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The phrase "Gran Turismo" may be most closely associated with a certain digital racing game by many members of the PlayStation generation, but the term harkens back to the proper concept of grand touring. That is, covering big miles with style, with performance, and with luxury. Those directives are often contradictory, and so we see some GT cars that are as razor-sharp as the Ferrari F12 (video) and some as cossetingly smooth as the Bentley Continental GT .
In many ways, the Aston Martin brand typifies the gran turismo concept, with nearly all of its cars slotting somewhere in the middle of that broadly defined genre. For years, the Aston DBS had been the quintessential GT. The Vanquish is that car's sportier successor, familiar in many ways but new, with a lightweight carbon fiber body, completely refreshed interior, smarter infotainment options, and a bigger trunk to boot. Oh, and it's absolutely lovely to behold.
Is this the new grandest of grand tourers? Let's find out.
Far and away the most magnificent component in the 2014 Vanquish Coupe is the 6.0-liter V-12 engine slung low behind the front wheels. It burbles with a refined civility while idling through town and roars like a lion when the roads open up in the country. But let's save that for later, as it's the exterior of the car that makes for a truly captivating first impression.
In shape and details it's unmistakably cut from the same cloth as the DBS that came before, which itself wasn't all too dissimilar from its own predecessor, the previous-gen Vanquish. Familiarity isn't necessarily a bad thing when dealing with brands such as this, and the new Vanquish looks fresh and modern and ever so slightly more sophisticated than its predecessor. It has all the same agressive vents on hood and fenders as before, expanses of bare carbon fiber on display here and there as statements of purpose, but it's all a bit less angular than the DBS. Less of a fitness model, more of an underwear model, if you would.
The biggest swath of naked carbon is the front lip, but strip off the paint and you'd see every body panel is made of the stuff. Ours was dipped in the lovely green you see here, dubbed "Appletree," a bit lighter than your typical British racing colors. On paper it seems like a subtle color, but on the curves of the Vanquish it's a real stunner, especially in verdant springtime surroundings.
The long hood is slender and light, exposing that massive V-12 beneath, which well and truly fills the engine compartment. The rear half, at least, with the portion ahead of the front wheels being largely covered by a black plastic panel hiding a lot of... nothing. A rearward-placed motor offers better weight distribution, after all. (Update: An Aston rep wrote in to let us know that this portion ahead of the motor also plays a crucial role in the frontal crash structure.)
Doors, on the other hand, feel fairly heavy, but that weight is well-balanced and supported by dampers. As on the Rapide S and other Astons they open with a slight upward tilt, better clearing pesky curbing that could otherwise be a problem in a low-slung car like this. The doors terminate just before the swollen fenders at the rear, hinting at the 565 horsepower conveyed through these 20-inch wheels.
The rear of the car is high and gives the illusion of thinness thanks to a dark carbon fiber panel along the bottom that's penetrated by dual exhaust tips. Brake lights look like slices in the curving bodywork of the tail, flanking a trunk that has a somewhat narrow opening. Nevertheless, it will accomodate two sets of golf clubs with ease. Important stuff for a grand tourer.
The quilted leather seats that receive you are comfortable for long stretches of road, but could perhaps do with a bit more bolstering for those twisty bits between. Our review car was outfitted with the same steering wheel that graced Aston's One-77 hypercar, which is a lovely bit of familial patronage, but I wasn't particularly fond of the shape. It's wrapped in a mix of leather and Alcantara, which feels nice beneath the hands, but it has an oddly angular shape. It's thick and closer to square than circular, sometimes making it feel like you're trying to shuffle-steer a dictionary when working the car hard. Thankfully, a more traditionally shaped (read: round) wheel can be selected instead -- if you can do without the One-77 lineage.
Twin dials of the old-school mechanical variety dominate the instrument cluster, speed and tachometer, though small LCDs are inset giving information like a digital speed readout, trip computer, and fuel consumption. A third small LCD between and above the gauges shows the current gear, turning red when it's time to upshift. Other than that subtle indication, there's no red line on the tachometer, encouraging you to rev that V-12 for all it's worth.
The center stack of the car, wrapped here in a subtle (and optional) carbon fiber weave, is tastefully laid out, far cleaner than the inside of the Rapide S. Along the top are buttons that control the six-speed automatic transmission: P, R, N, and D. (A "manual" mode can be toggled by commanding a shift with either of the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.)
The majority of the controls are flat, capacitive buttons that offer a sort of crude haptic feedback. That is, the dashboard hums and vibrates a bit with every press, an attempt at offering a modern look with the tactility of physical controls. The net result looks good, but isn't particularly satisfying to use. Also, the lack of dual-zone climate control can be a bit of a problem if your passenger has different temperature needs than you. The optional ventilated seats help, though.
