Today I’m thinking strange thoughts. One keeps coming back as I carefully nose the fastest Aston Martin ever made around Bristol. Would Isambard Kingdom Brunel have been happy with the sport shift mapping on the new £174,000 Vanquish S? Brunel died before the technology that would have such a profound effect on human lives – the internal combustion engine – had been invented, but the answer would still have been a definite ‘no’. Were he alive, IKB would reckon it too slow and too harsh as the hydraulically actuated clutch re-meshes the cogs. Then he’d set about fixing it.
As a visitor, it’s difficult to walk anywhere in Bristol and not be reminded of the influence he had over its major architecture and his notable engineering successes. But as a Bristolian the bond is stronger. Not through pride, though: Bristolians are too pragmatic for that. A local taxi driver summed it up perfectly for me a few years ago: ‘Well, we’d be stuffed without our Kingdom. No train station for gettin’ ’em ’ere, no boat for lookin’ at and no bridge for walkin’ over.’
So we’re going to saunter around his train station (Temple Meads), his boat (the SS Great Britain) and his bridge (the Clifton Suspension Bridge) in Aston’s revised Vanquish S. After the closure of Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant I feel the need to celebrate some British engineering, current and past, though I’ll stop short of sticking small plastic St George motifs on the side windows.
Tellingly, no one in Bristol has any idea that this is a significantly different car to a standard Vanquish. The only way of spotting it is the rather scrappy S motif on the bootlid which, along with a boot-lip spoiler, a redesigned front grille and a sizeable front splitter, add a dose of seriousness to the standard shape from most angles. Such subtleties are insignificant when the basic Aston shape can divert glances from a hundred yards.
We really feared for the Vanquish when we first drove a DB9 earlier this year. But despite the presence of an in-house infant phenomenon, Vanquish sales have remained strong; Aston will still make 350 this year. The situation is the same at Lamborghini – demand for the Murciélago is still remarkably high despite the new Gallardo – and it proves that people are graduating from lesser brands and not trading down. It seems that in the world of big-number cars, those with the biggest wallets will always want the most expensive toys.
Beautiful though the DB9 might be, this car has twice the presence. Compound that with the fact that it makes twice the noise and somehow much of the staggering £71,000 price difference between DB9 and Vanquish S is justified. The Vanquish’s case is made even stronger by what is bolted between the front suspension uprights. This is the engine the car should have had from the start: 520bhp sounds like the sort of poke one might expect from a 5.9-litre Aston V12.
Squeezing out the extra 60bhp over the standard Vanquish has been pretty hard work, though. The engine gets revised cylinder heads with reprofiled inlet ports and combustion chambers, stronger con rods, a higher compression ratio, new injectors and a remapped ECU to take advantage of the improved fuelling and airflow. For the same increase on a Porsche 911 Turbo, you just insert a screwdriver into the boost controller and crank it in the direction marked schnell. But then this is about as far removed from Porsche’s philosophy as it gets.