The 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish's big V12 breaks up conversations. Pedestrians cock their heads, like dogs who sense an earthquake before seismograph needles begin to dance. At idle it's a steady drum beating in honor of its own greatness, a mellow baritone exactly one notch to the polite side of the loud-meter.
I'll admit a bias: despite the attention it draws, I think the Vanquish is a bit ungainly. Its smaller sibling, the V12 Vantage S, sears its handsome profile into your retina while maintaining an economy of design. It's pulled tightly over alloy bones. A firm, trim shape, when the Vanquish wears a bit of stage jewelry and frets about its waistline. Not that either has any trouble placing jaws on the floor. Take a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta down Main Street, and people actively ignore you; they don't want to feed your presumably bestial ego. The Astons, though—folks can't help it.
Loose in Northern Michigan to romp in the leaves, the big Aston Vanquish S conquers every small town drag from afar with its siren growl. Passing storefront facades, it charms like a well-read general, entertaining before a romantic war. Before onlookers can recover from its genial charisma, it warbles away over a crest, off to do battle with the insidious threat of an unlikely Michigan corner.
Is the Vanquish quick? Yes, but it doesn't boast too loudly. (60 mph takes 3.6 seconds, but it's gauche to discuss numbers.) Forces that act upon the Vanquish feel distant and trivial, but the forces which its 576-hp V12 unleashes are visceral. A 911 GT3 or a GT-R use computer alchemy to create a superhuman feeling in the driver—the Vanquish leads you through the dance without stepping on your toes. Midway through a (very) fast sweeper, my astonished passenger managed: "It's so … composed," less a compliment to my sawing at the oddly-shaped wheel than the Vanquish's grace in dealing with the deficiencies of its pilot.
New to the Vanquish is an improved ZF 8-speed automatic transaxle, the only gearbox offered, called the Touchtronic III. For its extraordinarily quick shifts and paddles it might as well be a top-flight dual-clutch. It behaves like one, but with less low-speed balk. It's also better than the old ZF 6-speed auto it replaces, making the Vanquish noticably quicker. The gearbox is so good in fact, that ZF sells versions of this transmission to pretty much every up-market European brand for use in high-test sedans and sportscars. Aston's manual transaxle has been banished to a couple of the V8-powered Vantage variants.
Brilliant as this ZF 'box is, it might not fit in the even lovelier 2015 V12 Vantage S which I sampled at Thermal Club several months back. That beautiful machine, smaller and lither but powered by a lusty V12, was cursed with a Graziano 7-speed single-clutch automated manual—it was the only thing that would fit in the Vantage's constrained hindquarters. At each pull of the paddle, the revs built and twelve pistons began to breathe in harmony to the point of crescendo—SNAP!—and the spell was broken. A muttered curse. More revs, more blissful sound, and inevitably …WHACK!
A flawed diamond, in the end.
READ MORE: Photos of the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish
In the Vanquish, no such issue. The greatest triumph of the ZF transaxle is that you stop thinking about it. The Vantage's Graziano was always lurking like a junior high bully to sucker-punch you in the cranium just when you were achieving an uneasy complacency. It bred shift paranoia. In the Vanquish, no such condition looms over the driver.
Would a manual have improved the car? Certainly. Aston's manual is by all accounts an admirable instrument, and the magic of taking complete control of something fast, beautiful, and luxurious can't be understated.
Ultimately, the transmission, the ride quality, and indeed the very shape of the Vanquish give way to the V12's percussive growl, a singularity drawing attention to itself with an irresistible gravity. The Vanquish might be exquisitely elegant and long-legged, bred to run, but it's hard to focus on anything but the earthquake when it's shaking your world to the core.