To make Aston Martin’s new models drive as beautifully as they look, CEO Dr Andy Palmer went to the company that makes some of the best-handling cars in the world: Lotus. There, he hired a genius called Matt Becker, who’s already helped deliver the divine new DB11.
Now the first of Aston’s existing cars to benefit from Becker’s brilliance is here: the Vanquish S. He’s honed the handling so it’s as gorgeous to drive as it is to behold. And on chilly, murky, wintry roads, I had the car to myself to discover what this unassuming wizard has managed to achieve.
The pitch for the Vanquish S follows a well-trodden Aston Martin path; the same, but more. More cash, certainly: a whopping £200k. But engine power is also up to 600hp, dropping the 0-62mph time to 3.5secs. It responds faster because it ‘breathes’ better, and something called a ‘zero backlash coupling’ means the eight-speed gearbox is more tightly connected. This alone makes it a classier drive.
Then the magic of Becker comes into play. The suspension is stiffer, which normally means the ride is harder. Not here though. A skill I can’t even comprehend has seen him tune the adaptive damping so it’s tighter, yet better controlled and more compliant. Comfier, but crisper, he’s gone all Nike Air on us. Baffling.
I was apprehensive driving to the launch in my Audi, but it didn’t take long before I felt at ease and confident driving a 600hp car on the very same roads. The Vanquish is so predictable, clear and composed in everything it does, it takes but a mile to trust it with your life. This British motor is terrifically well considered and polite.
And it sounds the nuts, too. I’m becoming sick and tired of high-performance cars that yelp and crackle in an oafishly crass and anti-social way. I’m on my way to McDonalds, not Le Mans. The Aston is different; very loud when you want it to be, cultured when you don’t want it to be – and when it’s shouting, it’s voracious, not vocoder.
As night fell on grimy Warwickshire roads, I was in heaven and I haven’t even mentioned the steering. Oh, the steering. As almost everyone moves to electric assistance, the Vanquish S proudly stands out for its traditional hydraulic system. Automotive historians will be driving this in 100 years’ time (if they can find petrol) to see how great we had it. Once you realise how nice it feels, you can’t get enough of it. The weirdest part, though, is the wheel’s bizarrely square shape.
While driving, I found I was compelled to pull over to write notes. Then drive some more and do the same again. I was expecting just a quicker Vanquish. I wasn’t expecting something as newly organic as this. Richer in every way, the Vanquish S will give existing owners the same effect as switching from a normal flatscreen TV to a 4K one. Driving familiar roads, like watching old shows, becomes amazing all over again.
As for the styling, this was the easy bit. One of the prettiest new cars on sale, the Vanquish didn’t need a major overhaul.
The key change here is a pumped-up front end, with punchy new carbon fibre aerodynamics that push the nose harder into the ground at speed to aid the handling. There are quad exhausts at the rear, an S badge and that’s it (unless you hit the options list).
It doesn’t need any of this glitz, though, because the person behind the wheel will appreciate that it’s the inside that matters. This is a true connoisseur’s car, a masterpiece created by one of the most thoughtful people in the business.