2003 Aston Martin Vanquish road test

Drive-my.com 2016 / 2017

Aston Vanquish Astonishing Double-Top. Our Clever Money Car this month is the Aston Martin Vanquish, which not only looks amazing, but should whisk you to 200mph. Beautiful and capable of 200mph, we say the Aston Martin Vanquish will be a joy to own that’s also going to look after you financially. Time to sell the family Silver and grab one! The 200mph Vanquish is the last in a great line of hand-built Aston Martins. And yet it’s relatively great value – but for how much longer? Words Keith Adams. Photography Neil Fraser.


The Aston Martin Vanquish weaves its magic long before you find a great road to drive it on. As you twist the key and fire up its melodious V12, you’ll already be completely under its spell. Chances are it’ll have its hooks in you the first time you clap your eyes on it.

Which, in a way, is doing this car considerable disservice. If you’re not completely au fait with Aston Martin history, the significance of the Vanquish might be lost on you. It was the final handbuilt series-production model to roll out of the company’s Newport Pagnell works, and it rolled in the aluminium and composite VH architecture that underpinned the company’s line-up post-DB9.

Of course, as a red-blooded petrolhead, you might not be thinking of the Vanquish’s legacy the first time you open the floodgates on your favourite open road. But you should. These things matter in the long term – because it’s good to know that while you enjoy your 460bhp on a regular basis, there’s good reason for it to gain in value more than enough, hopefully, to cover its running costs.


Aston Martin Vanquish

Interior is tight, but it feels fantastic. Get the 6.0-litre V12 into the higher echelons of its rev range and you’ll fall deeply in love.


Let’s not get too far ahead, though, because it’s worth understanding how much of a step-change the Vanquish was. Yes, under its shapely bonnet beats the heart of a 6.0-litre V12 – but that had been seen before in the DB7 Vantage. And yes, the styling was an evolution of the DB7/DB9 bloodline that makes it look so modern now, 15 years after it first appeared.

Gone was the clunky, heavy-duty six-speed manual from the DB7. In its place was a paddleshift automated manual controlled by an electro-hydraulic paddleshift gearchange. As you’ll read later, that wasn’t exactly trouble-free in service. Then there was the body engineering, which made the car it replaced look positively antediluvian. It combined a body tub made from extruded aluminium and carbonfibre with extensive composites throughout. Considering that Aston Martin was still hand-rolling its aluminium panels a mere decade before, this was quite a technological leap. Then there was the Vanquish’s shapely body, which was formed from super formed aluminium panels. You get the idea – the company was clearly rolling up its sleeves for a fight with Ferrari.

And how. Except that in 2001, when the Vanquish hit the market, it was already in danger of being outgunned by the opposition. The more svelte Ferrari 550 Maranello, launched in 1996, boasted 479bhp, and that was bested by the 575M’s 515bhp, mere weeks after the launch of the Vanquish. Given the British shire horse was also heavier, that wasn’t ideal.

Still, as we sit behind the rather upright fat-rimmed steering wheel, and finger the gorgeous paddleshifters, the fact it was potentially underpowered compared with the Ferrari 575M is a very distant thought. No, it’s the drama of the thing that captivates – and pulls you in further. This is post-2001 Cool Britannia. There’s no wood, no shiny veneer, just acres of aluminium contrasting with cool grey leather. There are some ‘bitsa’ Ford items in the switchgear department, but truth be told, you need to go looking for them, as they’re well disguised. And interestingly, it doesn’t feel quite as bespoke as the DB9’s interior, despite that car being lower priced when new (and lower value now).

Still, there’s no time for that. We don’t have much time with this car, and there’s lots to learn. Insert the key, wait for the start-up lights to go out, foot-on-brake, select neutral, and hit the starter button. Not good for a newbie, that’s for sure.

The V12 fires into life with the drama we come to expect with new-age Aston Martins – the starter whirrs with a high-pitched shriek, and the V12 fires with a brief electronically managed blip of the throttle before settling to a cultured idle. If your hairs aren’t standing on end, they should be.

