By Matthew de Paula
| Oct 04, 2014
This article has been taken from the Autumn 2014 issue of Aston Martin's official AM Magazine. Available now in Print and App format.
Matthew de Paula discovers the picturesque scottish islands are the perfect location to test the capabilities of the new vanquish.
At first sight, Route A896 through the Scottish Highlands would appear to be less than ideal for test driving a supercar with a top speed of 201 miles per hour. For one thing, it is mostly single track, forcing a slow pace; for another, the many hikers and bikers around every other bend keep speeds down, as do frequent stops in lay-bys to let oncoming vehicles pass. Such a leisurely progress is great for admiring the untouched surroundings in this seemingly enchanted place, but can it adequately put the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish to the test?
Strangely enough, the new Vanquish is quite at home ambling along these narrow roads. Something in its very essence suits the ancient Highlands, a place so set apart from the rest of the world that not even the mighty Roman Empire could conquer it. Like the stunning landscape, which changes from sheer rock cliffs to rolling meadows within the space of a mile, the Vanquish is equally variable — on the one hand a speed machine and on the other a comfortable cruiser. This dual nature, evident also in its design, has been an integral part of the Vanquish since 2001. And now, the disparity is more apparent, thanks to significant improvements to the chassis and transmission.
“We’ve invested a lot in upgrades to the car under the skin,” says Marek Reichman, Aston Martin Design Director. Often, updates to models halfway through a life cycle are limited to cosmetic changes. Not in this case. “We have concentrated on the way the car feels, rides and handles, its economy and its performance focus,” Reichman says.
Aston Martin chose the Highlands to showcase the improvements with reason. Castle Aldourie, a 500-acre estate on the eastern banks of Loch Ness, is the perfect place to unveil the new Vanquish. In the shade of 150-year-old alder trees as tall as the castle itself, Reichman points out the various upgrades mounted on a rolling chassis so immaculately finished that even the bolts are chrome plated. It looks like gleaming industrial art fit for a gallery, with the impressive AM29 V12 engine up front linked to the rear transaxle with Aston’s signature torque tube.
But the centrepiece is a new eight-speed ZF Touchtronic III transmission. Although many carmakers use versions of this same gearbox, Aston Martin is the first to incorporate it in a transaxle layout mounted in the rear of the car. This is what helps give all Aston Martins such a balanced feel, because it equalises weight distribution front to rear. The new transmission has two more gears than the outgoing one, yet it weighs less and fits within the same housing. New ratios and Bosch electronic control units were specially tuned to boost the V12’s performance and efficiency. Horsepower and torque are up marginally, but the difference in acceleration is marked: the Vanquish now sprints from 0 to 60mph in 3.6 seconds — half a second quicker than before — making it the fastest-accelerating series-production Aston Martin ever. “The final drive ratio is changed to give that feeling of agility and greater speed,” Reichman says. “It makes the car feel lighter.”.
And the Vanquish truly seems more alive, brimming with higher levels of performance. Setting out from Aldourie Castle toward nearby Inverness on narrow farm roads that tunnel through trees so thick they block out every last speck of sunlight, a new-found eagerness emerges the more one plays with the throttle. It’s almost as if the Vanquish has been unbridled and can now gallop freely..
The eight-speed transmission enhances what was already a world-class driving experience. In the car’s more aggressive sport and track modes, gear shifts come in as quick as 130 milliseconds — about one-third of the time it takes to blink. Downshifts are noticeably faster, so powering out of tight turns and overtaking slower vehicles seems to happen of its own accord..
On the streets of Inverness, the Vanquish adopts the demeanour of a smooth, quiet luxury sedan. With the car in tour mode, there is no fussing with paddle shifters; the ZF eight-speed works on its own to optimise comfort and efficiency, allowing the driver to focus on the surroundings, such as the beauty of the town’s ancient castle on the banks of the river. The transmission actually adapts to driving styles and will hold gears longer for aggressive acceleration, or upshift sooner for a slower pace, depending on what the driver’s own input dictates.
We then turn on to the A9, which cuts right across Beauly Firth, offering beautiful views to both sides of the road. The land that follows is no less stunning, with ancient stone farmhouses nestled in rolling hills where brown cows gather and sheep pause from their grazing to look up as we pass by. The landscape changes by the minute, as we turn on to the A835 to continue our northerly path to the Scottish coast. Tracing rivers, shooting through foothills and up into mountains lush with pine forests, these undulating roads are pleasantly challenging in the way they twist and turn. The varied road surface, at times rough, at times smooth, is the perfect proving ground for the Vanquish’s newly enhanced adaptive suspension, which varies from supple (in tour mode), to stiff (in sport or track mode). “There is a greater spread now between the adaptive settings,” Reichman says. “So from normal to sport to track there is a much greater difference in terms of how it feels.” One more left turn puts us on to the road that finally leads down to the coast. It is easy to feel the difference in the suspension settings on this long loop that snakes its way around Little Loch Broom and Loch Ewe, which feed directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The arid terrain here is quite a contrast from the lushness of the south. From a driver’s perspective, this area allows more speed with long stretches of straight road and extended sight lines around sweeping curves.
It is here that one can fully explore the awesome power of the Vanquish’s V12 engine. The car is so brutally fast that it’s easy to forget to breathe when the accelerator hits the floor. Controlling the V12’s crescendo with the accelerator pedal makes one feel like the conductor of a symphony. Here again, the new ZF eight-speed transmission proves its worth, allowing precise manual control with the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. It is especially gratifying to hold the left paddle, used for downshifts, and let the transmission pick the best gear for optimum acceleration out of a corner. This is another new feature for 2015.
After lunch at the Torridon Inn in Achnasheen, we head back towards Aldourie Castle to complete our Scottish experience with a boat tour of Loch Ness, the largest body of water on the Great Glen, a strike-slip fault that bisects the Highlands. Although we do not spot the monster, seeing the ruins of Urquhart Castle, founded in the 13th century and the site of many battles during the Scottish Wars of Independence, is some consolation. After a dinner of haggis and local venison, we sit around a bonfire on the rocky shores of Loch Ness, wrapped in Scottish plaid blankets, with glasses of The Macallan scotch from the local Craigellachie distillery in hand. Looking out on the still waters, you can almost sense some sort of magic bubbling up from the loch — that same sense of mystery that clings to the hills and valleys of the Highlands themselves.