A small, central knob controls the volume of the infotainment system, which features a display that rises from the top of the dash with every start of the car. That revelation was once dramatic and fresh, now that it's appeared in a few generations of Astons it's beginning to feel a bit tired. At least the interface running on it has seen a bit of an update, with cleaner iconography than we've seen before, and greater functionality. It will play media over USB, AM/FM, Sirius XM, and now stereo Bluetooth A2DB connectivity, too, meaning you can not only make calls with your phone but also stream music from Spotify or the like. There's even integrated Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Garmin navigation system, however, still feels decidedly old-school, as does entering destinations or searching for POIs character by character via the control wheel. Aston can't get on board with CarPlay or MirrorLink (or both) soon enough. There's also little in the way of driver aids beyond traction and launch control, with no adaptive cruise or lane departure warnings. The car does at least offer two USB ports and a further two cigarette-style power outlets, so recharging all of your many and varied devices will not be a problem.
Should you be thinking about taking three passengers, the Vanquish does offers optional rear seats -- though the term "seat" is somewhat generous. After one attempt at sitting in the rear of this car I think it's safe to say that those two spots should only be occupied by bags, small pets, or very young and tragically legless children.
Overall the interior is a very comfortable, luxurious place to be, but I have to point out one thing that felt a bit low-rent: cabin rattles. At certain speeds and certain engine revolutions per minute on certain roads a very faint buzz could be heard coming from somewhere in the back of the cabin. I'm not talking about the sort of twang you can expect from an early '90s Subaru that's spent a couple hundred thousand miles dominating gravel roads, it was more the sort of thing that had me asking my wife, "Do you hear that?" Indeed, she did.
Thankfully the 100W Bang & Olufsen sound system is epic and more than capable of drowning out any cabin distractions, or indeed nearby thermonuclear detonations, but it's safe to say rattles aren't the kind of thing you'd expect on a $280,000 car -- particularly one with only about 1,500 miles on it. (We spoke with Aston Martin about the rattles, who assured us such noise is not acceptable and that any such distractions would be fixed under warranty in a customer car.)
As with other modern Astons, you fire up the engine by inserting the crystal key into a slot high in the center console, pressing it for a moment until all 12 pistons are moving at a speed suitable for sustainable combustion. The mechanical whir of the starter is quickly replaced by the snarl of ignition. You may get bored with the process of holding that key in the dash to start the car, but you will never tire of the sound of it firing up.
Disengage the blissfully manual hand brake, a long lever tucked between the left side of the driver's seat and the door, press the D button on the dash, and away you go. The car purrs quietly and shifts smoothly by default, the transmission routinely dropping the revs down to idle territory to salvage as much efficiency as is possible from that 6-liter lump up front. (The car is EPA-rated at 13 mpg city, 19 highway, and 15 combined. We saw 14.9 mpg in our testing through a mix of driving conditions.)
Press the S button on the steering wheel and the transmission gets rather more aggressive, holding revs for longer and downshifting more eagerly into turns. Still, though, it's far from a racing experience. To properly work the engine you'll want to reach for the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Tapping either one pops the car into manual mode. Here the car is mostly responsive to your commands, but you'll never mistake this for a racy dual-clutch model or anything of the sort. You'll get the shift you want most of the time, but you may need to wait a moment to get it.
Sport mode also opens a valve in the exhaust, giving you a more sonorous experience to match the rush of power found in the upper reaches of the rev range. This tachometer goes up to 8,000 and you'd be well-advised to venture up there as often as road conditions (and speed limits) allow. The engine really comes to life at higher revs, building urgency all the way until you're forced to shift up. It's gentle and tractable at lower revs, almost boring, but a brute at full song.
The motor is paired with launch control, a first for an Aston. Press the LC button, hold the brake with your left foot, and then floor the gas with the right. When you're ready, side-step off the brake and away you go. It isn't a kick in the pants like a 911 Turbo S (video) or a GT-R, more of a civilized rush. Really, though, it feels like the party is just beginning when the car hits 60 mph after about 4.1 seconds. Getting to the top speed of 183 mph will take a bit longer.
Another button on the steering wheel toggles suspension modes between comfort, sport, and track. The differences here seem less dramatic than in the Rapide S, but are still quite noticeable. Still, even the "track" setting is reasonably comfortable on the street.
Regardless of settings the car does well on twisty roads, with prodigious amounts of grip provided by the Pirelli P Zeros at all four corners. But, with the plush seats, the compliant suspension, and a 3,850-pound curb weight, this is obviously a car meant for the more sweeping sorts of corners, and those it handles with aplomb.
The 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish Coupe is indeed a great car for covering lots of miles. The question, of course, is whether this is the best grand tourer you can buy for your $298,200, which is what our example came out to with a few choice options. (Base price is $279,995.) It's difficult to directly compare this car with either the Ferrari or Bentley that we mentioned earlier, which offer experiences that cater to opposing ends of the GT scale, as the Vanquish is rather its own thing.
It is, in short, an Aston Martin, and as we concluded about the Rapide S earlier, this is not a machine for everyone. The overall technology package, though improved, still lacks features found in many budget sedans, the transmission favors comfort over crispness, and this is a strictly one-passenger affair. However, well-heeled buyers looking for the sophisticated choice could do far, far worse, and would likely find themselves smiling quite eagerly whenever picking up this car's crystalline key. Doubly so when that V-12 barks into life.