Twin test Vanquish Ultimates. With the Vanquish name back in the spotlight on a mid-engined supercar concept, time to compare the first two Vanquish generations in Ultimate form. Words Richard Meaden. Photography Andy Morgan.
If there’s a model that sums up Aston Martin’s 21st century story, it is the Vanquish. The DB7 might have been the first modern-era Aston, and unquestionably saved the company, but its Jaguar roots and outsourced manufacturing at the inherited TWR JaguarSport Wykham Mill facility near Bloxham distanced it literally and genetically from the hand-crafted cars built at the marque’s historic Newport Pagnell home. In the Vanquish, Aston Martin found the perfect way to re-boot the brand, propelling the flagship product from the charming but painfully outmoded Virage-based supercharged Vantage / Virage to an authentic yet technology-rich pathfinder into a brave new world.
‘The newer car provides a much bolder and more intense driving experience’
That almost two decades later Aston has bestowed the Vanquish name upon its latest Vision Concept – which at this year’s Geneva show previewed the company’s first series-production mid-engined model – should perhaps not have come as quite the surprise it did. Yet such is the cachet of arguably the best V-car name of all, this nascent Ferrari-beater assumed even greater significance. At least among those of us who recall the transformative effect the original Vanquish had on Aston Martin’s image and its position within the automotive firmament.
‘On these formidable roads, the MkI soon settles into an easy, assured stride’
With the Vanquish name once again propelled to the forefront, it provides us with the perfect excuse to revisit the previous two generations of this much-loved model. And what better way to do that than by bringing together the last of each line, in the brooding form of both MkI and Mk2 Ultimate Editions
As their name suggests, both iterations of Ultimate Edition were created to mark the end of production for each generation of Vanquish. Announced early in 2007, the limited production run of MkI Ultimate Editions was sold out within just a few weeks. Indeed it was quietly upped, from 40 to 50 cars; 20 supplied in right- hand drive, 30 in left-hand drive.
This success was tinged with sadness, for as well as rounding-out Vanquish production it also marked the closure of the Newport Pagnell factory. Aptly, the Ultimate Edition was offered only in a funereal shade of ‘Ultimate Black’ paintwork and trimmed in black semi-aniline leather with black chrome interior fittings. This sombre yet striking scheme suited the clean, chiselled, Ian Callum-penned shape to a tee, though with only a very discreet ‘Ultimate’ badge set into the side-strake and a numbered commemorative plaque on the door sill, it was understated to the point of being virtually indistinguishable. At least to the untrained eye.
Still I find myself standing in reverential silence as our particular example – No.33 of 50 and kindly loaned to us by Aston Martin Works, where it was still for sale at the time of writing – is unloaded from its covered trailer. I’ve spent lots of time with numerous MkIs, but they still have the power to stop me in my tracks. It’s just one of those cars.
Paint and trim aside, there was nothing different about the Ultimate Edition to any other V12 Vanquish S. Thus it has the S’s very subtle visual tweaks, including a modest front splitter, a larger, re-profiled front grille and a reshaped bootlid. All were driven by improvements in cooling and aerodynamics. Firmer and slightly lowered suspension, 20 per cent quicker steering and much-needed bigger front brake discs and six-pot calipers were carried over from the short-lived Vanquish Sports Dynamic Package (SDP). Killer pub quiz factoid: the S also featured 11-spoke wheels – one spoke fewer than the regular Vanquish rim, but three more than the ultra-lightweight wheels fitted to the SDP.
Headline news for the S was the heavily revised 5.9-litre V12, which boasted a 60bhp increase in power and 25lb ft bump in torque over the pre-S Vanquish, lifting peak outputs to 520bhp and 425lb ft. Top speed went up, to 200mph, but the 0-60mph time increased by 0.3sec to 4.8sec as a result of the taller final drive, though it’s worth noting that the original 0-60 claims for the pre-S car were a little optimistic.
‘Both cars inspire tremendous affection and an all-but-irresistible surge of wanderlust’
Despite top billing as Aston Martin’s series-production flagship, the second-generation Vanquish (note the absence of ‘V12’ in the later car’s title) has never quite enjoyed the same kudos as the MkI. This is in part due to the original’s more pivotal role in the company’s history, but also because the Mk2 took a while to hit its stride. Launched in 2012 with a six-speed Touchtronic II automatic transmission, it wasn’t until it got a new eight-speed Touchtronic III gearbox and the more potent AM29 iteration of Aston’s venerable 5.9-litre V12 that the Vanquish came close to fulfilling its super-GT billing.
