Pictures: Alex Tapley
The blueprint is familiar territory; the 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 from the larger DB11 and DBS Superleggera dove into the front of the much smaller Vantage, producing 690 hp and 550 Nm of torque. Enough for a 0-100 km/h time in the mid-three and the double-ton, given the space and lack of applicable laws. A wider body. Aero out there. No hybrid, no real efforts to save fuel, no regrets and no excuses. An outrageous swagger of a car that undermines the usual subtleties of Aston Martin’s image.
You won’t be confused about which Vantage you’re watching, that’s for sure. A 40mm track extension doesn’t sound like much, but the new V12 looks thick and wide, the impression of serious intensity enhanced by a decidedly indiscreet array of exterior tweaks. Subtle, it isn’t. This is a car that carries its performance like a glittering diamanté knuckleduster. Starting at the front, there’s a new carbon fiber front bumper and hood – now with a slant-cut horseshoe-shaped air vent at the front – and carbon front wings joined at the rear by a new one-piece carbon fiber side skirt “inspired by motorsport”. on the roof and rear bumper and venturi are new (yes, carbon fibre), as are the integrated twin pipes of the center-exhaust exhaust system, which is made of real metal, albeit thinner than usual to save weight.
Then there’s the big wing plucked onto the carbon tailgate, making the V12 Vantage look like it’s actually more comfortable in color scheme than red paint. Interestingly, you can choose the V12 without it, and once you’ve seen it bare and in a more austere color, I doubt the ironing board will be on the agenda. Especially when you learn that, according to Aston, the V12 has “similar levels of high-speed stability” without the wing (though less overall downforce). The whole thing apparently produces 204kg of downforce at 200mph, but you could also tell me it shoots invisible unicorns out of the exhaust at 200mph because I can’t prove that without renting an airport or risking jail.
Still, with all that carbon, the V12 should almost make up for the weight of the 12-cylinder relative to the V8, right? The new exhaust apparently saves 7.2 kg, the optional carbon seats 7.3 kg, the standard carbon-ceramic brakes 23 kg. The kind of proudly noticed details that speak of obsessive weight savings. But the seats are still partially electric – there’s a pull cord for the base, motors for the backrest and a full set of now partially redundant controls on the center console. The car still weighs at least 150 kg more than a V8 Coupé. erm.
You will also be a little disappointed with the interior. The carbon-backed seats look great and are surprisingly comfortable, but the bit you’re looking at – the dashboard itself – can’t be felt, frankly. In a car costing well over a quarter of a million pounds, the small, stuck-on central display is very outdated and the center console looks like someone filled a shotgun with buttons and then fired it at the dashboard. We cannot and should not let Aston Martin go at these kinds of prices. Sticking a ‘V12’ badge in the middle of the mess of switches isn’t enough to distract.
Still, no one buys this thing for the coherence of the button strategy, except those labeled “start.” It does not disappoint. Foot on the brake and push hard, and you’ll hear a humming hum of fuel pumps before the engine fires. It doesn’t come alive like the V8 cars, but comes alive with a higher pitch. Only then does he puff like a drunken lion through the exhaust. This is good. Plug in ‘D’ and you’re on the move, eight-speed ZF auto, smart and nimble enough to trawl without a hitch or a fuss. It takes a while to get used to everything and the first impressions are good.
There are three modes, Sport, Sport+ and Track, and the lower settings are stiff but not uncomfortable. Looking at the specs, it should ride like a marble skateboard; The front spring rates are 50 percent higher, the rear wheels are 40 percent higher, there are 13 percent stiffer top mounts, and there’s a new bushing and geometry, as well as recalibrated settings for the active dampers and steering to make the car ultra-responsive. Open the trunk and there’s even a strut bridge that looks like a piece of industrial pipe welded between the rear turrets. It’s not pretty, but it shows the intent. And yet the V12 is capable of normal use without too much trouble – it’s not spoiled, but it’s serviceable. Straight and good view of the road, switch between modes, drop two gears via the left paddle and floor it. My face flashes silently through the entire repertoire of facial expressions of an insane street mime: surprise, shock, disbelief and finally outright fear.
