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Aston Martin (2015)

2014-08-16 Read: 590x

Pauses are useful between jokes and punchlines, picnics and swimming, and attempts at certain amorous activities; not so much between transmission shifts in six-figure grand tourers. Yet this kind of slacking hesitation has, in recent years, plagued the otherwise impeccable range of automatic gearbox-equipped Aston Martin cars.

Thanks to the addition of the near-ubiquitous ZF 8-speed transmission—featured here in its first starring role in a transaxle—the 2015 Rapide S and Vanquish now swap ratios with the precision and alacrity of a World Bank economist. The new box, paired with a Bosch engine management system, engenders negligible enhancements in horsepower and torque. But the headline news is that it cuts 0-60 times by a whopping half-second in each car (now 4.2 for the Rapide; 3.6 for the Vanquish), as well as providing both with the ability to top 200 mph (203 and 201, respectively). Its two sleepy top gears also—along with lighter wheels, and low rolling resistance tires—provide significant enhancements to fuel economy, if that word can be applied to a profligate V12 that barely ekes a dozen urban miles from a gallon of gas.

Add in new glamorously garish exterior and interior colors like Sea Storm, California Poppy, and Fandango Pink, and you have a nearly irresistible recipe—so long as your cookbook has $200,000-$300,000 hidden amongst its grease-stained pages.

Driving an Aston Martin is a tactile, visceral experience, as well as an emotional voyage—more akin to falling in love than transporting one from place to place. We accept the flaws of those we love, a form of forgiveness that used to be requisite in auto-equipped Astons. Yet these two models are so markedly improved by the addition of the new gearbox as to almost lack faults. Does this enhance our love? Imagine how you’d feel if your spouse suddenly ceased engaging their most enduringly irksome behavior, and you had to give up nothing in exchange.

These are not nimble carvers, but awesome and extraordinarily capable grand tourers. Speed builds with a refined but boundless spirit—more, more, more!—everywhere in the range (except in 7th or 8th gear); 110 mph feels like a marathoner out for a jog. Push the big “S” button to sharpen throttle response and open up the delicious exhaust bellow. But skip “Sport” and “Track” mode on the adjustable suspension. Normal is what you want on nearly all surfaces, providing a ride that’s as smooth, creamy, sweet, and impact absorbing as a trough of your gran’s lemon trifle, without any of the gauche traction control hop occasioned in the other modes.

Ferraris and Lamborghinis may wail, AMG V8s may wallop, and M cars may scream to a burning redline. But none is as aurally aphrodisiacal as the profound baritone of Aston’s big V12, the sound of which ranges, like the howling pipe organ in a Vincent Price thriller, from imminent threat to thundering terror, in the best possible way.

We will not waste any further words on the Rapide’s abysmal infotainment interface and haphazard HVAC and dashboard controls—features that are slightly improved in the Vanquish’s haptic waterfall. It’s best to just ignore all the switchgear in the middle of the cabin, focus on the steering wheel and pedals, open the windows wide, and listen to the engine.

If we were in the market for a bombastic, potent, six-figure four-door, the Panamera Turbo would be the rational choice. It has superior ergonomics, greater performance, and far more usable room in back. But we would chuck all logic and buy the Rapide S, especially now that it has the enhancements rendered by this gearbox. Why? Because its classier, sounds better, offers greater exclusivity, and doesn’t look like a disfigured leviathan. In fact, it’s the handsomest sedan in the world.

The Vanquish is a similar proposition. Ferrari and Lamborghini V12s will eat its every meal on the track. But this isn’t a car for the track. It’s a car for the Autostrada, the PCH, the broad winding two-lanes of the Scottish Highlands. It’s a fantasy car not for pimply teens to hang as wallpaper on their bedrooms—or laptop screens—but for mature adults. Experientially, it is near impossible to beat. And when you get out of it—unlike with the aforementioned Italians—people are far less likely to throw epithets, fruit, or single fingered salutes. Astons command a refined respect. Without pause.

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