Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Aston Martin Vanquish S Volante

STRATFORD, England – Starting the Aston Martin Vanquish S alone is a happening that must be experienced. If you must, put on your fanciest duds, head out to an Aston Martin dealer, and ask only that you get a chance to insert the sapphire-crystal capped key fob into its slot at the top of the centre stack and push it down. About a half second after you do so you’ll be greeted by a boisterous 12-barrel bark that will trigger heart palpitations if you’re not prepared. The angry bellow lasts but a second before the 6.0-litre V12 settles into a steady purr, but it will reverberate through your core. You’ll leave fulfilled without ever turning a wheel.

Steering is heavy and splendidly precise. 

With this year’s refresh of the Vanquish S, the English firm has produced what will be its final model to be propelled by a naturally aspirated V12. The Ford-designed engine is being retired this year, and it is expected that its replacement, due in 2019 in a redesigned Vanquish, will most likely be the firm’s new Mercedes-AMG-derived 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged V12, introduced this year in the DB11.

The non-turbo V12 is rated at 580 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of peak torque in North America, however my UK-spec tester claims 595 hp – reportedly due to the higher-octane fuel available here. Either way there’s more than enough going on under the hood to sink you forcefully into the deeply scalloped, hand-sewn leather seats when you punch the throttle. The eight-speed automatic has been recalibrated to provide more aggressive gear changes, though it glides through ratios delicately, rather than forcefully, even with the hammer down. The Vanquish S will get you to the speed limit in less than four seconds, with a claimed zero to 100 km/h time of 3.5 seconds.

This is about where I’d usually insert fuel consumption numbers, but if you’re a potential buyer of a near-600-horsepower, V12 motorcar that starts at $353,400 for the coupe ($375,000 for my convertible Volante test car), I figure you probably don’t care.

A bonded and riveted aluminum chassis underpins the carbon-fibre body shell, providing a rigid, communicative undercarriage that enhances the driving experience by transferring a lot of road feel through the firm seats.

Pushing a Sport mode button in the steering wheel sharpens throttle response and holds gears a bit longer, though it doesn’t enhance the already delightful quad-outlet exhaust note. Neither does it add any fake exhaust burbling or popping on the overrun, which I think would be garish on such a graceful, hand-built automobile.

The driver’s compartment is narrow, though there’s ample headroom and legroom. The Vanquish S does feature a 2 + 2 seating configuration, but the rear seats are so tight I’m convinced that they were installed solely to keep Aston Martin’s leathersmiths busy.

There’s no gearshift lever, and selecting gears is via an array of buttons splayed across the top of a tidy centre stack finished in piano black in my tester—as with other interior materials there are several other lavish finishes to choose from. There are column-mounted paddle shifters, which unfortunately do not follow your fingers the way steering-wheel-mounted paddles do; tugging on either one puts the transmission in manual mode, where it stays until you push the Drive button again.

Despite its sensual silhouette the Vanquish S does not coddle you in cushy comfort. The seats, although supportive, are firm. The suspension, which has been firmed up this year, is stiff, yet is devoid of harshness whether in normal or sport mode. Steering is heavy and splendidly precise. The interior isn’t serenely silent, but rather echoes boldly the provocative tailpipe drone, which is so rich I never bothered turning up the volume on the 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system. Overall, the sensations are visceral, the Vanquish stimulating pleasurably four of the five senses.

Oh, and if you’re a driver who relies heavily on a car to do much of the driving for you, shop elsewhere. The only driver assists you’ll find in the Vanquish S are cruise control (not of the adaptive variety) and a rear-view camera; there’s no lane-keep assist, no blind-spot warnings, no auto braking—you’ll be mostly on your own behind the wheel.

Calling the Vanquish S a car is unfitting; it is a bespoke rolling work of art that deserves a descriptor of more than one syllable. Most likely its successor will be faster, lighter and even better handling. Sure, the current engine is an aging design that has been around for two decades, but with the next generation’s exhaust gasses routed through twin turbines, which are a necessity if the V12 configuration is to meet increasingly stringent emissions, it’s unlikely it will emit the aurally delightful bellow of this, the final chapter in Aston Martin’s naturally aspirated V12 adventure novel.