We’ve heard lots – good and bad – about the paddleshifting automated manual, so decide to take things nice and easy to get up to speed. Given how far they’ve come in the past 15 years, it’s easy to be disappointed, but actually, pulling the right-hand paddle and trickling the throttle effects a smooth getaway. Changing up is just as smooth, if you remember to lift off the throttle when it’s changing up, and remember that it’s not as fast as a modern. Shifting down is nicer, as you get the accompanying blip that matches revs, ratio and road speed. Nice. As we build up speed, getting to know the Vanquish comes quickly. It feels fleet-footed at medium speed, and curiously heavy at the wheel. As confidence builds, we start to explore the throttle and, like the DB9, it starts to come to life quickly. In second, and exiting a village, flooring the throttle has the tacho arc past 4000rpm beautifully and into a very special zone, where the V12 howls its haunting, melodic wail. Oh, yes, this, is where the Vanquish comes to life.

It’s a brief joy, tempered by UK speed limits and the need to back off the throttle to get into third cleanly. With familiarity, speed comes to the gearchanges, but it’s not a foolproof experience, as it is in a modern. We’d take that as a positive – we hear too often that paddle shifters take the subtlety out of driving. They don’t here.

Even confined to the UK’s GATSO-infested, speed restricted, 43mph Corsa-congested roads, you’re never too far from feeling and enjoying this car’s supremely long legs, even if you can’t fully appreciate them. Overtaking is a delightful trip in third gear, where many opportunities present themselves. Performance figures tell some – but not all – of the story. Acceleration from 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds is not far off being matched by a new Civic Type-R, but the Vanquish’s maximum speed of 190mph is on another, altogether higher plane. And that’s how it should be.

Truth be told, most of the time on British B-roads, you can leave the Vanquish in third and destroy pretty much anything you want, such is the length of this car’s legs. But it’s also testament to the car’s dynamics, which bestow the car with an agility that belies its 1850kg kerb weight.

As we know, our back roads are a stern test for any car, but this stiffly sprung heavyweight fares extremely well. Clearly, much work had been put into its damping, which rounds off the edges on all but the worst of surface perfections beautifully, while keeping the body movement in check. You never escape this car’s weight, though – and the early impression that it’s governed by heft never really goes away. But as we push on, the meaty steering partners this car wonderfully. It’s accurate and nicely geared – just how you want it for a car that’s considered a grand tourer, but which can also ace back roads. But only wide and well sighted back roads. This is a low car, with a long bonnet, low driving position and average visibility at best.

It means you’re never going to be as comfortable whizzing rounds the hedgelined lanes of Cumbria as you would on the epic Route Napoléon in the South of France. Again, that’s just as it should be. Not that there’s that much room to lounge if you did decide to head for the Côte d’Azur via the Alpes-Maritimes. Head and legroom are pretty tight, and there aren’t many places to stow your iPod, mobile phone and all those other items of paraphernalia you need to take on a long journey. Is it a consideration, really? Could be if you want to live the Vanquish dream.

We don’t come close to exploring the dynamic limits of the Vanquish on this all-too brief reacquaintance session. This is not why we’re here. But former experiences come flashing back all too intensely: the feeling of understeer in tighter bends when cracking on, which can be tamed by sensitive steering inputs and playful and committed use of the throttle (which were eradicated in the Vanquish S); and the oversteer that follows as a consequence. But it’s far from a dynamic flaw.

Compared with a Ferrari 550, there’s a palpable lack of finesse and subtlety in its response, but throw it against the hammer-like Lamborghinis available at similar money new and it feels very planted. But we’re nitpicking, and choosing a car as your long-term life partner – as indeed it’s going to be at this price, unless you’re supremely wealthy – is more about emotion.

This is where the Vanquish really does play a blinder because it seems like every aspect of its creation and execution has been about making you, the driver, feel very special indeed. Come back to the knowledge that this car lived at the top of the Aston Martin tree when new, can top 190mph and it’s pretty damned amazing now – and you will forgive it for most things.


