The Vanquish And The Quest For Tea

The premise was simple: an Aston Martin Vanquish, a posh manor house, a cup of tea and possibly a slice of cake. Matching up a modern classic with an appropriately refined backdrop, whilst getting an impression of how a sportscar like this drives – a car that Aston itself calls ‘the ultimate GT’. The company is celebrating its centenary year in 2013: one hundred years of producing sportscars, so this isn’t a statement it would make if it wasn’t very sure of the car’s credentials.

So that premise then. It had come about after our first session with the Vanquish, which involved us getting it all of 50 yards from Aston’s headquarters in Gaydon in the UK. The problem was that the Aston is so pretty, so photogenic, that even the lure of the piece of paper that gave us the freedom to take the car past the strict gate security and onto the open roads beyond wasn’t enough.

The car park at Gaydon didn’t help: naturally the majority of bays contained Astons, but there was also the unexpected sight of a Canary Yellow Vantage sitting quite happily in the ornamental moat in front of the main entrance.

Oh yes, and then the chrome one mounted on a slate pedestal on the hill opposite, which any way you look at it is a pretty cool thing to have.

But the Vanquish. We manoeuvred her into position on the central walkway and began our aesthetic appreciation. And there was plenty to appreciate.

Beauty is a thing that you’d naturally associate with Aston Martin. In my humble opinion it’s the only company that has managed to make a rolling four-door grand tourer retain svelte good looks in the Rapide, and the modern range oozes effortless class and timeless style.

It starts with the iconic nose. The modern era has seen the return of the classic grille shape, which gives the front a pure and unfussy shape, and it’s the same with the side intakes, deliberately harking back to more styling cues of the vintage era.

Every curve and line on the long Vanquish was obviously poured over; it’s a visual overload that brings together classic design and effective aerodynamics without compromise on either side. The lines of the car create a constant flow in motion even when static, leading your eye gracefully from one area of the car to the next. Bad angles and Aston Martin do not seem to go together.

There are nice details all over the Vanquish (which might be referential to older Astons but is still unashamedly modern in overall look), like the wings of the Aston Martin badge that are reinterpreted in the tail-lights and the integrated rear wing has an organic shape like it was formed by water.

The bodywork is all carbon fibre, though the only exposed raw weave is on the roof and as a counterpointing lower border on the splitter, side skirts and diffuser.

Around those lower edges it’s used with a finesse that borders on obsessive, the weave specially laid to accentuate body lines it is joined to. The issue was that we lingered too long soaking up all this beauty, and all too soon our liaison from Aston turned up to confront our virtually distraught faces as he apologised for having to take the car back to prepare for the next day. As the man with his name on the aforementioned slip of paper, I was perhaps the most upset by this turn of events…

However, on the slog back to London we discussed the idea of getting the Vanquish back for a second go, for a proper drive, and to look for a nice place to take the car. This seemed easy in principle as the surrounding countryside seemed to be awash with country house options. So the next week Suzy, chase car driver Iain and I drove back up to Gaydon to pick up ‘our’ Aston. The plan – get some car-to-car shots done, then have a quick drive about and finally settle in to discuss what we thought of the Vanquish.

This time there was the chance for a proper look around the cabin before setting off. An unfeasible one million stitches are said to be around the Vanquish’s interior.

Starting at the back of the cabin, there are optional rear seats, though choosing them isn’t necessarily a practical option. Plus you might also save a couple of thousand stitches, in both the leather and the person who tries to sit in the back.

But it’s up front where you want to be, in the padded luxury of these low-down sports seats. You really do climb down into them, especially against the slight upswing of the long doors. I’m used to low sportscars, but this felt like you were sitting on the ground!

Sitting in the driving seat, peering over the steering wheel, all you can see is the huge expanse of bonnet, which is needed to contain the large size of the all-new AM11 V12. If you love cars, then you’ll love this engine. It wouldn’t matter if it only went to 70mph and took a minute getting there.

As it happens, the V12 doesn’t take a minute to get to 70. The stats said that it would sprint to 60mph in four seconds, courtesy of the 570hp and 620Nm of torque available from the 5.9-litre engine. And although 70mph would naturally be our law-abiding target, the Vanquish could make 183mph. If you weren’t paying attention, that is, and your foot slipped.

So it was time to start the car up. The Vanquish can either operate in full auto gearing mode or via the wheel-mounted six-speed sequential paddles. Strangely, the gear controls were actually mounted on the central console, which took a bit of muscle memory training to remember – though of course they were rarely required. But the important bit was in the middle. Insert key fully, whilst holding the brake down and…

… aural apocalypse. The starter seems to surprise the engine to such an extent that it was like waking a sleeping ogre. It roars into life, screaming its head off and asking everyone for fight a before calming down, realising that it’s just been started and settling to a regular burble. It’s such a glorious experience that any excuse to shut down and start up again was taken.

And that led to the actual drive. The sound. Oh dear god the sound. Even gently moving away from the Aston campus, my obviously guilty waving at security was countered by the sheer presence of the Vanquish. This is a car that when it says “move aside”, you move aside. And when you press the pedal whilst threading through perfect tree-lined roads, that howl echoes in and around you. It was an addiction that was easy to give in to.

Stopping occasionally whilst getting our moving shots done gave an opportunity to play with buttons.

Although the switchgear mostly wasn’t switches, instead controlled via glass-covered, touch-sensitive buttons. In general a joy to use, though the GPS was, as usual, a pain to programme. A central control knob provided frustrating interludes for navigation setting, though that was likely more just a desperation to get back on the road and not waste precious minutes of our limited time.

As with a number of cars in this bracket, the Vanquish is slightly schizophrenic, but only going from mad to even more mad. There are two main options to the standard drive setting: Sport and Adaptive Suspension. Track and Launch Control were either turned off on this press car (I wonder why?) or we were too simple to work out how to activate them. However, the tools we had were plenty sharp, and I did give the Brembo carbon ceramic disks a couple of hard presses, just to see. They were very effective. Luckily Suzy is a very good passenger.

The default option of not having the S button pushed was not an option. The car was transformed into something very safe and solid, yes, but not exciting. I tried arguing that you might tire of the V12 scream and rush of acceleration, but I was lying to myself. So on we pressed. The first manor house was closed; the second open but only with a gravel car park and no lovely backdrops of fine country living or a café.

More hunting for local locations. I stopped for some old ladies to cross the road, revelling in being a polite, respectable driver in this beautiful car that was screaming away like a demon.

More twisting, joyous country roads. It quickly became crystal clear that I was putting no major effort into finding any kind of location. I just wanted roads. I wanted to drive.

Lovely though the Vanquish is, let other people admire the exterior. I wanted to be immersed in the driving experience. Our quest continued, now just as a massive excuse to unleash the Vanquish on the beautiful back roads of Warwickshire as we crisscrossed the county past fields and through small villages.

Who cares about motorways and cruising, or finding what the top speed is. My favourite driving experiences have always been like this, on quiet back roads when you have no real destination and, preferably, no time limit.

Today, the latter was our only enemy. We passed our fifth stately home, bathed in warm diffused sunlight after a short rain shower. Astons might be more used to crawling around Knightsbridge or being stuck in traffic on the M25, but this Vanquish seemed to love the opportunity of finding out how the other half live. But the call eventually came…

… our time was up. Our quest had failed (though we had found a rainbow). So what does one do in that situation? Give up? Lose our resolve? Find the quickest way back? No. You find another back road, hit the S button and just laugh hysterically for the next 15 minutes whilst keeping that V12 singing away behind you.

Jonathan Moore
Instagram: speedhunters_jonathan

Supercar Theme 2013