Dream Day: Three Aston Martin Models and a Race Track
After all these years as an automotive journalist, I’ve certainly had my fair share of wows! Nonetheless, the combination of three new Aston Martin dream cars and a sunny day at the ICAR circuit had me pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Alas, last July 16th, there they were, three different models of Aston Martin sports cars, Vantage, Rapide and Vanquish. After the mandatory (and very relative) safety reminders, there I was behind the wheel of both the Vanquish Coupe and Volante, and they were only the appetizers! Now that’s what I call a dream day. I reminded myself that, as an aspiring race car driver, I’d better be fully alert and wide awake! Pumped up and primed with caffeine and adrenaline, I set off to discover the extent of my driving abilities on the wide, 3.2 km course. The performance limits of these English beauties are better suited for those drivers who compete in 24-hour type events, such as Le Mans, than wannabees like me.
Vanquish Coupe and Volante (Convertible): 2 + 2 or 2 + 0
As most luxury sports car enthusiasts will surely tell you, the Vanquish is the torch bearer of this prestigious English brand which gained worldwide recognition as the ride of choice of the James Bond franchise. Interested Canadian buyers need to fork out between $200,000 to $330,000 to claim one as their own. Competitors in this category include the Ferrari F458 Italia or Lamborghini Aventador, but these Italian models fail to match the extreme comfort level that can only be experienced at the wheel of a Vanquish.
On the track, comfort quickly takes a back seat. As I focus on the next cone, (which is used to follow the ideal line), I stamp on the accelerator pedal and let the gear box make quick work of the ratios while paying close attention to the instructions blaring through my headphones from the instructor seated to my right. Blasting full-throttle from corner to corner, I quickly come to the realization that the Vanquish’s limits are extremely high. Although heavier than the Vantage, this Boulevard cruiser clings to the road tenaciously with barely a complaint, which makes me seem like a much better driver than I actually am. Aston Martin achieved these levels of performance by using carbon fiber body panels to help shed weight, as well as increasing torsional rigidity by more than 25%.
Thanks to its powerful 6.0L V12, it easily reaches 100 km/h in a shade over 4 seconds, as the 576 horses and 465 lb-ft of torque work their magic. As for its character, the intoxicating sound produced under strong acceleration is a dead giveaway. FYI, the manufacturer claims a top-speed of 320 km/h, and we’re strongly inclined to believe them. The transmission, a new 8-speed version, tops the short list of additional new features. At the track, this gearbox can make any driver look better, as it tears through gear changes at an extreme rate whether in manual or automatic mode. In manual mode, all one has to do is maintain the left wheel-mounted paddle down and the gearbox automatically shifts into the ideal ratio in less than a second. Down the longest straightaway, which measures 800 metres, we could easily reach 200 km/h, before applying a light touch of the brakes, which efficiently scrubbed of just the right amount of speed to allow us to take the perfect line into the next corner.
Rapide S: Yes, You Did See Four Doors
There is a weight difference of 200 kg between the Vanquish and the Rapide S. Although the Rapide S is a four-door weighing in at 1,900 kg, it remains very fleet of foot. It can cruise around city streets without attracting a glance, before transforming itself into a serious race car in Track mode on any circuit. The 6.0L V12 is quick to adapt and suit whichever mood the driver calls for, cruising or racing. All that is required is a light touch of the accelerator pedal to awaken its 558 horsepower and 457 lb-ft torque. In addition, Track mode instantly stiffens suspension settings to provide optimal high-speed stability, as communication between driver and circuit is direct, and we become one with the vehicle.
By installing the 6.0L V12 engine behind the front-wheel axis, and positioning the 6-speed Touchtronic 2 transmission at the rear of the chassis, the Rapide S achieves an ideal 49/51 front-to-rear weight ratio, providing ideal and inspiring road handling.
Whether your dreams include hauling your kids around in this luxury sports car, or reaching 0-100 km/h in less than 5 seconds in style, $215,000 is all that is required to make them come true. You can even lower the rear seatbacks to haul longer objects if that’s what you so desire. Talk about practical!
The Rapide has been leading the super sport luxury sedan segment since 2009. By adding the S version to its lineup, with an extra 81 horsepower (558 hp total), the competition simply cannot catch up. Although we focused solely on performance numbers during our time on the track, we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention the outstanding ergonomics, great visibility and superior touch and placement of the control buttons that are also among some of the many strong points of the Rapide.
Vantage: Several Versions, More Affordable
I’d previously had the privilege of driving a Vantage on public roads a while back, and I must say, I wasn’t overly impressed at the time. Well, the 6-speed manual Vantage V8 GT Roadster certainly reset my clock! For starters, it’s more affordable, at approximately $108,000, and the manual GT is powered by a 4.7L V8. A new automatic transmission, which adds a seventh ratio, is also available for 2015. The GT engine produces 420 hp and 346 lb-ft torque, which makes this vehicle easier to tame than the 565 hp in the Vantage S Coupe from which I’d just disembarked! It comes as no big shocker that the Vantage V8 entry level model is the version that is most often seen on our roads, as the V12 version has heaps of extra horsepower that, when you think about it… are barely necessary.
Not only are the latest model upgrades apparent style wise, overall dynamics are vastly improved with the addition of the 7-speed Sportshift transmission, which replaces the former 6-speed model. Drivers also benefit from a stiffer chassis and more powerful brakes to help tame the beast.
Thrill seekers will inevitably migrate towards the Vantage S Roadster and Coupe. Not only did Aston Martin engineers combine the massive V12 engine to their lightest model, the chassis has shed extra weight and the transmission is more responsive than ever. The ultra-responsive suspension and steering systems combine to provide the perfect synergy between driver and machine. With all that available horsepower, this is a good thing. The adaptive damping system (ADS) which has three settings, Normal, Sport and Track, offers distinct levels of performance; the outstanding oversize carbon ceramic brake discs seem invincible while the Sport button optimizes the vehicle’s responses for a perfect driver experience. The reassuring stability control (DSC) and ABS settings intervene at exactly the right moment. During each lap, the on-board instructor made sure that we noticed the difference these systems made when activated, one at a time, while the only thing we are required to do… is keep the perfect line!
When you are going from 0-100 km/h in under 3.9 seconds, there’s no time to fool around with onboard accessories, as we absolutely have to make sure the transmission keeps up as we use the wheel-mounted paddles to shift gears. The shifts are deliberate enough to make us look like we don’t know how to use a clutch, but we’re told that’s how it works. Downshifting is achieved by holding down the left paddle while the gearbox automatically selects the desired ratio.
These models are the fastest Aston Martin has ever produced. The quickest member of the Aston Martin lineup can reach top speeds of 330 km/h.
MAKE: Aston Martin
VERSIONS: Coupe 2+0, Volante 2+2
ENGINE: 6L V12, normally aspirated
OUTPUT/TORQUE: 565 hp/457 lb-ft
ACCELERATION 0-100 km/h: 4.1 sec.
PRICE RANGE: $200,000 to $330,000
MAKE: Aston Martin
ENGINE: 6L V12, normally aspirated
OUTPUT/TORQUE: 550 hp/457 lb-ft
ACCELERATION 0-100 km/h: 4.9 sec.
MAKE: Aston Martin
MODEL: Coupe, Roadster
VERSION: GT, S
ENGINE: 4.7L V8 normally aspirated, 6.0L V12 normally aspirated
OUTPUT/TORQUE: 420 hp/346 lb-ft, 565 hp/457 lb-ft
ACCELERATION 0-100 km/h: 4.9 sec., 3.9 sec.
PRICE RANGE: $108,000 $ to $280,000