Vanquish's suspension is fully independent and free of electronic trickery-just a well-designed upper/lower control-arm arrangement front and back, with a considerable amount of attention paid to shock/spring/bushing/anti-roll bar tuning. A cross-drilled, vented Brembo brake is found at each corner, and ABS is standard.

No matter how much we all love the Z8-and we do-there was something not quite right about "Bond, James Bond" driving a Bimmer.

His brief use of a four-cylinder Z3 in "Goldeneye" was a joke; the multi-talented 750i that was developed for "Tomorrow Never Dies" was better; and at least the Z8 used in "The World is Not Enough" is deservingly rare, fast and sexy. But ever since 007 gave up his Bentley for that impossibly cool DB5 in "Goldfinger," Bond fans will forever place him at the wheel of an Aston. In spite of how capable that amphibious Lotus in "The Spy Who Loved Me" was....

Bondophiles have good reason to rejoice, as Aston Martin and EON Productions have announced that Our Man James will in fact pilot the all-new Vanquish in the upcoming, as yet unnamed Bond film that began production this January and is due out around the end of the year. The movie should be good fun.

And the car is pretty damn special, too. The Vanquish's curvaceously bold shape is the work of Ian Callum, who up until recently served as Design Director for both Aston Martin and Jaguar. Interestingly enough, he's giving up the Aston job in order to concentrate fully on Jaguar, which has an extremely aggressive product roll-out plan in the works. His replacement? Henrik Fisker, who designed the aforementioned Z8. Small world.

The Vanquish, which began showing up in dealerships last October, is the production result of Project Vantage, Aston's 1999 Detroit show concept car. Designed by Callum when he was still at TWR and it was also the first hint Aston intended to develop a V12. Vanquish's shapes purposely recall Aston's DB4 GT Zagato of the early '60s, and there's a bit of Ferrari Daytona in there, too. But it's by no means a copy of anything and is already being hailed as one of the most elegantly styled front-engined gran turismos of all time.

There's none of the DB7, or any other Aston, to be found in the Vanquish's fresh-from-the-ground-up platform. The development team needed a structurally stiff yet reasonably lightweight platform. They couldn't get there by just adding steel reinforcements to a conventional chassis; at 183.7 in. overall, the Vanquish is no tiny machine. Both goals were met by the use of a central tunnel crafted of carbon fiber, surrounded by structural aluminum honeycomb panels and several extruded aluminum components.

Carbon fiber was also employed in creating a one-piece "door ring" as well as front and rear crash protection elements to give the chassis extra strength in these areas. Steel substructures and stampings are used when its strength/weight ratio is appropriate. The exterior bodywork is aluminum, and an amazing amount of the Vanquish is held together with structural adhesives, which are, in many cases, much stronger than welds or bolts. Even at that, the car's a relatively husky 4,000+ lb. The Vanquish comes standard as a two-seater, though a "+2" rear seat configuration is optional; no convertible is planned at this time.

Any GT worthy of the label needs a great powerplant, and the Vanquish certainly packs the house in that department. Its 460-bhp 6.0-liter V12 is a development of the 420-horse unit that first showed up in the DB7 Vantage last year. Though its perfectly balanced 60-degree dohc architecture remains much the same, the weight of several reciprocating components has been reduced in the name of quicker revs.

Compression was increased, and the cam timing is more aggressive. Even the engine's internal oil flow was smoothed out to reduce power losses. Peak horsepower arrives at 6500 rpm, and maximum torque checks in at an even 400 lb-ft; the big twelve will happily wail to its 7200-rpm redline. Having outfits such as Visteon (to help with engine management development, among other things) and Cosworth Racing (to cast your engines) as corporate cousins within the Ford stable is pretty handy, to say the least.

The high-tech philosophy continues with the transmission choice. The gearbox itself is a Tremec T56 six-speed, much like that found in a Dodge Viper. But, here it's controlled via a Magneti-Marelli supplied electro-hydraulically actuated paddle-shifter system, a further development of the Ferrari 360 Modena's F1 option. There's no clutch pedal, though there is a conventional clutch. Neat shifter paddles on either side of the steering column control up- and downshifts, while buttons on the center stack allow the driver to select reverse, winter and fully sport modes.

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.

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By Giancarlo Rosetti
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