revel in the re­sponse and epic sound­track, rather than rely on torque. To­gether with a more re­spon­sive gearshift and the finely honed damp­ing that brings greater con­trol with­out adding un­wanted harsh­ness (even in the more ag­gres­sive set­tings), the Vanquish S romps along, tear­ing big bites out of the scenery at will.

There’s more than enough propul­sion to trou­ble the rear tyres’ pur­chase on cold tar­mac, but the elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol is both vig­i­lant and sub­tle, so you can trust it enough to lean on with­out fear of be­ing spat off the road. Of course you can re­lax the thresh­olds a lit­tle, and even dis­able it al­to­gether, at which point re­spect is most def­i­nitely due, but there’s fun to be had. Just as there should be in a true, grownup driv­ers’ car.

The brakes – mas­sive car­bon-ce­ramic discs clamped by equally gar­gan­tuan calipers – have im­mense power, but plenty of feel and pro­gres­sion when you sim­ply need to cover the mid­dle pedal.

It doesn’t bear think­ing about just how fast the S could be on some of th­ese end­less, arc­ing straights. For­tu­nately, be­cause it’s a gen­er­ous sort with plenty to en­joy at less than lu­natic speeds, you don’t feel com­pelled to find out. In this day and age that’s far more im­por­tant than win­ning at Top Trumps, though I’d wa­ger the Vanquish would do rather well at that, too.

Swap­ping to the DB11 is some­thing of a cul­ture shock. Not least be­cause the in­te­rior sets a to­tally dif­fer­ent tone. One where com­fort is the pri­or­ity. There’s more gen­er­ous space and a sense of plush­ness that sim­ply wouldn’t be ap­pro­pri­ate in the Vanquish. I don’t care for the beige hide, but that could be sorted eas­ily thanks to As­ton’s ex­ten­sive choice of stan­dard, op­tion and be­spoke in­te­rior trim.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is spot-on, the view out more panoramic than in the Vanquish, but though you sit a lit­tle higher you still have the sense of sit­ting in, rather than on the car. The elec­tronic in­stru­ments don’t have the in­di­vid­u­al­ity of the Vanquish’s ana­logue gauges. They just seem a bit generic, but they work well. The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is much eas­ier to use, the sat-nav in par­tic­u­lar be­ing a big im­prove­ment. Thank you, Mercedes-benz.

Press the En­gine Start but­ton and the new 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 pulses into life with a

muted snort be­fore set­tling into a de­li­cious, tur­bine-like idle. Where the old, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated motor gargles with gravel and bro­ken glass, the DB11 sips on honey. It’s an ef­fort­less part­ner, with gen­tle squeezes of throt­tle pick­ing you up and smoothly pro­pel­ling you to­wards the horizon. There’s clearly tons of torque on­tap much fur­ther down the rev-range, and there’s great sat­is­fac­tion to be had from purring along with im­pe­ri­ous ease. That’s what 516lb ft from just 1500rpm does for you.

As with the Vanquish, the DB11 has a mul­ti­tude of dy­namic modes from which to choose. To be­gin with you tog­gle through them in quick suc­ces­sion, just to gauge what you have to play with. Af­ter the hard-wired im­me­di­acy of the Vanquish, it’s also in an ef­fort to feel what the DB11 is do­ing. This shouldn’t come as too big a sur­prise as this is a sooth­ing GT de­signed to take the sting out of big dis­tances, in­su­lat­ing the driver from tir­ing feed­back and the need to make fre­quent steer­ing in­puts.

That’s all very well, and very wel­come on the A1, but on the A169 you want to know what’s hap­pen­ing at the tyre/tar­mac in­ter­face. What’s needed is to take a breath, re­lax your grip of the steer­ing wheel and let the DB11’S flow come to you. Slowly but surely you read its re­sponses, re­ly­ing on the more finely fil­tered in­for­ma­tion to cre­ate a men­tal im­age and judge your in­puts.

There’s less out­right grip, more roll and a gen­eral round­ed­ness to the way the DB11 moves from turn-in, through apex to cor­ner exit. You don’t sense im­me­di­ate bite from the front end, but there’s a smooth, sweet divi­sion of labour be­tween both ends of the car. Squeeze the throt­tle and you feel the tail set­tle and the front end just work­ing to­wards its limit, where in the same sit­u­a­tion the Vanquish ro­tates more ag­gres­sively and works its tyres – and your neck mus­cles – more abruptly.

Un­til you’ve set­tled into it, the DB11 feels a lit­tle aloof, but it has bal­ance and poise to spare. Work into the more sport­ing dy­namic modes and it re­sponds en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, with hints of that ro­ta­tional en­ergy so read­ily tapped in the Vanquish. Each step, from GT through Sport and Sport Plus modes, is like turn­ing up a

dy­namic dim­mer switch, each work­ing the adap­tive damp­ing and Torque Vec­tor­ing to de­liver brighter re­sponses and in­creased tac­til­ity. Re­as­sur­ingly, once you’ve ex­plored the gamut of driv­ing modes and be­come more com­fort­able with what the DB11 does and how it does it, you’re less in­clined to want Sport Plus and bet­ter equipped to slot back into Sport or GT, de­pend­ing on your mood.

What de­fines the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence each car of­fers? Well, you al­ways tend to drive the Vanquish with more ur­gency and greater pur­pose. It can do the softer, more re­laxed thing, but its nat­u­ral de­meanour is to roll its sleeves up and get stuck in. DB11 of­fers the flip­side; the sooth­ing emol­lient to the Vanquish’s heat and in­ten­sity. It has tremen­dous ca­pa­bil­i­ties and huge per­for­mance. So huge, in fact, that it’s just 1mph shy of the Vanquish’s 201mph top speed, and only 0.4sec down on its 0-60mph time. That’s way more than DB9 ever had, but at the same time it’s a much more con­vinc­ing GT, too. More sup­ple, more pli­ant, more re­lax­ing. The con­sum­mate all-rounder.

As you’ve no doubt gath­ered, the Vanquish S and DB11 are so dif­fer­ent, yet both so darned good, it al­most seems churl­ish to try to choose be­tween them. Hav­ing spent the last 20 or so years driv­ing fast, fo­cused sports and su­per­cars, I’m more in­stinc­tively drawn to the Vanquish S. It’s more im­me­di­ately like­able and, bluntly, more my kind of car. That said, the more time I spend in the DB11, the more I’ve be­come at­tuned to its way of do­ing things. There’s more to learn and broader at­tributes to ex­plore. It’s not a thriller in the su­per­car sense, but its ma­tu­rity is as im­pres­sive as it is se­duc­tive. And by gum it’s got some go.

So, in a way that you never could with DB9 and last year’s Vanquish, you could ab­so­lutely jus­tify hav­ing both of th­ese cars in your garage. That’s great news for us, and for As­ton Martin, be­cause it’s a clear in­di­ca­tion that the mar­que is de­liv­er­ing on its prom­ise to build cars with their own dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties. With the new Van­tage less than a year away and more all-new mod­els in ad­vanced stages of devel­op­ment, the next few years are set to be truly re­mark­able.

‘THIS IS AS­TON DE­LIV­ER­ING ON ITS PROM­ISE TO BUILD CARS WITH DIS­TINCT PER­SON­AL­I­TIES’

Above and right Vanquish S, As­ton’s cur­rent se­ries-pro­duc­tion flag­ship, chases all-new DB11 across the North York Moors. They’re closely matched on pa­per, and on the road, too

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