New Orleans' NOLA Motorsports Park is an odd place to introduce the 2014 Aston Martin Vanquish. Rubber-burning skids are a bit beneath the dignity of Martin's flagship coupe. You know – that tuxedo might be warm enough to wear skiing, but you wouldn't use it for that. Well, if you owned an Aston, you might.
We're here on the track because Aston is out to prove that its hallowed obsession with old-school craftsmanship can coexist with serious modern performance chops. The Vanquish is hand-painted and polished, a process that takes 50 man-hours. Its hand-stitched interior requires 70 hours (and seven hides), and the "aero duct" rear spoiler is made by one guy at the Gaydon factory. It takes him two days. "We had to come up with a new painting technique – such is the intricacy of the shape," says Aston spokesman Matthew Clarke. "The brief was to design something that looked impossible to make."
But beneath all that opulence lies a fully modern 565-horsepower motor, a bonded aluminum skeleton, and a carbon-fiber skin. And with its V-12 mounted behind the front axle for balance, the Vanquish wrings the most grip possible from its four corners. Both the suspension and the stability-control system feature "track" modes to sharpen the car's responses and loosen its electronic reins – because if you're going to spend $279,995 on a car, you ought to be able to make the most of it. The Vanquish allows enough leeway before the electronics intervene. Or maybe the stability-control system is too subtle for me to notice. Either way, after a few laps, I'm hitting 130 mph on the straight and wondering if I missed my calling as an F1 champ. The Vanquish is a car that flatters your abilities, which is important because rich guys don't like to feel stupid.
After enough track time to make me regret my previous night's exploits on Bourbon Street, I pull over at the straight to try the new launch-control feature, which doles out precisely as much power as the rear tires can handle, so you don't paint the pavement with yards of expensive Pirelli. The transmission automatically executes the second-gear upshift, because that moment arrives faster than your brain can anticipate it. The Vanquish emits an unholy howl and tears off zero to 60 in four seconds. But this car's primary selling point isn't outright speed – it's unassailable English cool. A rational man might contemplate a Lamborghini and think, "That's not quite for me," but Astons exude a universal sex appeal.
Consider the Vanquish's bodywork, which is all carbon fiber. Aston has a dissected car on display at the track, and as I'm admiring the muffler's innards, I ask an engineer about the body's weight-saving properties. "It doesn't save that much weight, honestly," he says. But some things, I reply, are worth doing just for the sake of coolness? "Exactly," he says.
Yes, you can buy quicker cars for less, but this is the one with a direct genealogical link to the Goldfinger-era DB5, the one that uses a 787 Dreamliner's worth of carbon fiber. And given the precarious state of the British car industry, I'm happy about the very fact that there is a new V-12 Aston Martin to ogle and argue over and, if you're lucky, drive. That's cool.