‘You can leave the Vanquish in third, and destroy pretty much anything you want on B-roads, such is the length of this car’s legs’

2003 Aston-Martin Vanquish

More than just the start button – it’s a porthole to driving excellence. Hand-built body still looks fresh all these years later.


‘Floor the throttle, see the tacho arc past 4000rpm and you’re into a very special zone, where the V12 howls its haunting, melodic wail’

Turn the page to find out how to buy a peach of an Aston Martin Vanquish.


SPECIFICATIONS (2003 Vanquish)

Engine 5935cc/V8/DOHC

Power 460bhp @ 6500rpm

Torque 400lb ft @ 5000rpm

Maximum speed 190mph

0-60mph 4.4sec

Fuel consumption 15-17mpg

Transmission RWD, six-speed automated manual

HOW MANY LEFT 1052 (Vanquish and Vanquish S)


WHAT TO PAY

Concours £120,000

Good £90,000

Usable £70,000

Project £50,000

 

Buying Aston Martin Vanquish

CLEVER MONEY CARS

If our road test has whetted your appetite for one of the 200mph British bruisers, you’ll want to arm yourself with this knowledge first…

The drive spells out this car as a true blue-blood Aston Martin. It looks astonishingly good, has a huge amount of presence, and in ‘S’ form is capable of cracking 200mph. Most fans look at this as the swansong for the Newport Pagnell Aston Martins, and the good news is that they’re fully understood by their specialist support network. Now that their foibles are fixable, it’s even conceivable you could run one almost on a daily basis. So, if you’ve got the cash, what’s holding you back?


Investment

2003 Aston-Martin Vanquish

The idea of a clever-money Aston Martin might not really seem like big news. More a case of the obvious, really. We picked the DB9 Volante as a future riser in Issue 1 of Modern Classics, and we stand by that.

So, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to conclude that the Vanquish is going to rise in value. In fact, it already is. Not bad for a car that should cost you around £800 a year to run in servicing if nothing goes wrong. David Eales of Aston Martin specialist, Oselli Classic & Sports Cars agrees.

‘They might not be as hand-built as the older V8s,’ he says. ‘But the Vanquish is still more bespoke than the DB9. Early cars, without upgrades, are now £60-£70k, where they were £50k two years ago.

‘The Vanquish S or upgraded cars are now £100-£120k, and that’s purely down to the improved gearbox.’ (See Essential Checks) That still makes these relatively cheap for a 200mph car from a premier-league carmaker. The word on the street from smart buyers is that the Vanquish S is about to head for £200k. Don’t hang around.


ESSENTIAL CHECKS

The first thing you’ll want to check on any Vanquish you’re looking at is how well the gearbox is working.

Early cars (pre-600 chassis numbers) had troublesome analogue gear position sensors. These were changed to magnetic ones, which are much more robust.

The shift has benefited from software patches over the years, which has improved the situation. If it’s an early, unmodified car, does the automated box shift cleanly, and do so without slip? ‘The clutch lasted around 5000 miles on the early cars with a pre-600 chassis number,’ says David Eales of Aston Martin specialist Oselli. ‘The later ones could be made to last to 20,000 miles with care, but Either way, it’s an expensive job to fix.’

You can check to see if an early car has been upgraded to the later, more durable specification (and most have been) by referencing its history, and seeing if the magnetic gear position sensor has been fitted. This is said to iron out many of the gear selection issues that caused premature clutch wear.

‘You can get 40,000- 50,000 miles on a clutch that’s so-equipped, and we charge around £1800 to change it,’ adds David. ‘The manual gearbox makes it a great car,’ he enthuses. ‘I’d recommend converting to manual or, even better, buying a car that’s already been done. Aston Martin Works Service does the conversion, and we can, too.’ The conversion comes in at £13,000, and around 100 have been done so far.

