I HAVE a friend called Brian who mistakenly believes that his entire wardrobe must be an ocean of high quality, excellent design and refined good taste simply because he bought everything from Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Gucci, Prada and Calvin Klein.
You could present him with a fine coat from an exquisite back-street tailor and he would reject it immediately as rubbish because it didn’t have the correct label.
Naturally you could give Brian a Nissan GT-R and he’d pull the face of a man who’s just trapped his finger in a revolving door. You could tell him that it goes like an artillery shell, stops as if it’s crashed into a wall and corners so violently it can tear your head off.
And you could go on, explaining how the tyres are filled with nitrogen because air is too unpredictable and how the wheels have knurled rims to stop the rubber being torn off in the bends. You could also tell him its engine is built in a hermetically sealed factory to ensure all the components are in the same state of thermal expansion when they fit together. And he’d say, “Yes. But it’s a Nissan.” And give the car back.
It’s much the same story with the BMW M6 Gran Coupé. This is fabulous in many ways, but for people such as Brian a BMW is a middle-management car for people whose graphic design business is doing well. It’s a bit Waitrose. And why would you shop there when for just a bit more you could go to Harrods?
At present there are six Harrods car brands: Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls-Royce. These are manufacturers that could sell Brian a dog turd and he wouldn’t care because it had the “right” badge on the boot lid.
Porsche isn’t in this list, and I’m not counting the niche manufacturers McLaren, Pagani and Koenigsegg, which you can read about on pages 6-7. Neither is Mercedes-Benz, which explains why the Maybach limousine was a sales flop. It was quiet and comfortable and had aircraft-style seats in the back, but behind the scenes it was a Mercedes. And that’s a car, really, for Zurich airport taxi drivers.
Aston says that, thanks to the new gearbox, the Vanquish is even faster and that it’ll now crack 200mph
If I were running Mercedes, I’d be a bit worried about that. Because today, more than ever, the upper echelon of the car market is dominated by Brians. Some are Chinese Brians. Many are from India. And none would buy a Mercedes even if it were made of gold, studded with diamonds and cost 42p. The badge is good. But it’s not one of the six.
Toyota tried to get round this problem by launching the Lexus brand. But it hasn’t really worked. I know the LFA is one of the best damn cars to see the light of day, but to Brian? Oh, dear, no.
Nissan has a similar problem with its upmarket Infiniti offshoot. Infini-what? Quite. You can’t just whip a name out of thin air and hope it will become the new Fabergé. You need to come up with some history in your adverts, some sepia shots of men in store coats and horn-rimmed glasses cutting up leather and looking as if they cared. See the watchmakers for further details on this front. “Genève since 1898.” That will work. “Tokyo since 2004.” That won’t.
So, back to Mercedes. It can’t use its own name to break into the luxury world of Brian. And it can’t come up with a new name using Scrabble tiles. The only solution is to buy one of the six brands that are already there.
BMW did this when it acquired Rolls-Royce. Volkswagen pulled off the same trick with Lamborghini and Bentley, and Fiat is enjoying la dolce vita these days because it has Ferrari and Maserati. Which leaves just one: Aston Martin . . .
Aston Martin is on its own, and this is beginning to show. Without the deep pockets of a big parent, it’s treading water, endlessly reinventing the DB9. There are no fresh ideas. Bentley and Ferrari are pulling ahead.
The car you see in the pictures this morning is the new Vanquish. But it’s not really new at all. It’s the old Vanquish with a new gearbox.
And it’s not even a new gearbox. It’s the German parts maker ZF’s eight-speed automatic, which has been around in other cars for a while. But it’s the first time, says Aston proudly, that this gearbox has been mounted at the back. Wow, I can hear you thinking. Yes! An eight-speed automatic transaxle.
Aston says that, thanks to the new gearbox, the Vanquish is even faster and that it’ll now crack 200mph. Yes, but the main reason everyone’s going for eight-speeds these days is to stay on the right side of the EU rules on fuel consumption and emissions.
I’m not sure its fitting has been a complete success, because to make it work, the company has had to fiddle with the car’s electronic brain. And it’s become a bit of a dimwit.
When you see a gap in the traffic at a roundabout, you put your foot down and you expect the mighty V12 to respond immediately. But it doesn’t. It has a little think, and by the time it has agreed to your demands, the gap has gone.
It’s the same story when you’re overtaking. If you’re not fully committed with the throttle, it seems to be saying, “Are you sure?”
The way round all this is to keep the car in Sport mode. Which negates all the eco-mental advances gained by fitting the eight-speed gearbox in the first place. But since I don’t care about eco-mental advances, that’s what I did.
Then it’s a lovely car. Flowing and smooth when you want it to be, raucous and mad when you don’t and utterly, bewitchingly beautiful always.
The interior is also delightful, though AA Gill, my colleague from the food department of The Sunday Times, disagreed. “It’s like being in one of those executive-desk drawer dividers,” he said from the passenger seat. “I feel like I’m a roll of Sellotape . . .” I know, and he earns a living from expressing opinions.
Anyway, yes. There are a few details that could do with a fresh start. The knobs on the steering wheel look as though they belong in Churchill’s war rooms, and the sat nav is unreadable half the time. The car needs to lose some weight as well, which would make it nimbler. And someone’s got to go back into that engine control unit and pep things up a bit at a roundabout.
There are a few details that could do with a fresh start. The knobs on the steering wheel look as though they belong in Churchill’s war rooms, and the sat nav is unreadable half the time
But there’s the problem. The total cost of doing these things is, I dunno, a billion? A trillion? Whatever, it’s money that Aston plainly doesn’t have. Which is why, apart from the gearbox, the only thing it can think to say about the “new” Vanquish is that it’s available in some new colours.
There’s only one solution. Hello, Daimler. Are you listening? You already own 5% of Aston Martin and have some kind of “shared technology agreement”. Why not go the whole hog?
Then Aston will have the resources it needs in order to make the sort of car you want to make but can’t because your badge isn’t good enough.
Clarkson’s verdict ★★★★☆
Togs by Gucci, cogs by Primark
Aston Martin Vanquish specifications
- Price: £192,995
- Release date: On sale now
- Engine: 5935cc, V12
- Power/Torque: 569bhp @ 6650rpm / 465 lb ft @ 5500rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Performance: 0-62mph: 3.8sec
- Top speed: 201mph
- Fuel: 22.1mpg
- CO2: 298
- Road Tax Band: m