While the clock on large combustion engines may be close to midnight, we know that the 2023 Aston Martin V12 Vantage won’t be the last new model to launch with a dozen cylinders. The replacement for the Lamborghini Aventador will also stick with a V-12, albeit with hybrid assistance, and Ferrari’s upcoming Purosangue SUV will have one as well. Others can sneak under the bar too.
But we do know that the new V12 Vantage will be the last of its line, the final twinning of the company’s biggest engine with its smallest sports car. A limited run of 333 cars will be produced for all markets, and the run sold out within days of last year’s announcement. And while Aston hasn’t released an official price tag for the car, we’re told it’s around $300,000 — almost as much as the bigger, bigger and faster DBS Superleggera, which basically uses the same 5.2-liter twin-turbo engine. So, can less really be more?
Much of the structure of the V12 Vantage is shared with the minimalistic V12 Speedster the company launched last year, which itself was based on a heavily modified Vantage Roadster platform. Despite this, there will only be a coupé version of the new V12 Vantage, with its engine in the same condition as the Speedster; with 690 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque, the Vantage’s power isn’t far from that of the DBS. Power is sent exclusively to the rear axle via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and while the regular Vantage uses an electronically controlled active differential that can direct torque from side to side, the V12 has a conventional plate-type locking differential.
Our first ride took place in Wales, taking in some of the country’s most scenic roads – high on the list of the best in the world – and the tight, technical Anglesey race track, which sits on the Irish Sea. While the performance of the V12 Vantage impressed everywhere, it soon became apparent that, for all its power, the engine only speaks in a soft voice.
While the regular V-8-powered Vantage is loud and breezy, the V12 exhibits a much more relaxed disposition. So is the exhaust, which ripples and squeaks at low revs when the engine is working hard, but never develops many muscular bass frequencies. But that also applies to the rest of the car’s dynamic behaviour. Despite sitting on stiffer springs than its V-8 sibling (Aston cites rates being 50 percent firmer in the front and 40 percent in the rear), the V12 Vantage still feels impressively pliable on bumpy surfaces. Even the Track setting of the adjustable dampers doesn’t feel overly harsh for road use.
There were a few refinement issues with the car we drove – some related to its past life as a development car, some not. The loud whine of the differential can probably be attributed to the hard use of development work, and we assume the differences in customer cars won’t sound like that. The V12 Vantage also suffered from a problem we noticed in other carbon-roofed coupes, where certain frequencies of sound were seemingly trapped by the roof, creating a drone that was apparent when cruising at constant speed. Plus, the optional carbon bucket seats traded tight-clamped lateral support for more discomfort after a few hours behind the wheel. Any comfort seeker would do well to consider the standard sports seats instead.
Still, it’s very hard to fault the V12 Vantage in terms of performance. The engine here may make 108 pound-feet less torque than in the DBS, but it still has more than enough muscle to make the car feel monstrously fast. The automatic gearbox’s tendency to upshift well below the red line of 6900 rpm seems to have little effect on acceleration rate.
But it lacks the edgy feel of the V8 Vantage. The lesser car’s active differential pushes torque to the outer wheel during eager cornering, creating an amusing sense of impending oversteer even when the rear tires actually lose traction. The V12’s conventional differential lock doesn’t do that, and it takes a little more effort to turn and corner the car, although the traction from the Pilot Sport 4S tires was impeccable. The steering felt great too, with revised front-end geometry offering a newfound sharpness and precision. The V12’s stock carbon-ceramic brakes withstood repeated heavy use without complaint, although some grumbling could be heard at lower speeds.
Yet there is an undeniable mismatch between the aggression of the V12’s design and the smoothness of its dynamic stance. The huge rear wing is a prime example of this, contributing to a claimed 450 pounds of peak downforce and undoubtedly improving the sense of stability at high speeds. But it also eliminates a fair percentage of the view through the rear window. Aston says it is possible to order the car without the wing, but with a consequent reduction in downforce.
Driving the 3.1-mile circuit in Anglesey reinforced the impression of a Grand Tourer in track-rat clothing, to the extent that we were glad to have experienced the car for the first time on a fast-flowing road, more akin to his favorite environment. Although incredibly fast, the V12 Vantage doesn’t feel like a natural track car. The bike has little trouble motivating its considerable weight – 3,957 pounds in its lightest configuration, according to Aston – but the mass was evident in Anglesey’s tighter corners. The V12 feels heavy in the corners near its limit and needs to be carefully cornered to avoid getting too wide, while the traction control kicks in hard to keep the rear in check.
There’s a more permissive Sport setting for the stability control system, although we soon found that this allows for significant oversteer even at higher speeds, where such flattering modes subtly increase intervention. The result certainly felt exciting, if not particularly elegant. And even the fastest changes of the automatic transmission felt too relaxed on the track compared to the speed of a dual clutch transmission. Just like on the open road, we soon learned that it was easier to shift short and rely on the engine’s wide torque.
The V12 Vantage is a very sympathetic car, but also a bit confused. The combative design suggests it will provide a supercar-baiting driving experience, but the dynamic reality is much closer to Aston’s tradition of comfortable grand tourers, such as a slightly smaller and fractionally slower version of the DBS Superleggera. Choosing to omit the rear wing would of course take a lot of the downforce, but it would also make for a more classically elegant car, one with the visual brilliance to match what’s under the hood. And if enough of those 333 customers go that route, Aston may have to make one more extreme V12 Vantage to use up their stash of gigantic aerodynamic tools. One can dream.
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