We drove the latest variants of Aston Martin's line-up in the Highlands of Scotland, with open roads and spectacular landscapes that are well suited to these swift, ultra-bespoke sports cars. You'd have to be obsessed with the inner workings of these fine machines to discern the differences, for on the surface the flagship Vanquish and new Rapide S look pretty much exactly the same as their 2014 model year forebears. While this is a good excuse to show new images of these hugely attractive, evergreen cars, there are substantial changes under the skin.
So what exactly has the Warwickshire-based sports car maker done to deserve our attention this time? First up is the Vanquish, which has been given an eight-speed Touchtronic III automatic gearbox, a long-winded way of saying that every performance metric has been substantially improved across the board, from acceleration to fuel economy. When the Vanquish made its debut as Aston's modern flagship back in 2012, the company refused to wade into the incendiary horsepower wars taking place between all the other premium manufacturers. To be a serious contender, a top speed in excess of 200mph was deemed essential and the original Vanquish, with its 183mph upper limit, was seen to be deliberately stepping back from the ring.
Now the Vanquish is a fully paid up member of the 200mph club. Not that this really matters - especially as that particular benchmark is in danger of being eclipsed yet again as the next generation of supercars emerges. But chasing these largely academic numbers has never been what Aston Martin is about. The Vanquish was, and is, a brilliant thing, an object you can genuinely desire. Power has never been a problem for this car, nor has handling, and maybe only the most obsessive speed freak will fully appreciate the performance improvements. However, more efficiency is always welcome, as is refinement, although this car's cabin has a strangely binary character in that it is both a beautiful place to sit and an infuriating thing to operate. The true strength of the Vanquish is the fact that such foibles have never mattered, then or now.
Joining the flagship in the revised Aston Martin range is the new Rapide S, which gets a similarly uprated tech specification. Once again, a new gearbox and engine management system are there to be experienced, not seen, and the skin is largely unchanged from before. The Rapide is AM's only four-door (soon to be joined by a new Lagonda model), designed to address the main Achilles heel of the DB9 and Vanquish; rear seats that are largely vestigial. You still wouldn't want to take three hefty passengers on a long-haul trip, but the genius of the Rapide is that the extra stretch and heft has done nothing to damage either its proportions or performance. The company has also taken the opportunity to ramp up its already extensive option list, giving its customers every chance to personalise the interior and exterior of their car.
Now with added power, the Rapide is a match for rivals from Mercedes, Bentley and Maserati, although no other saloon car on the planet could ever be quite as desirable as the Aston Martin. Four doors and a decent trunk makes the Rapide an even better grand tourer than its siblings, although it's not hard to win the title of 'most practical Aston Martin'. The company continues along an evolutionary course for now, and this brace of uprated models show their strategy still gives results.