Aston Martin Vanquish

  • 02-Oct-2012 01:44 EDT

Aston Martin describes the Vanquish's carbon-fiber body as "assertive rather than aggressive."

Aston Martin rolled out its new flagship production model, the Vanquish, at a media launch in Milton Pagnell, England, ahead of the 2012 Paris Motor Show. While the new car clearly evolves the company’s existing technologies, such as the all-aluminum Vertical-Horizontal architecture and the 60-degree 6.0-L V12 engine, Product Manager Andy Haslam insists that these latest iterations mark true advances, and are not mere tweaks.

The 565-hp (421-kW), 457-lb·ft (620-N·m) V12 retains the bore, stroke, and bore spacing of its predecessor, but has a new block casting with revised cooling and a new water pump, new heads with machined combustion chambers, larger intake valves and variable valve timing, and new pistons and valves installed in those castings. “The fact that it is the same [displacement], so what?” Haslam asked rhetorically. “The wheels are still 20 inches, does that make them the same wheels?”

The primary improvements to the engine come from better intake airflow thanks to computer modeling, Haslam said. The variable cam timing permits good low-rpm intake velocity even with the larger intake valves that contribute to high-rpm airflow. The higher-capacity water pump and improved cooling maintain more consistent engine temperature, which also contributes to increased output, he said.

The result is a car that accelerates to 100 km/h (62 mph) from rest in 4.1 s and reaches a terminal velocity of 183 mph (295 km/h).

The engine drives through a six-speed ZF torque converter planetary automatic transmission. Other brands are introducing transmissions with eight or more forward speeds, leaving the Vanquish’s spec sheet looking out-of-fashion, but the company rightly points out that the six-speed not only doesn’t feel lacking on the road, but that its programming is well-sorted with less shift busyness than those with more gears.

The Vanquish represents Aston Martin’s fourth generation of VH chassis architecture, a technology originating with the 2004 DB9. Each generation has improved on the last with continuous optimization of design and materials, said Haslam. The company describes VH as a philosophy rather than a platform, leaving ample flexibility within the notion of mixing extrusions, castings, and sheets of aluminum to form a chassis.

For the Vanquish, the VH sees a 25% improvement in torsional stiffness with 75% new components (compared to the outgoing DBS model), due primarily to a redesigned shock tower brace in the engine bay. “We did a computer analysis and the weakest area was around that front end,” Haslam recalled.

Where there was previously a single crossbar connecting the towers, with a pair of discrete braces tying them back to the firewall bulkhead, now there is a single triangular brace that mounts through robust attachments atop the shock towers. “The strength is in the triangulation of the load,” Haslam said.

The engine cradle is now made of hollow cast aluminum rather than solid cast aluminum, for a 13% reduction in mass. It also lets the engine mount 19 mm (0.7 in) lower for a lower center of gravity. The lower engine and the reshaped shock tower brace combine to make it possible for the Vanquish to pass European pedestrian protection requirements without the need for additional gadgets such as a deployable pop-up hood because of extra space between them and the hood.

The increased front stiffness contributes to the Vanquish’s move from the grand touring segment where the DBS might have resided, more into the true sports touring segment. That’s because the Vanquish’s steering is noticeably more accurate and responsive than that of previous models. “You need to take all the noise out of the systems,” and reducing front-end flex does that, Haslam explained.

Similarly, the new, quicker ZF steering rack has a 15:1 ratio rather than the previous 17:1, for faster reflexes. Additionally, the design eschews the fashionable inclusion of variable rates in favor of a continuous, predictable response. Haslam dismisses variable steering for its introduction of additional “noise” for the driver.

The Vanquish’s body shell is made entirely of carbon fiber along with some of the chassis. A carbon-fiber trunk floor in place of a flat sheet of aluminum contributes to a 60% increase in trunk space, which, the company from golf-obsessed Britain proudly points out, now holds two sets of golf clubs. Trunk volume is now a very respectable 368 L (13.0 ft³).

Having carbon fiber in the trunk floor as well as the rear fenders and deck lid helps reduce the car’s polar moment of inertia, with proportionally more mass contained within its wheelbase. Now, 85% of the car’s mass is between the wheels, contributing to the 1739-kg (3834-lb) Vanquish’s light-on-its-feet feeling.

The carbon-fiber bodywork also gave the styling team some freedom that wouldn’t be possible with stamped sheet metal bodywork. “You couldn’t stamp these doors,” said Haslam. And the trunk lid, with its integrated wing element in a single piece, presented a particular challenge. “For about two months, we didn’t have a manufacturing solution to that,” he said. It was solved through the development of “a very complicated tool.”

It also created the challenge of painting inside the gap between the wing and the trunk lid, and properly polishing the paint for delivery. “You can’t have orange peel in there,” Haslam noted. So the company developed specialized painting and polishing tools to do those jobs.

Further, Aston Martin applies a 200-µm (0.008-in) layer of epoxy to the carbon-fiber panels to give them the smooth class-A finish expected of cars in this category, with no visible weave or other irregularity visible.

That integrated rear wing, which the company terms Aero Duct, combines with a front splitter to provide a small amount of downforce. The DBS generated lift at speed, so the Vanquish enjoys improved high-speed stability.

The car sheds that speed courtesy of Brembo carbon ceramic matrix brakes, with six-piston calipers at the front and four-piston calipers in the rear. Tires are Pirelli P Zeros that were specifically developed for the Vanquish.

Inside, though the 2+2’s back seat continues to be mostly theoretical, front-seat occupants enjoy more space, with 37 mm (1.5 in) more leg room, 25 mm (1.0 in) more shoulder room, 87 mm (3.4 in) more elbow room, and 50 mm (2.0 in) more knee room.

They can enjoy entertainment from the 1000-watt, 13-speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system, which delivers on the expectations such specifications promise. The Garmin GPS navigation system, on the other hand, features graphics that look decidedly old-fashioned in comparison to the navigation systems in other premium models, with cartoonish maps rather than the understated high-definition images seen elsewhere.

The car goes on sale in the U.S. in early 2013 with a starting price of $279,995.

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