Strangely, this significant suite of changes didn’t warrant a switch to the Vanquish S nameplate, Aston instead preferring to wait for the final 12 months of production to introduce the S, complete with aerodynamic changes and a 595bhp evolution of the AM29 V12.
The Mk2 Ultimate Edition reflected a more commercial approach from Aston Martin, with a total of 175 UEs built in a choice of coupe or Volante and available with a choice of three exterior paint colours – Ultimate Black, Xenon Grey and White Gold – paired with a choice of three interior themes. A new five-spoke road wheel in a choice of finishes, elaborate embroidered detailing on the seats, quilted leather headlining, carbonfibre facia, ‘Ultimate’ sill plaques and an optional exterior graphics pack all ensured that the Mk2 made a more overt statement than its forebear.
There was only one specification of Mk2 that we wanted to complete our pairing, and that was a coupe painted in eponymous Ultimate Black. As luck would have it, Symon Tranter – good friend of Vantage, true Aston enthusiast and owner of the DB7 GT that featured on the cover of issue 7 – also happens to be the proud owner of just such a car and was happy to join us in North Wales.
‘When you extend the MkI, the switch in personality is marked’
All of which is how we find ourselves in the unlikely surroundings of the Betws-y-Coed Visitor Centre car park, causing a stir and drawing a crowd as these two magnificent cars bark into life and rumble by the gift shops and out onto some of the best driving roads that the UK has to offer.
I start in the MkI, both to help with the chronological narrative and because it offers a kinder context by which to judge it than stepping from the more potent and more modern Mk2. If this sounds as though it needs allowances making for it, then that’s because it does, but transmission aside (something we all know was never the best, even when new) it’s more because the MkI hails from a time when GTs were deliberately rounded and less aggressive in their dynamic approach.
True enough, the MkI has a softer, more mellow feel. It’s supple and smooth, but it comes with a certain lack of directness and connection as a result. You also sit on it rather than in it, and there’s a proximity to the steering wheel, paddles and dash that makes the interior feel a bit small. Nicely intimate, though, and with a sporting ambience even though the main emphasis is on comfort.
‘The Mk2 Vanquish made a more overt statement than its forebear’
On the formidable roads that criss-cross this region of Snowdonia, the MkI soon settles into an easy, assured stride. It doesn’t need coaxing exactly, but you tend to guide it rather than hustle it: things have come a long way in terms of tyre and suspension technology.
Still the V12 Vanquish S has truly impressive performance, particularly above 5000rpm when it really yelps along in rousing fashion. Below this threshold it’s still muscular, as you’d expect from a big-capacity V12, but majors on effortless pace rather than blood-pumping performance. You’re quite happy to pad around, short-shifting through the gearbox and enjoying this milder side to its character. Perhaps that’s why, when you do extend it, the switch in personality is so marked and therefore so enjoyable; the snarl of the engine and the uplift in pace providing a vivid reminder of why the V12 Vanquish won so many friends in its heyday, has since attained hero status and still enjoys the halo effect of its flagship role.
Switching to the Mk2, you feel all ten years of the decade that stands between it and its predecessor. Though they’re clearly related to one another, the newer car’s styling is sharper and more pumped-up. As such it is very much rooted in the present and creates the more immediate visual impact. Still fresh enough not to have experienced that slightly awkward ageing process endured by timeless classics, it remains to be seen whether the Mk2 matches the MkI’s stylistic staying power. For now, though, it looks mighty to us.
Open the door, settle behind the (optional) One-77 ‘quartic’ steering wheel and you’re struck both by the Mk2’s greater cockpit space and the showiness of the interior trim. AML made a noise about the added space – both passenger compartment and boot – and you really notice it. Likewise the spider’s web of contrast stitching that dominates the seat upholstery, door panels and headlining. There’s no denying the craftsmanship, but it’s a busy look that’s in complete contrast to the understatement of the MkI.
Indeed, stark contrasts characterise the move to the Mk2, both aesthetically and dynamically. As with its styling, the newer car provides a much bolder and more intense driving experience; something you first notice in the steering’s rate of response, but also in the sensational urgency of the engine (it really is something special), the quick-witted transmission – which highlights just how far things have come in that department – and the sharper, grippier chassis.
Such is the uplift in intensity, it takes you a while to recalibrate yourself, the Mk2 feeling overly alert until you calm your inputs a touch and trust in its innate grip, traction and agility. The newer car might be bigger on the road, but it’s sharpness, precision and hugely powerful carbon brakes more than compensate by fostering full confidence in your ability to control and contain the prodigious performance.
