I know an American editor with access to the world's best automobiles. When Aston Martin loaned him a DB7 for a California rally, he said the British car made him long for his Porsche. Aston should have given him a Vanquish.
The Vanquish's appearance is the most obvious advantage. The car has enough visual drama to make a DB7 look mundane, or a Carrera look like a suppository. The enormous rear wheel haunches are the aesthetic departure point. Ian Callum has done a remarkable job blending this bulky cliché into the DB7's svelte shape. Combined with a perfectly proportioned reiteration of the classic Aston nose, the result is the first Aston since Bond's DB5 to combine aggression with elegance. The design's only weakness– the elliptical boot line– will be remedied by the forthcoming Zagato version.
Meanwhile, there's good news inside: Aston has shrugged off the curse of the tree nymphs. The terminally fuddy-duddy polished wood is gone. Instead, there's brushed aluminium, and enough sweet-smelling leather to clothe a German city. The sense of occasion is almost spoiled by the bog-standard Jaguar air con/radio/sat nav unit dominating the centre console. Almost, but not quite. The leather and aluminium steering wheel, black on white dials and red starter button are sufficient to distract drivers from Aston's raid on the Ford parts bin. And let's not forget those bat-eared paddle shifts.
Or maybe we should. A £160k car requiring a pre-delivery driving lesson is inherently suspicious. You might forget something and break it-which is bad when it's not your car, and infinitely annoying if it is. My instructor's seamless progress seemed to confirm his claim that 'driver error' caused the press cars' much-reported fried clutch 'situation'. I say, 'seemed' because Astonman warned me to ignore the auto function, keep the box in sport mode, always pop her into neutral when stationary, shift up at exactly 4000rpms, and practice! Surely the repercussions of ignoring this advice revealed an engineering weakness rather than journalistic hubris…
Unlike its forbearers, the Vanquish's 'eccentricity' is a reward, not a punishment. Retracing Astonman's route from the driver's seat, I discovered that pulling the right-hand paddle in the correct mode at the correct rpms was like smacking a golf ball with the sweet spot. Get it right, and the thing just takes off. The Vanquish serves up 400 of her 460 horses at 5000rpms, so there's no reason not to shift early and often.
Flying down country lanes, I gradually got the measure of the beast. Nike should sponsor downshifts. Just do it. As you set yourself up for a corner or overtaking manoeuvre, the engine management system blips the throttle and adjusts the revs. Excellent. But I don't believe Aston's system is more efficient for scruff-of-the-neck, high-revving fun. The slurred delay between gears is palpable. Even if the numbers say it is more efficient, I still consider a tiny pause between accelerative bursts one of driving's greatest joys. If you don't want each gear to be a separate event, buy an automatic.
The Vanquish's handling and suspension are so well mannered the paddle shift's shortcomings are soon forgotten. The Vanquish is a heavy old thing, weighing some 100kgs more than Ferrari's massive 575M. Thanks to Aston's chassis gurus, the British car feels significantly lighter than its Italian rival. Of course, both cars boast such extreme limits of adhesion that cornering quickly is almost a forgone conclusion. But the Aston's razor-sharp steering and fuss free suspension make it the easier of the two to fling about. You can make ridiculous mistakes with the throttle and get away with it. While the Vanquish is no sports car– you sit on it rather than in it– the GT can keep up with all but the most accomplished members of the performance fraternity. Did I hear someone say Porsche?
No, sorry, I didn't. I was distracted by the Vanquish's addictive soundtrack. The car's engine pumps out a glorious noise, which sounds like a hi-tech remix of 1960's Grand Prix racers. It's a hit! Strangely enough, the Vanquish sounds even better outside the cabin, where huge bass notes whack bystanders in the chest. The car sounds very, very special.
Which it is. I'm not saying that the Vanquish is better than a Porsche– any Porsche. Aston has a long way to go before it creates anything as dynamically accomplished or mechanically refined as even a basic Boxster. But the Vanquish is the first Aston I've encountered that delivers enough genuine driving pleasure to make you forgive its relative shortcomings. Newport Pagnell's finest may not be 'better' than the competition, but it is gloriously, triumphantly different. The Vanquish has the charisma it needs to justify Ford's patronage, and an enthusiast's decision to acquire one.