The Ford-derived V12 is very reliable as long as it’s been well maintained.

The biggest problem with it is the regularity in which it eats through coil packs. ‘The plugs and coil packs should last 60k miles,’ says David. ‘But they’ll actually go From around 30,000-40,000 miles. The coil packs are £60 each and there are 12 of them. We charge around £1300-1400 to change them.’

Like all Aston Martins, the market looks favourably on low-mileage Vanquish models. That’s good advice here because stuck breathers can lead to excess oil consumption on cars with high miles. And the bearings really don’t like being run with a low oil level. David says that this is a rare occurrence – but not unknown.

Hidden rust can be an issue, And we’d say that you need to check the condition of the front subframe by removing the undertray. ‘If this is corroded, it’s around £5000 to fix,’ says David. ‘Always check this, as well as the gearbox and engine mountings. If there’s corrosion, negotiate hard or walk away – it comes down to what you’re paying for the car, and how much you want it.’

You should check the ends of the sills, plus the aluminium panels for any electrolytic corrosion – and finally, make sure the carbonfibre crash structure is in one piece.

The Vanquish can be heavy on brakes, so any car you’re looking at really needs to stop as it should. They’re fine for road use, but light track work will see you chew through un-upgraded set-ups very quickly. ‘Check when they were last done – brake discs typically last 20,000 miles,’ says David.

More than most cars, a Desirable Vanquish you’ll want to keep will have a full service history with a good specialist.

You need to be looking at a car that’s been seen to at least every six months or 7500 miles. It also needs to be blemish-free, and with an unmarked interior. If it’s damp inside, that could be down to a leaking windscreen or blocked air-con drains. If you’re looking at a Vanquish S, make sure it’s the real thing. The biggest giveaway will be the larger infotainment screen fitted to these later cars.


CLUBS AND SPECIALISTS

Ochilternaston.co.uk

Ooselli.com

Odjsmail.co.uk

Oastonmartinworks.com

Onicholasmee.co.uk

Oamoc.org

Oamocna.org

Oclassicmobilia.com

Odjsmail.co.uk


2003 Aston-Martin Vanquish

Ford-derived V12 is strong – but needs tender care.

 

Modern Classics view

So, the Vanquish occupies a very good place in the Aston Martin pecking order. It’s rare, and combines modern looks and not-too-dated technology with traditional bespoke build. In that, it’s actually unique. As a driver’s car a Vanquish still cuts the mustard, unmodified early gearbox aside. It’s pant-wettingly fast, looks good enough to have strangers propose marriage and yet it won’t annoy the natives, like many similarly fast supercars do (we’re not looking at you, Ferrari).

Because of that, prices are on the rise; and if you’re seriously considering taking the plunge, you might want to consider speeding up your decision-making process. But you’ll need to be smart, because buying one that needs work will rapidly diminish your bank balance and your will to live.

2003 Aston-Martin-Vanquish

There are many specialists who will either sell you a good one or inspect any potential purchase you have your eye on. With 2600 made, it’s rare but not so scarce that you can’t pick and choose, and walk away if one doesn’t add up.

In short, it ticks all of the Modern Classic boxes, and is already heading for Aston Martin superstardom. It’s the last Newport Pagnell-built Aston, and the more powerful ‘S’ version with 520bhp can still cut it with much more modern machinery – even the new Vanquish.

Given the choice, we’d hunt out an ‘S’, even if it’s an earlier car that’s been correctly upgraded by Works Service. Even better if it’s been converted to manual, and comes from someone who’s lavished all their attention on it.

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Additional Info
  • Year: 2002
  • Body: Coupe
  • Type: Petrol
  • Engine: 5.9-litre V12
  • Fuelling: Injection
  • Power: 460bhp at 6500rpm
  • Torque: 400lb ft at 5000rpm
  • Trnsms: 6-spd electro-hydraulic
  • Weight: 4045lb (1835kg)
  • Speed: 190mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.8sec
  • Type: Petrol

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