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This is Aston Martin’s one last blast from the past

Aston Martin’s naturally aspirated Vanquish S offers a defiant growl before the turbos get to take over, writes Cindy-Lou Dale

Sliding in behind the wheel, I savour the smell of old money and new leather. The doors swing slightly upwards, providing space to clear high kerbs. I insert the crystal ‘emotion’ key into its oblong slot, and the wizardry begins. The V12 fires up like a spooling jet engine, followed by a sudden explosion and an ear-splitting guttural bellow – a percussive, snarling wave of sound that rattles windows. This is Aston Martin’s Vanquish S – squat and mean-looking. Aston Martin calls it its Super Grand Tourer; I call it a track car with good upholstery and bad attitude.

Over the past 20 years, the brawny V12 Aston Martin Vanquish has been restyled, renamed and remarketed a few times. Soon it will be pensioned off in favour of the firm’s final incarnation of this, its connoisseur car – the second generation Vanquish S. It’s been spiced up to aggressive speed and power, F1-type handling, and arrogant styling.

The S has a hostile look to it, which is entirely fitting for this overtly sporting GT: outrageously flared rear wheel arches, quad exhaust outlet pipes, a race car-style diffuser, carbon fibre bonnet louvres, a low front spoiler which significantly cuts lift, simultaneously reducing understeer, and a new Vanquish S badge, which sits proudly on the tailgate, like a perfect tie-pin. It rides on 20-inch five-spoke diamond-cut alloys, is shod with broad Pirelli P-Zero tyres, and stops on carbon-ceramic brakes – all adding to the feeling of knowing where the big bucks are spent.

Let’s be clear on one thing – you’ll not be buying a Vanquish S to reduce your monthly outgoings. Owning a V12 Super GT is never going to be cheap, but it would be more cost-effective to run than a Learjet. It’s right up there with the big names, together with a base price of £200,000. My ‘Ming Blue’ test car has near every option box ticked and brings the price closer to £234,000.

All round, Aston’s DB11 may be the better car; it’s £40,000 cheaper, but what the DB11 doesn’t have is continued appeal of exclusivity.

The Vanquish S is spacious upfront, with broad, high-mounted seats – but consider the two rear seats as an extension to the boot, which is narrow and short.

Gearbox controls have moved from the dash to paddles behind the steering wheel which are fixed to the steering column and disappear from your fingertips when taking a tight corner. Several buttons have been replaced with touch-sensitive panels that don’t always work, but do leave onscreen fingerprints.

Although impeccably assembled in rich leather and metal, with the dash finished in brushed carbon-fibre, the drive controls feel outdated. There are spidery analogue instruments, a fiddly and hard-to-read infotainment screen, flimsy Ford wiper and indicator stalks.

On the upside, there is an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to mirror your smartphone’s home screen, an analogue and digital speedometer, a half-decent satnav, the brand’s signature leather-wrapped quartic steering wheel, and, should you ever tire of the sensational V12’s music, a (troublesome) Bang & Olufsen stereo, complete with two periscope speakers that rise from either side of the dashboard.

Despite the rattles and squeaks, James Bond will correctly point out that none of this really matters. The moment the 6.0-litre engine ignites you know you’re in for a phenomenal experience; this is, after all, one of the finest engines in the world.

It all starts with that turbo-free engine, the last of its type in the Aston Martin fleet. Thanks to a few internal tweaks and old-school tuning, the naturally aspirated V12 goes like a bat out of hell, with a sort of whooshing acceleration of an F1 car. It delivers 600hp, which propels the Vanquish S from 0-62mph in just under 3.5 seconds, with a top speed of 201mph.

Without compromising the ride quality, the engineering gurus at Aston Martin have recalibrated the gearbox, sharpened the chassis and tightened the suspension. The changes are not major, but the engineering work in the background is. But there’s something else too, an entity that makes the eight-speed transmission feel tight, adding to its sophistication and ride quality.

The performance of the Vanquish S matches the drama of its design, especially when set to ‘Sport’, where the throttle response is instant – terrifyingly so. Dial it into ‘Track’ mode and discover just how vicious an automated gear change can be. On the way up, the engine screams (and pulls) like a Formula One car, and on the way down through the ratios there’s a beautiful throttle blip.

The soundtrack is all T-Rex with junk-yard dog, snarling and bellowing. Rather than a barrel-chested boom, there’s a menacing junk-yard dog bark, which settles into a bone-rattling idle. Move off with an edgy, back-of-the-throat growl that shifts with the revs. On the open road, step on the accelerator for the epic Aston Martin sonic signature, delivered via four crackle-black exhaust tail pipes.

When thrown around tight bends the Vanquish S hides its size and weight well, thanks to the pin-sharp steering, aluminium-intensive architecture, grippy tyres and well-
balanced chassis. It’s meticulously honed, with precise control, greater finesse, and serene refinement. It feels genuinely bespoke, connected to the road, and more exciting to
drive – exactly how you’d expect a £200,000 car would feel.

In a world of downsized turbocharged engines and clever four-wheel-drive systems, the Aston Martin Vanquish S stands out as a car for aficionados. Although it has old bones, it’s an achingly beautiful, deeply desirable Super GT; and by not changing too much, and enhancing what’s already there, Aston Martin have achieved perfection. Let it off
its leash and mourn the fact the world won’t see or hear big rockets like this any more.