My driving partner is hustling the 2015 Aston Martin Vanquish across the scenic Scottish Highlands on paved, twisty singletrack narrow enough khổng lồ require pull-aside-to-pass spots. Most drivers -- even a fast group on street bikes -- are yielding, smiling, some giving thumbs-up as we surge by.

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"It"s lượt thích you"re famous," I say to lớn the driver, who is intensely focused as he again hammers the accelerator. His reply, with a slight "no" motion of his head: "Nah, the car"s famous."

Yes, the car Jonny Lieberman called "Big Sexy" upon its debut two years ago is famous. Especially in the Highlands, home to James Bond"s fictional Skyfall family estate. (Hey, Aston doesn"t miss an opportunity to slip a Bond reference into conversation; why should we?) and now the visually stunning Vanquish and năm ngoái Aston Martin Rapide S thể thao serious performance upgrades.

The standard prescription for cars in need of a vitality boost seems khổng lồ be "take an eight-speed ZF & call me in the morning." That tonic has significantly awakened these two, which share Aston Martin"s VH architecture.

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The four-door Rapide S ($207,820) & Vanquish coupe ($287,820) had a lot going for them already. The hand-built cars really are sexy (We"ve never been approached by as many female car fans as when behind the wheel of a Flugplatz Blue năm trước Vanquish), powered by V-12s with a gorgeous sound, và are bathed in luxury touches. So while they weren"t ailing, they were trailing -- in the performance department. That"s largely the fault of the old-school six-speed automatic that was in both cars.

How much life has Aston Martin breathed into their vị trí cao nhất two models? How"s a half-second faster to lớn 60 mph? (Aston says 3.6 seconds for Vanquish & 4.2 seconds for Rapide S.) and how"s a top speed for both of 203 mph, up 13 mph for Rapide S và 20 mph for Vanquish?

But really? It"s that simple? New transmission? Kinda. Aston Martin did other things too -- kiến thiết director Marek Reichman calls it a "major refresh under the skin" -- all of which địa chỉ cửa hàng up to lớn significantly more athletic cars. Và let"s face it: Aston has design & luxury pretty much under control. Reichman said the majority of improvements are about giving the cars, especially the Rapide S, "more sporting character."

First, about that 8HP gearbox from ZF. It has become an industry standard, appearing in a raft of BMWs, Bentleys, Jaguars, and more.

Astonishingly, the new transmission is almost 9 pounds lighter than the previous six-speed and fits in the previous case. Aston Martin engineers took the lead from there, tuning it lớn work with the V-12. Why now, after almost everyone? Aston is small -- the Gaydon factory produces only about 4000 cars per year -- & changes must be deliberate. It also helps line efficiency to put the ZF into both cars.

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Aston Martin says shifts between gears are completed in a maximum of 130 milliseconds. Translation: Faster than you can say "Q." That"s with the paddles, too. While driving the năm ngoái Vanquish and năm ngoái Rapide S on some truly glorious, low-traffic, mountain and coastal roads dotted with only the occasional village, sheep herd, or speed camera, the cars would upshift before I finished pulling back on the paddle, raising the revs & re-engaging the grin-inducing pull of the V-12 (576 hp/465 lb-ft for Vanqish, 560 hp/465 lb-ft for Rapide S).

Two nifty software touches: Adaptive Drive Recognition tailors shift points in standard Drive mode to lớn your style behind the wheel. So if you"re aggressive, you"ll quickly feel a change in the shift map even if you haven"t engaged Drive sport mode. The car constantly collects data beginning with each engine start, so it will morph during your drive if necessary.

Nifty cảm biến No. 2: If you hold down the left (downshift) paddle, the transmission skips as many gears as necessary to lớn find the right ratio. On our drives in the Rapide S and Vanquish, that maneuver worked great on the winding roads, where we"d be pulling hard in sixth but needed to lớn haul down to lớn second in a hurry khổng lồ set up a tight curve.

