Friday, 26 December 2014

2015 Aston Martin Vanquish.Eight-Speed Transmission

There's something really special about an Aston Martin Vanquish. It's not my favorite model in the British automaker's range – I'm more of a Vantage guy, if I'm being choosy. But every time I drive one, I feel like I'm piloting something fit for royalty, $300,000 price tag and all. It's stunning to look at, even in the rather drab shade of gray pictured here. It makes an absolutely killer noise, the free-breathing V12 firing from beneath the hood and out the back with a truly intoxicating sound. And from behind the wheel, it feels like a truly proper grand tourer. Well, almost.

The one major hiccup with the Vanquish I drove last year was its six-speed automatic transmission. In a word, it was awful. Really jarring shifts, delayed manual control through the paddles, and really, just a hugely misaligned piece of an otherwise excellent puzzle. So I was happy to hear that for 2015, Aston Martin had fitted a new, ZF-sourced, eight-speed unit – you know, the transmission being used by automakers like BMW, Jaguar, Audi, and many more. I normally have zero issues with this silky gearbox. But in the Vanquish, it wasn't smooth sailing like I expected – it feels like it still needs some final calibrations. But that doesn't make this car any less special.

Drive Notes
I love this engine. The 5.9-liter, naturally aspirated V12 makes 569 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, and it absolutely loves to rev. That's a good thing, since the siren song of the Vanquish's V12 is most pronounced at higher engine speeds. In fact, it's not really all that audible right from the get-go. You have to work it up past 2,500-3,000 rpm before this thing really starts to sing. But when it's turned up to 11, it's one of the best-sounding engines I've ever heard.
That said, getting the Vanquish going is kind of an awkward process. There's a surprising momentary lack of power delivery right at throttle tip-in, and then the Vanquish suddenly jolts forward. It's alarming – I found myself raising an eyebrow and yelling "GO!," especially when trying to quickly merge into the traffic flow. But it'll go, when it's ready, and hitting 60 miles per hour takes just 3.6 seconds.
The transmission is still an issue here. When left to its own devices, it doesn't have a problem finding the right gear for the occasion, but the actual shifts don't fire off with the smoothness and quickness that I've come to expect from this tranny in other models. Even when using the paddles, it's an often rocky affair – far more akin to an older-generation automated-manual transmission rather than something fluid and modern. It takes away from the otherwise excellent driving experience.
By excellent, I mean the Vanquish moves down the road like a GT should. Fast, smooth, and well-tuned for long-distance cruising, while still offering enough feedback through the steering and chassis to inspire confidence from the driver's seat. The brakes are excellent, and it feels pretty light and nimble (for its 3,833-pound heft, anyway). It's no track star like a Vantage, but it'll likely out-handle competitors like the Mercedes-Benz S63/S65 AMG Coupe or the Bentley Continental GT.
It looks absolutely brilliant while doing so, too. Aston's design language is indeed getting a long in the tooth, but no one will argue that the Vanquish isn't a pretty car, especially with all of the exposed carbon fiber bits seen on this test car. Big wheels, flowing lines, and seriously wide rear hips give this thing an impressive stance on the road. And that booming V12 exhaust note doubly ensures that this Aston will generate head-snap reactions from folks on the street.
Inside, it's mostly what you'd expect from any $300,000 car – fine leathers and materials, screwed together nicely and free of creaks, squeaks, rattles or other obscenities. The front chairs, seen here in contrasting gray and leather orange (which I kind of like, truth be told) are both very supportive and really comfortable. The rear seats are pretty much useless, except as a place to put gift bags or maybe your briefcase, but up front, the cabin is relatively spacious and overall, pretty nice.
The only issues with the Aston's cabin continue to be its tech – it's just dated, really. The pop-up navigation/infotainment screen looks tacky, the controls are clunky and the graphics look old. That said, the center stack is relatively free of clutter, with prominent pushbuttons for P-R-N-D, and other logical setups for radio and heating/cooling controls. It's kind of a shame, though, that Mercedes does a far better interior, full-stop, at roughly half the price of this Vanquish.
That's kind of what it comes down to, for me. The Vanquish still feels really nice, and truly special. But if anyone in this class is thinking with a mindset of value or even performance, there's a lot more stuff to be had with lower price points. A Bentley Continental GT still looks the business, and in V8 S guise, is a seriously good-driving piece of machinery. And that Mercedes S-Class AMG Coupe is an incredibly fine piece of work.

It's charming, this Vanquish, but its age is definitely showing. And the new eight-speed transmission doesn't do enough to improve the driving experience over last year's model – it needs further calibration to become the great gearbox we know that it can. That said, you can't argue with the Vanquish's presence and style, or the fire-breathing sound of the V12 engine underhood. It's damn special, alright – but I'm starting to think that might not be enough anymore.

Engine:5.9L V12
Power:569 HP / 465 LB-FT
Transmission:8-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:3.6 Seconds
Top Speed:201 MPH
Drivetrain:Rear-Wheel Drive
Engine Placement:Front
Curb Weight:3,833 LBS
Cargo:6.6 CU-FT
MPG:13 City / 21 HWY
Base Price:$287,820
As Tested Price:$306,695

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