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Future models - Aston Martin - Vanquish

First drive: Aston Martin's vocal V12 Vanquish

Super-coupe: Vanquish is one of Australia's most expensive set of wheels.

The Aston Martin Vanquish has arrived Down Under, but is it worth $575,000?

30 Dec 2002

ASTON MARTIN'S brand image is making a comeback Down Under, in case you hadn't noticed. In the just released 007 film Die Another Day James Bond drives a $575,700 Vanquish to victory over the evil villain and Jaguar XKR driver Xau in the closing chase scene.

Meantime, despite the prohibitive pricetag and 12-month waiting list, it is believed up to seven cashed-up Aston enthusiasts are now gracing Australian roads in their exclusive Vanquish V12 super-coupes.

The historic British nameplate's increased brand awareness thanks to the Bond film is perfect timing for Australia's five Aston Martin dealerships, most of which also happen to be Jaguar outlets.

Located in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Southport, they deal direct with the Newport Pagnell factory in Britain to shift as many hand-built Astons as they can get their hands on.

Though cagey about exactly how many they have sold, or to whom, some dealers admit many customers have instead stumped up for the "Vanquished" DB7 GT, of which the 10-car Australian allocation goes into production in February. It is priced the same as the open-topped DB7 Vantage Volante V12, at a paltry $351,500.

Aston Martin has built just 18,000 cars (about as many as Porsche builds in three or four months) in its 88-year history dating back to 1914. When it comes to Vanquish, only 300 are built each year. Combined with sales of the more mainstream DB7 coupe, just 20 are expected to be sold Down Under in 2002.

That number is set to triple to a projected 60 Aston Martin sales annually from 2005, when a Porsche 911-rivalling "baby" Aston codenamed AM305 will be released as Aston's third model line.

But that's still a measly 5000 Astons produced globally each year - about as many Porsches are built every three to four months - making the Ford-owned former coach builder's wares unique enough to attract increasing numbers of international clientele.

Indeed, the six to eight-week build time for each Vanquish, including about two days to hand-beat a single body panel, makes it a rare proposition in a world of mass-produced sports cars.

Every Vanquish is signed off by a single quality engineer, who checks for facets including smell, sound and panel fit for up to two hours per vehicle. And every Vanquish owner gets a 24-hour hotline to an Aston Martin board member.

Vanquish - which according to the Oxford dictionary means to conquer or overcome in battle, or to reduce to submission by superior force - is an apt description.

Its monstrous 60-degree, 5.9-litre cast-alloy V12 with double overhead cams, 48 valves and a 10.5:1 compression ratio, in "stage two" guise, dwarfs the DB7 V12's output with a big 343kW at 6800rpm and 542Nm of torque at 5500rpm.

Combined with a six-speed sequential manual transmission with paddle shifts mounted behind the steering wheel - the only gearbox available for Vanquish - the Aston range-topper jets to 100km/h in a claimed five seconds and to a top speed of 306km/h. They may not be the best figures on the planet but deep into supercar territory nonetheless.

The massive V12 powertrain accounts for about 60 per cent of the hefty 1835kg mass thanks to the two-door coupe's aluminium panels and extruded aluminium and bonded carbon-fibre monocoque construction, but then Vanquish has an 80-litre fuel tank and measures a big 4665mm long, 1923mm wide and a low 1318mm.

Underneath the sleek, imposing exterior that commands a road presence like few other super-coupes lurks aluminium double wishbone suspension with coil springs at all four corners, along with 355mm front and 330mm rear cross-drilled and ventilated discs with four-piston callipers.

Forged 19-inch alloy wheels, nine inches wide up front and 10 inches wide at the rear, wear 255/40 front and 285/40 rear Yokohama tyres. Of course, ABS, EBD and traction control are standard.

Road-blistering performance aside, Vanquish offers creature comforts such as a six-speaker Linn cassette sound system with six-CD stacker, alarm, immobiliser, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, trip computer, auto dimming rear-view mirror and a tyre pressure sensing system. Alas, seat heating is optional, as is the two-plus-two seating arrangement.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

THE chance to drive a super-coupe with the hand-crafted exclusivity of Aston Martin's range-topping Vanquish is rare by any standard.

The fact this automotive journalist's experience in the most advanced Aston ever was limited to a brief drive of the ride/handling circuit at GM's Millbrook test facility in the UK - all the time chaperoned by an Aston executive - is testament to the rarity of the occasion.

But I was prepared to make the most of it.

Slipping into the low-slung cockpit is no easy feat, but once there the Vanquish interior is almost Tardis-like in the way it both cossets yet offers plenty of stretching room - at least for anyone shorter than six feet.

There's no doubting the luxury orientation of this two-door, with Connolly leather and alcantara upholstery covering everything that is not carpeted. The craftsmanship is obvious, with attention to detail everywhere you look and a balanced mix of classic and modern materials.

But firing up the Vanquish via the large red starter button creates an altogether different sensory excitement. Notwithstanding its massive internal exhaust baffle that deadens the tailpipe note between 750 and 3900rpm, the Vanquish exhaust delivers a note - particularly at idle and above around 4000rpm - that must rate as one of motoring's best ever.

It is so good it's impossible to resist the urge to blip the throttle from idle just for the sake of it.

Try this in gear and Vanquish leaps to attention, belying its substantial mass with the sort of off-the-mark acceleration afforded by a lightweight MX-5. But Vanquish goes on with it.

Revving sweetly to almost 7000rpm with a body-chilling shriek, Vanquish gobbles up scenery like few other cars and within seconds is ready for a repercharge via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifter.

The six-speed SMG, which employs a Tremec gearbox and Magnetti Marelli actuation and does away with the clutch pedal and gear lever, is a delight to use, offering more features than the equivalent system found in, say, the Ferrari 360M.

There's a Winter Shift Program that retards engine performance and limits revs to 3200rpm, an Automatic Shift Management mode that behaves just like an auto and a reverse mode. In normal mode the gearbox will upchange automatically at redline, but then there's Hypershift mode, which allows the full 7000rpm rev-range to be used with total manual control.

Steering, via the height and reach adjustable tiller, is extremely direct thanks to its quick 2.73 turns ratio but amazingly responsive, while the standard limited-slip differential makes unsticking the massive 10-inch-wide rear Yokohamas a most difficult exercise.

There is little doubt Vanquish has the performance credentials to warrant its station as the brand's flagship model, and represents a sight, sound and driving experience that's certainly as outstanding as anything we have driven.

Of course, Vanquish is what Aston Martin - which thanks to parent company Ford now has its own designer and a future platform strategy for the first time - describes as "the real meaning of bespoke". And, clearly, the two-year average global waiting list for Vanquish is testament to its cachet value.

But the price of such extravagant individuality is high. And whether Vanquish can weather the supercar storm whipped up by new arrivals from Bentley, Porsche and Ferrari remains to be seen.

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