Even with those performance improvements, the transmission comes with a bonus: big improvements in fuel economy. The Vanquish gets 14 mpg city. On the highway, a 16 percent improvement gets it to 22 mpg. The Rapide S gets 13/21 mpg city/highway, an 11 percent improvement on the highway. It"s easy lớn see why: At 70 mph, the V-12 hums along at a very leisurely & quiet 1500 rpm in eighth gear. In fact, eighth is strictly for economy, as top speed is reached in seventh.

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In Drive mode (that"s normal automatic shifting), though the transmissions are tuned for quickness, they still keep the car in relatively low rpms unless you slam your foot down. It was far more fun to use the paddles khổng lồ keep the transmission between 3500-5500 rpm, where maximum torque -- và near-maximum music from the engine and exhaust -- takes place.

Slowing the Astons from speed is more confident, as the brakes have retuned boost to lớn allow for a stronger initial bite. And the Rapide S has larger front brakes, increasing khổng lồ 400mm diameter with six-piston calipers (the Vanquish"s brakes stay the same at 398 mm and six pistons front & 360mm four-piston rear). At the back, Rapide S has a 360mm four-piston set. We experienced great, consistent feel in both cars, and no discernible fade, though the roads had enough variety that there was usually plenty of cool-down between extreme situations.

Both cars ride on beautiful, 20-inch 10-spoke forged alloy wheels that are 15 pounds lighter per set than the wheels on the năm trước models.

Working with the ZF transmission is a new Bosch engine management system for both cars, and both cars now have carbon-fiber drive shafts for an increase in nguồn transmitted lớn the drive wheels, and a new alloy torque tube for quieter performance.

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The Rapide S really benefits from Aston"s efforts lớn reduce noise. Reichman credited some of this improvement khổng lồ a specially designed low-rolling resistance tire from Bridgestone. Wait. They increased performance with an LRR tire set? Apparently. The Rapide S supplied plenty of confidence as we blasted around mostly in thể thao mode on both suspension và throttle/shifting (they"re adjustable separately).

And the cars felt more sure-footed at speed, especially when those mostly empty Scottish roads (our least-favorite sign: "CATTLE GRID") threw the occasional off-camber corner, or fast sweepers with unsettling undulations, at us. Aston Martin says it worked to lớn create a greater difference in damping between sport and Drive, & passengers could easily guess which setting the cars were in. We never really futzed with Track mode, as it was inappropriate for unpredictable conditions.

Steering in both was above average and unchanged from the previous models. The Vanquish is a little quicker (2.6 turns lock-to-lock vs. 3.0 on the Rapide S) & transmits slightly more feel -- in a good way -- about where the wheels are and the condition of the road.

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Inside the Rapide S & Vanquish is the same Aston Martin luxury one comes lớn expect, such as full-grain Luxmill leather over most of the interior và Alcantara headliners và steering wheel. One Vanquish our group drove even had an optional quilted-leather headliner with contrast stitching. Some thought it a bit much, but I couldn"t stop staring. Newly available interior màu sắc options include Fandango Pink (for trim only, please) and Dark Knight, a black-ish blue.

Aston Martin admits that the infotainment system leaves a bit lớn be desired, with its tiny nav screen. But that"s where future refreshes could receive big dividends from its partnership with Mercedes-Benz, which mostly has created buzz around replacement of Aston"s V-8 engines. Could we see a COMAND-like system in future Astons? "The engine side of the agreement is only one part," Reichman said. "The electrical architecture is the other."

Fair enough. Just promise we"ll still get those gorgeous glass buttons and what may be the world"s coolest ignition key (it"s crystal, embossed on one end with the Aston logo) in these now quicker & more responsive examples of hand-made art on wheels.

For more than 100 additional images of the năm ngoái Aston Martin Vanquish and năm ngoái Aston Martin Rapide S, head lớn the second page of this review.

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