Although packaged and presented in the mould of a GT, the Mk2 is very much a product of the modern mindset, in which the mellow, mile-eating Grand Tourer is combined with the attitude, power outputs and dynamism of a supercar. Electronics are the key to achieving this, via adaptive multi-stage damping and multi-mode stability control. Technology gifts the Mk2 the ability to expand its performance envelope in a way the MkI simply can’t match, thanks to the choice of supple suspension settings and relaxed powertrain characteristics, or ramping things up to track levels of body control and responsiveness.
These options can lead to a degree of fiddling throughout a drive as you toggle between the settings that best suit the road or your mood, but they undoubtedly enable the Mk2 to hit heights that are well beyond the MkI’s reach.
Though they share the same name and held the same role in Aston Martin’s product ranges, these Vanquish Ultimate Editions are in many ways opposites. Yet, judged purely on their own respective individual qualities, both inspire tremendous affection and an all-but-irresistible surge of wanderlust.
Despite their specialness and undoubted star quality, it’s hard to say what use their legacy will be to the upcoming mid-engined model. If Aston intends going toe-to-toe with Ferrari’s 488 /F8 Tributo and their subsequent all-new successor then the mellow MkI and sharper Mk2 will see their GT and Super-GT DNA bred out via engineering eugenics.
What does that leave? Well, it’s hard to imagine Aston Martin not wishing to preserve the Vanquish’s innate nobility and presence, for that’s how it always stood apart from its rivals.
This belief is backed-up by the Vanquish Vision Concept’s more voluptuous and classically beautiful design, which is a clear departure from the sinewy and somewhat entomological appearance of the downforce-driven Valkyrie and 003 hypercars.
The Vanquish name may no longer be attached to a production flagship, but the importance of the new mid-engined car to Aston’s future prosperity ensures that, far from suffering a demotion, that defiant moniker is as much a statement of intent as it is a model name. Same as it ever was.
With thanks to Symon Tranter for bringing his Mk2 Ultimate Edition, and to Aston Martin Works for kindly providing the MkI V12 Vanquish Ultimate Edition, which is currently for sale. Browse astonmartinworks.com or call +44 (0)1908 610620 for more information.
Opposite page: Paint and trim aside, all that distinguishes the original Ultimate from other MkI Vanquish Ss is the discreet badge on the side-strake. Cabin is cosier than in later car, with a simpler aesthetic. V12 really comes alive above 5000rpm.
Above and right: Mk2’s chassis is much sharper and grippier, 595bhp version of the V12 thrilling in its power, response and intensity. Cabin is more spacious, the seat placing you lower in the car, but may be a little ‘busy’ for some. Left and above: MkI Ultimate Edition was essentially a Vanquish S with unique paint and trim, and none the worse for that – the S was a clear improvement on the original Vanquish, with more power as well as sharper dynamics. Right: Aston’s series-production flagship car until it bowed out to make way for the DBS Superleggera, the Mk2 Vanquish S was a real super-GT and never better than in Ultimate Edition form.
2007 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish S Ultimate Edition
ENGINE V12, 5935cc
MAX POWER 520bhp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 425lb ft @ 4500rpm
TRANSMISSION Six-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, traction control
SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
STEERING Rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
BRAKES Vented discs, 378mm front, 330mm rear, ABS
TYRES 255/40 ZR19 front, 285/30 ZR19 rear
POWER TO WEIGHT 282bhp/ton
0-60MPH 4.8sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED c200mph (claimed)
PRICE NEW £180,000 (£260,000 in today’s money)
VALUE TODAY £230,000-£250,000
2017 Aston Martin Vanquish S Ultimate Edition
ENGINE V12, 5935cc
MAX POWER 595bhp @ 7000rpm
MAX TORQUE 465lb ft @ 5500rpm C02 302g/km
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic with paddleshift, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff, DSC
SUSPENSION Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
STEERING Rack-and-pinion, hydraulically power-assisted
BRAKES Vented carbon-ceramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS, EBD
WHEELS 9 x 20in front, 11.5 x 20in rear
TYRES 255/35 ZR20 front, 305/30 ZR20 rear, Pirelli P Zero
POWER TO WEIGHT 348bhp/ton
0-60MPH 3.4sec (claimed)
TOP SPEED 201mph (claimed)
PRICE NEW £211,995