I forgot I had the traction control turned off, and what started out as a slippery wheel spin has suddenly become a thick, noxious cloud of vaporized Michelin Pilot 4S. There is power here. Raise the speed — the traction is firm again — and there’s that usual Vantage shift as you go faster: which feels dense and a little heavy sourdough as the speed increases, until you’re driving something that feels largely like another car. It loses perceived mass in direct relation to how hard you press the accelerator. It also has a tremendous amount of grip if you don’t try to provoke it, sharp steering helps the car bend where you want it to. But it’s hard to keep the car on a leash if there are bumps anywhere nearby – even on the softest damper setting, the car bounces, causing the rear tires to flare and you have to work for every inch. The V12 doesn’t spin like a chainsaw, it takes some time to build up and lose its internal momentum, collecting its power and turbo torque in a measured way. Once it gets going, it is palpably immense. But he doesn’t like to lose revs: break traction and you can’t just click the accelerator to reduce the excess, because the engine doesn’t act like a switch. That makes this car better in big corners on the verge of grip, rather than the short, sharp jerks of your typical B-road.
After a few hours of driving on different types of roads, that gets a bit frustrating. Bluntly and counterintuitively, while the V12 does travel quite a bit, it doesn’t feel quite as fast compared to some of its contemporaries. The way the V12 makes power is a wave, an open-hand slap of silk revs that builds up as it approaches the red line. But the car is a fist of a thing, and feels like it needs a little faster revs, more powerful, more aggressive. An engine that attacks from the get-go, rather than delivers with V12 refinement. The V8 F1 Edition has basically the same performance stats apart from a tenth or two of gears and 5mph less top end – not enough to make a huge difference in feel – and it feels more intrusive and perky, more for it. As for the sound, it’s really nice, a heaving wail that feeds on its own urgency as it gathers, but it won’t mind the hairs on your neck like the 2009 non-turbocharged original. It may lose some vocal range due to the damping effect of the turbos, but it could have been a bit naughtier.
It loses perceived mass in direct relation to how hard you press the accelerator.
Competition with the surgical Porsche 911 Turbo S? No not really. The Aston is a theatrical thing, where the Porsche is utterly brilliant, but a little obsessed with Getting It Done. The Aston thunders by making faint operatic sounds and pleasing the audience, while the Porsche disappears from the stage with the aural excitement of a large dog coughing up a lung. It’s not that the V12 isn’t fast – it is – but it’s a challenging car to drive and feels much more old-fashioned.
The big car/small engine philosophy used to be a little different in that the ‘big’ engine generally meant the much more powerful one. An intentional mismatch between muscle and mass. The V12 is still the most powerful Vantage, but not the fiercest. Bluntly, this is not the best, most balanced Vantage. That wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not – quite – crazy enough either. It’s a bit of an outlier, framed by specificity, bandwidth narrowed. It would shine on big, flowing roads and racetracks where it could soar through turns at ridiculous amounts of speed, the V12 was tight and clear in its comfort zone. But the UK isn’t the place where you can often make the most of it, other than making glorious senseless noises on Kensington High Street. Logic and emotion are not always best friends. Sometimes they argue, and something objective, logically flawed is slapped in the face by something subjective, strangely brilliant. But the V12 Vantage doesn’t feel like it offers anything ridiculously unique, and that’s a bit of a shame.
The overkill here is to be celebrated, endorsed and enjoyed, but done with the acceptance that this is a caricature. And it makes no difference anyway; the 333-car run has already sold out, presumably for people who understand the flaws but enjoy the fireworks. And like a firecracker, this is the V12 that goes out with a bang and then fades to black – ex-Aston boss Tobias Moers said this car will be the last of the V12 Vantages as more efficient powertrains enter the Aston Martin portfolio. One last blast for the lucky few, but you get the feeling it’s the right decision.