Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S First Drive

Maintaining the rage

Maintaining the rage

Slide in behind the wheel, savor the rich fragrance of the Bridge of Weir leather, and press the crystal key into the slot. There’s a high-pitched whirr, like a jet engine spooling up, and then a sudden explosion, a percussive, snarling wave of sound that rattles windows and startles passersby. The naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V-12 under the hood of the 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S is almost 20 years old, and it will soon be pensioned off in favor of Aston’s impressive new twin-turbo 12-cylinder engine. But it’s not going gently into that good night.

And neither is the Vanquish S, the last of the Astons built using hardware that dates back to the original Vanquish launched under Ford Motor Company’s ownership in 2001. This car’s successor—indeed, a whole new family of Aston Martins to be rolled out over the next five years—will be based on the all-new vehicle architecture that made its debut on last year’s DB11. The Vanquish S has the creaky sat-nav screen, the illegible instrumentation, and the other foibles that have been a part of the Aston experience since the Ford years, but don’t write it off as a yet another eccentrically British automotive anachronism. Despite its flaws, it is an achingly beautiful, deeply desirable super-GT.

2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S front view in motion

It starts with that engine. A retuned intake system with larger volume inlet manifolds means more air into the combustion chambers and hence more power: 580 hp at 7,000 rpm, to be precise, up from 565 hp. (U.K. and EU versions are rated at 595 hp, thanks to the availability of higher octane pump fuel.) Torque remains unchanged at 465 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm. Those outputs seem surprisingly anemic against the 600 hp and 516 lb-ft pumped out by the 5.2-liter V-12 in the mainstream DB11s, but to judge the Vanquish S engine solely on the numbers is a bit like watching a David Lynch film on mute. You’re missing something elemental.

There’s a timbre to the old 5.9-liter engine’s sonic signature that’s totally different to that of the new Aston V-12, an edgy, back-of-the-throat growl rather than a barrel-chested boom. And it’s amplified by the differences in power and torque delivery between the two. Like all naturally aspirated V-12s, the 5.9-liter engine needs to be revved to deliver its best—peak torque occurs 4,000 rpm farther up the rev band than it does in the twin-turbo 5.2-liter—and the harder you rev it, the more gloriously epic it sounds.

Aston Martin claims the Vanquish S will accelerate to 60 mph in a fraction under 3.5 seconds, and reach a top speed of 201 mph (323 km/h). It certainly feels quicker than the old car, thanks to a retuned eight-speed automatic transmission that not only delivers better low speed smoothness and refinement but also crisper shifts under load.

2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S rear three quarter in motion

Aston’s dynamics guru Matt Becker and his team have sharpened the chassis responses, too. Spring rates have been increased by 10 percent all round. The rear anti-roll bar is stiffened by 3 percent, which, along with revised valving in the hydraulic steering, help the big Aston dive into corners with impressive alacrity. Crucially, though, careful attention to shock tuning means the tighter body control has not come at the expense of secondary ride quality. The Vanquish S feels tautly connected to the road, but never harsh or brittle even with the shocks in Sport mode.

The delightful balance and poise of the Vanquish S chassis make it more than a point-and-squirt supercar, even on relatively tight and twisty tarmac. Fan the flappy paddles on the steering wheel to keep the V-12 spinning above 3,000 rpm or so, and the Aston can be hustled between the hedgerows like a much smaller car. Low mass helps here—at 3,834 pounds (1,739 kg), the carbon-fiber paneled Vanquish S is a featherweight next to a 5,000-plus-pound (2,268-plus-kg) Bentley Continental. Also helping are the carbon-ceramic brakes, which feature 15.6-inch rotors up front and 14.2-inch units at the rear and deliver great feel, both at speed, and, crucially, around town.

Kate Upton would still look great in old sweats, but making the regular Vanquish appear sportier without compromising its innate loveliness required a little more thought. The new aero package for the Vanquish S features a revised front splitter and new rear diffuser that work together to reduce front axle lift by as much as 72 percent at speed, Aston says. The two are linked by a sill extension that continues past the rear wheel and curls around a pair of big-bore exhaust pipes on each side of the car. The hood vents are picked out in carbon fiber, and new 20-inch alloy wheels complete the package.

Aston design chief Marek Reichman’s team has created seven Designer Choice configurations to help consumers overwhelmed by the almost limitless choice of paint and leather colors. Our tester featured elements from one of them, including the Ming Blue bodywork with Club Sport White highlights on the aero kit, as well as the satin chopped carbon-fiber trim on the center stack and the dramatic Filograph Quilt stitching fanning across the seats and headliner like a spiderweb. The interior was trimmed practical dark blue leather instead of the flamboyant ivory chosen by Reichman, however.

This Vanquish S is the last of the line. Its all-new successor is already under development at Aston HQ, and we know it’ll be more powerful and more technically advanced; it’ll be quicker, and it’ll handle better; it’ll have a more intuitive infotainment interface and probably a nicer sound system, too. But none of that matters right here, right now. Although it has old bones, the snarling, agile, gorgeous 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S rages gloriously against the dying of the light.


Below, the 2018 Vanquish S is pictured in drop-top Volante form.