How fast time flies in the world of £200,000 supercars.
It was only back in May that Aston Martin cautiously removed the covers from a new concept car at the exclusive Villa d’Este concours. Called AM310, it was there to showcase future Aston Martin design language, though to me and many others it looked like little more than a new dialect. Five months later, not only has the production version been revealed, named and priced, it’s been released to the press for evaluation.
It’s called Vanquish, costs £195,000 and boasts a new version of same V12 engine that’s been in continual use by Aston Martin since last century. Its key selling points are that it’s the most powerful production Aston ever sold (so excluding the £1.2 million, 77-off One-77) sits on a heavily revised, carbon-fibre reinforced version of structure that’s underpinned all Astons since 2003 and has an at least partly new interior.
Is it possible to both like and be slightly disappointed by a car at the same time? If so, this is how I felt soon after climbing from the Vanquish’s interior after a short but instructive turn at its wheel on both road and track.
The bad news is that if this really is a new car, it has a funny way of showing it. However revised, the engine, gearbox, platform and gearbox are derived directly from those used by the DB9 nearly a decade ago. Also the instrument pack remains as beautiful as it is impossible to read, one failing I really did expect Aston Martin to have addressed.
On the other hand, ask what yourself what customers have traditionally wanted from an Aston Martin. It’s certainly not that it be the fastest, most exciting, comfortable or quiet car in its class. Indeed if I trawl through my mental notes of Astons of old, I can’t think of one that led the field in any of these ways. If ever a car was less about what it did than the way it did it then an Aston, surely, is it.
Here the Vanquish will not disappoint. That V12 sounds better than ever, its ride and handling are perfectly suited to its role as a high performance Grand Tourer and while its looks once more fail to capture the purity of Ian Callum’s DB7 or DB9 designs, no-one’s going to look at the Vanquish and think it ugly.
But I wonder whether this is enough. The improvements are numerous, but they are small. Indeed the single greatest step for a driver like me is the liberation of a few vital extra centimetres of legroom in the cabin. Nor does the Vanquish feel impossibly quick despite the apparently vast output of its engine. It’s more refreshingly rapid than ferociously fast: that 565bhp only sounds impressive until you consider the closest rival Ferrari offers 730bhp in a lighter car.
Aston Martin’s next move will be interesting to see. When in 2006 Ferrari replaced the 575M it was with an entirely new car: the 599GTB. Similarly when that car was replaced earlier this year by the F12, its engine alone bore the slightest resemblance to that of its predecessor. Measured against this pace, Aston Martin are falling short.
In its bad old days Aston lurched from owner to owner, producing cars on an inadequate budget that sold in tiny quantities and only because they retained an olde world charm in place of state of art technology and ability. Only when Aston went cap in hand to Ford, a company with both money and know-how, did its circumstances turn around. What the company really needs is a new design language and a product range that’s not merely usefully updated but genuinely new. Like the Vanquish though I did, this is not that car.