A sound approaches. At first it's a high-pitched keen, then it gets closer and you can hear the lower reverberations, the snarl of the thing. Something wicked this way comes.
A group of onlookers stand on pit row, waiting to see the brand new sports car from Aston Martin make its virgin circuit on the New Orleans racetrack NOLA Motorsports Park. When it appears, bright orange paint job glowing in the sunlight, it's moving fast.
The coupe makes a hard turn, slinging around a tight circular corner, then whooshes by. This is the Vanquish, $282,100 worth of exotic English machinery.
As soon as the car glides into pit lane I jam on my helmet and hustle inside. I'm very curious to see how the new top-of- the-line Aston handles out here. I've had a DB9 and 12-cylinder Vantage on the racetrack, and neither felt exactly at home.
Off-the-lot Aston Martins are most likely to be found slipstreaming through the Alps or perhaps squiring A-listers around the Hollywood Hills.
The Gaydon, Britain-based company simply doesn't have the developmental dollars to keep up with the Joneses of the supercar world — that is, the Ferraris and McLarens. The very expensive Vanquish takes four seconds to reach 60 mph, which is positively bovine in this rarefied set.
Yet, to my mind, the 0-to-60 disparity is mostly irrelevant. Aston Martins are pitter-patter, be-still-my- beating-heart beautiful.
The elegant roadsters, grand-touring coupes and lithe four- door unmistakably arise from the same DNA. Every time I pilot an Aston, I feel a little more charming, a bit more sophisticated — and richer. Definitely richer.
The Vanquish has done away with Aston's previous top-of- the-line grand touring car, the DBS. The short-lived Virage model has also disappeared.
I loved the lines of the DBS. I've spent hours simply admiring the angles as the light changes throughout the day. The Vanquish is less feminine, the lines leaner, the musculature wirier.
Yet the details on the Vanquish are fabulous. You can quickly add to the base $280,000 price by selecting special paint and rims, exposed carbon-fiber details and sumptuous leathers.
To illustrate those bank account-deflating options, the company brought a selection of Vanquishes to the track. One with mean black rims; another with an exposed carbon-fiber roof and door handles. And another outfitted with an outrageous red leather interior. Body paint colors include that fun satin orange, a rather odd blue and the obligatory white.
The cabin wraps around you pleasingly. The leather and stitching are dazzling. You can get diamond patterns, welts and other assorted designs, making up to a million stitches. That number, says the company, is not hyperbole.
Fortunately the seats are actually nice to sit in. The front ones, anyhow. There's a space in the rear with available "seats," best suited for your briefcase.
The Vanquish also gets a new navigation and infotainment system, which is half good news. The previous system was utterly untenable. This new one has a smarter interface, but the graphics and general usability are only nominally better.
There's a stab of sound as the 6.0-liter V-12 fires up, a tremor through the aluminum and carbon-fiber frame. The naturally-breathing engine puts out 565 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque.
No manual transmission is offered. Paddles mounted on the steering column control the six forward gears, though the paddles themselves aren't long enough. You can't really get to them when the steering wheel is turned.
The steering itself is still a rack-and-pinion hydraulic system. Old school and perfect. I imagine that the engineers spent a tediously long time calibrating the tactile feel. It's direct, with good feedback. A finely tuned instrument.
In fact, that goes for the whole car.
The Vanquish is surprisingly race-worthy, pushing out of corners with a wiggle of the rear. The torque of the V-12 seems to be right where you want it, always.
This coupe is a showcase of the glories of a well-balanced rear-wheel-drive car. One without turbos or too many intervening digital systems. This is the type of ride that enthusiasts have enjoyed since the birth of sports cars.
Aston also gifted it with carbon ceramic brakes, which pull it down from triple-digit speeds with surety.
The suspension includes an active damping system, with modes for touring, sport and the track. While in track mode, the car barely leans, even under aggressive cornering.
The ride is awfully firm even in touring mode, however, and there's not a lot of give in the 20-inch Pirelli tires. Great elements on the track, not so great on the bumps and cracks on many American roads.
Nonetheless, most of the select car lovers who can afford the darn thing will happily live with that rather uncompromising character. Aston Martin was not playing around when it created the latest Vanquish. It is a wicked, pretty thing.