The upgraded Rapide S and Vanquish are faster and smoother
Astonishing Astons The Aston Martin Rapide S (left) and Vanquish (right) both get a mid-life facelift that makes them more refined drives. -- PHOTO: DOMINIC FRASER

While Aston Martin's V8 line is due for a replacement in about two years, its V12 Vanquish and Rapide S have both been given a facelift.

The most significant change must be its eight-speed, rear-mounted transaxle automatic ZF gearbox, which replaces the previous ageing six-speed unit. The new autobox changes gear in 130 milliseconds, half the time the old gearbox took.

The Vanquish and Rapide S' 6-litre engines have been programmed to deliver 576bhp and 560bhp respectively - 2bhp and 3bhp more than before.

That may not sound like much but there is about 10Nm of additional torque available throughout much of the rev range.

As this is just a mid-life refresh, Aston Martin left the exterior and interior untouched. The chassis is sharper yet more refined, thanks to better linkages in the suspension, revised geometry, upgraded springs and dampers, and lower resistance tyres.

There is no rocket science here but the small changes add up to a palpable difference in how the cars drive. The Rapide S is now more fluid in its progress, shifting smoothly through the gears and is always in the right gear.

The refined suspension results in tauter body control and is more comfortable over less-than-perfect roads - thanks to the rubber compounds used, both in the suspension bushings and new tyres.

With more torque, there is more eagerness in how the engine revs. This allows the four-door to hit 100kmh in 4.4 seconds, half a second less than before. With the new gearbox, the Rapide S also reaches a higher top speed of 327kmh, from 306km previously.

Clearly a godsend to Aston Martin, the eight-speed torque converter autobox works well in the Vanquish too.

The sleek coupe now joins the supercar club with a century sprint timing of just 3.8 seconds, down from 4.3 seconds previously. Top speed is 323kmh, 28kmh more than before.

The Vanquish's suspension is 35 per cent stiffer in the front and 15 per cent more in the rear. The firmer settings are quite obvious, tugging and chatting all the way round Scotland's infamous Loch Ness.

The Vanquish is best left in Normal drive mode while the Rapide S should preferably be in Sport.

Aston Martin is a small-volume manufacturer that still relies on handcrafted parts, like Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Yet, when we see one, we immediately compare it with Porsche.

With the latest improvements, the comparison will not be out of place.