Aston Martin’s last naturally aspirated V12 takes a boisterous bow.
– Gaydon, England
Press the rectangular glass key into its ignition, a bit like you would have with an old cassette player, and after an initial ascending scale, a singular, gurgling roar erupts as the engine’s 12 timpani awake. The 2018 Vanquish S Volante is the last of Aston Martin’s cars to use a naturally aspirated V12, and it’s going out fashionably loud and tastefully topless.
The Ultramarine Black convertible rogue barrels through England’s verdant countryside wreaking elegant havoc with your hairdo amongst the hedgerows. Who cares? Anyone who’s looking probably isn’t checking out the driver, but what’s making that otherworldly commotion. The argument can comfortably be made that the Vanquish S has the best sounding engine in the business. (And yes, that includes the twin-turbo V12 that powers Aston’s latest masterpiece, the DB11.) There are two gentlemen at Aston Martin whose sole purpose it is to perfectly fine-tune every engine note. Bravo, lads.
There are two gentlemen at Aston Martin whose sole purpose it is to perfectly fine-tune every engine note. Bravo, lads.
The Vanquish S Volante is the last of the old guard Aston, the last to be underpinned by the brand’s formerly ubiquitous VH platform, and the last with the brand’s signature, free-breathing V12 under its sweeping hood. For the time being, nothing else matters but the sweet, cacophonous sound of the 12-cylinder symphony resonating in the Volante with the top down, as it’s made to be driven.
According to Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s President and CEO, the V12 will always be an integral part of the brand’s DNA, but U.S. emissions regulations are forcing the hand of the British car company. The future Vanquish will be powered by a version of the DB11’s V12 and is unlikely to have the same raucous gurgle. Relish it while you can; the fat lady just started singing.
The Vanquish S Volante saddles 595 horses in that glorious 6.0-liter engine. When 0-60 comes in a hasty 3.5 seconds, one doesn’t doubt the livestock underhood. A revised aero package for the Vanquish S includes a reimagined splitter designed to keep the front end hugging winding country roads and an updated rear diffuser that helps allay drag – though it is a drop top so all bets are off if you’re looking for the performance of a coupe. Revisions to the grille and front intakes help enhance cooling, while quad exhausts make an assertive statement and further heighten the acoustic authority of the S. If it were possible to swim in a sound, this is a plunge in the Caribbean.
Nothing else matters but the sweet, cacophonous sound of the 12-cylinder symphony resonating in the Volante with the top down, as it’s made to be driven.
While supremely powerful, the Vanquish S Volante would never be so rude as to make you feel like it’s driving you. The throttle response is finely measured and immediate, imperative while sharing with an oncoming semi-truck what in America would be narrower than a one-way road. The automatic transmission’s eight speeds are well bred and show up punctually, delivering a perfect amount of the car’s available 485 pound-feet of torque at both ends of the range. The steering isn’t sports-car hyper responsive, but Aston isn’t going for that with this tony GT.
Separate sport modes are available for both the engine tune and the suspension, so damping can be adjusted independently for the appropriate situation. During the drive, I keep the Vanquish S in Sport mode. That lovely, long first gear crescendo rowdily pours into the amphitheater-esque cabin. The suspension I keep in Normal for added support while traversing the less-maintained English countryside’s potholes and ditches.
More muscular in design than in previous model years, this car is “a brute in a suit,” says Vanquish S head designer Miles Nurnberger. Its proportions are elegant and assertive and its stance at once athletic and graceful. The Bridge of Weir leather seats are predictably comfortable and supportive, and effectively heat or cool your bum accordingly. Aston’s push-button shifter that resides atop the center stack keeps the space pleasingly streamlined, but takes some getting used to operating without looking directly at it (especially on left-hand-drive cars where the D button is furthest from the driver).
As expected, the interior is festooned with world-class materials, and is eminently customizable to every taste, even questionable ones.
Look more closely under the tailored vest, though, and there are some inevitable signs of age. The speedometer is near impossible to read and there is no indicated redline, so using the paddle shifters is effectively done by ear. The nav system is a quirky retractable thing that, with the top down, requires the shouty map lady to bark directions at you, because the screen isn’t visible in dappled sunshine. At least the Vanquish S is hip enough to have a place for your cell phone, and a USB charger hides discreetly in the center console. However, keep calm and carry on, because the DB11 has effectively seen the peccadillos fixed, and thusly fixed is everything that follows.
As expected, the interior is festooned with world-class materials, and is eminently customizable to every taste, even questionable ones. The coachworks are in full peacock mode when the Volante’s top is down. Thankfully that same canvas top closes on the fly at speeds less than 30 miles per hour in the likely event of a sudden English summer downpour. Even with the top up, this chap’s a stunner, which is what you’d hope with a starting price of $312,950 for the Volante. First deliveries for us Yanks are imminent. Yeehaw!
Customers in the U.S., Aston’s largest market, are used to heading to a dealer and driving away in their car. It takes more than 200 hours to build an Aston Martin, 50 of those hours for the paint job alone. The anticipation of a handmade car being a bonus is something Aston Martin executives must sell in order to help secure their future. Will Aston’s new spokespeople, Tom Brady and Serena Williams, be marketing silver bullets? Perhaps.
Even with the top up, this chap’s a stunner, which is what you’d hope with a starting price of $312,950 for the Volante.
At least the lasting value of the brand is palpable. Of the 80,000-plus Astons already built in its storied history, some 95 percent of those are still in existence according to the carmaker – a testament to their hand-craftsmanship and desirability. But only time will tell if its current ambitious path will lead to stable success for a brand that’s seen seven bankruptcies since its inception. Cross those bespoke-gloved fingers.
One thing’s for sure: the 104-year old British manufacturer isn’t genteelly sipping tea at a garden party. Next year it wades into uncharted waters with the DBX luxury SUV, with production taking place just outside of Cardiff, Wales, in three airplane hangars that previously housed the hulking Hercules aircraft. A new Vantage is slated to arrive at around the same time as the DBX. A low volume Rapide EV, the new Vanquish and DB11, and a reincarnation of the Lagonda brand are also on Aston’s busy agenda.
But for the time being, for just a bit longer, revel in what was. Let the wind blow through your hair. Listen with sonorous delight to the Vanquish S Volante’s furious melody, for this rakish nobleman is deserving of its final open-aired encore, and Aston Martin shouldn’t have done it any other way. Once more with an elegant vengeance, Maestro.
Photos: Dominic Fraser / Aston Martin