The cabin is awash in aluminum and Connolly leather. Wood trim was judged to be too clich; instead, the interior is dominated by a prominent aluminum center stack, which holds the HVAC and Alpine audio system controls, the aforementioned mode switches for the transmission and that enticingly cool red starter button. Much of the ancillary switchgear was borrowed from various Jaguars. It certainly works, but it's just not as upscale looking as the custom aluminum bits found in the Ferrari 456M GT, the Vanquish's most direct competitor. The seating is superb, aggressive enough to support you and hold you in place but never overly firm.

An inspection of the 8.4-cu-ft trunk gives you a feel for the Vanquish's feature content: The boot holds an emergency reflector, a leather-bound first-aid kit, the aluminum-cased owners manual, a SmarTire inflation monitoring unit, the CD-ROM holder for the nav system, the audio CD changer, a fire extinguisher...and, of course, an aluminum-handled Vanquish-spec umbrella. Rocket launchers and the hardware necessary to create smoke screens or oil slicks were not present on our tester.

Turning the ignition key and nailing the starter button is rewarded with a sophisticated, barrel-chested, not overly muffled bark as the big twelve lights off. Even though the Vanquish motor is the same displacement as the DB7 Vantage's earlier gen V12, this one is wholly more aggressive: cammier, more guttural, and just flat louder. That's a good thing, as the DB7's pipes are almost too refined for our tastes.

Aston claims its new flagship will hit 100 kph (62 mph) in 5.0 sec. flat, and we've no reason to doubt it. It's just got power everywhere-musclecar-like torque down low, high-revving power up top, and even though the transmission has six gears, it could get by with two, given the flexibility and width of the powerband. Open the throttles, and the intake and exhaust systems just howl; back off, and it's quiet on the cruise.

Believe it or not, the Vanquish represents the first acceptably satisfying application of this type of electro-hydraulic manumatic shift mechanism. Bury your foot and snick the paddle at 7000 rpm, and the entire off-the-gas/clutch/shift/de-clutch/hit-the-gas process happens in just 300 milliseconds. When you're driving hard, the shift is aggressive; at milder throttle openings, the gearchange is softer. Downshifts are even better, because the engine management system does the throttle blip and rev matching for you. Perfectly. Every time. A conventional manual tranny isn't even offered, and only a small percentage of Vanquish customers are likely to miss it.

The result of all the suspension fine-tuning is a ride/handling balance that's at the sportier edge of GT-not "knife-edged sports car" but not in any way flabby or over-insulated. An appropriately Aston-supple ride while maintaining complete communication with the road were among the goals, and we'd say they've hit this combination squarely on the money. Body roll is minimal, yet suspension travel is adequate. The aggressive 19-in. rolling stock sticks tenaciously, turn-in is excellent, and the overall handling attitude is neutral.

Brakes? All you want: firm, communicative, fade resistant, with absolutely minimal front-end dive. More raves for the steering: super quick, lots of feedback and weight without any kick, just enough power assist to make parking easy, with good centering. All in all, a simply superlative driving experience in every way. Especially in Europe, as the Vanquish just looks so "right" on its roads.

If there's anything we're inclined to gripe about, it's the interior. There was no way to preserve the design's steeply raked windscreen and backlight without mildly compromising visibility. The thick A-post is also a bother until you get used to it. Aston went through a great deal of trouble and expense to cast several interior panels and fittings in aluminum, yet it could not achieve the finish it wanted in order to leave them in a natural metal state-so they're painted, which reduces the effect. Two of the quadrants on the steering wheel's grip are finished in an aluma-look plastic that would look cheap on a Hyundai; fortunately, the owner may also select an all-leather wheel. The somewhat retro-styled main gauges look out of place in such a modern interior, and their antique clock-like type face clashes with the warning lights and LED readouts of the dash.

Well, so what. Nothing's perfect, certainly not anything so mortal as an automobile. But Aston Martin sure got the important stuff right, and then some. This is an extraordinarily special and ultimately satisfying machine, the ideal ride for when you've got a long way to go and a short time to get there. And one that not many people will get to enjoy; perhaps 60 to 70 are earmarked for North America this year, out of 200 or so to be built. Production increases to 300 next year, still with no more than a third coming our way. And they're all pre-sold-even with a base price of $228,000. Though James Bond gets his for free.

By Giancarlo Rosetti
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