- Available for £60,000
- 5.9-litre V12 naturally aspirated, rear-wheel drive
- Early six-speed manuals ride hard but are cheap
- S model's Speedshift III automated manual was better than the II...
- ...but you still had to make allowances for it
- Not huge inside but nicely compact and wieldy on the road
Inserting a 78-litre Cummins twelve-turbo V18 into a Mini pickup might be seen as taking things a bit too far by anyone other than the person who actually did it, but at a less extreme level the idea of installing a relatively big motor into a relatively small car has always been strangely appealing.
Regrettably, not many manufacturers have been indulging in that sort of fun in recent times, but in 2007, fresh from their release from Ford, Aston Martin hinted that they might be about to change all that by shoehorning a detuned 585hp version of the Prodrive-developed DBRS9 dry sump V12 race engine and 6-speed transaxle manual gearbox into their smallest road car, the V8 Vantage. Thanks in part to a selection of go-, stop- and cool-faster parts, including carbon composite brakes from the DBS, a carbon bootlid, carbon bonnet (louvred), diffuser and wing, the V12 Vantage RS concept was 100kg lighter than the 1,630kg V8 Vantage despite its 5.9 V12 motor being 60kg heavier than the 4.3 V8 lump. Positioning the V12 low down and far back in the chassis kept the front:rear balance tight, shifting it from a rear-heavy 48:52 to a nose-heavy but still more than workable 52:48. The fact that it fitted in there at all was a minor miracle given that the Vantage was shorter than a 911.
Anyway, Aston followed up on their Geneva hint and invited selected journos to have a go in the Vantage RS concept at Paul Ricard in 2008. They loved it. Dream cars like that rarely made it to the showroom, but the barrage of inquiries after the Ricard tests justified Aston's decision to turn the 'big into little will go' concept into reality in 2009, when the RS was productionised under the V12 Vantage name after someone noticed that more than one car company was already using ‘RS’ for their halo products.
At 1,680kg the finished V12 Vantage was a little heavier than the RS concept, and the DBS 510hp/420lb ft AM11 V12 engine used in it was a little less powerful than the race motor, but the production car still marched from 0 to 62mph in 4.2 secs and on to a higher final drive-enabled top speed of 190mph in the spookily linear style that big-displacement V12s do so well. It was priced at £135,000, exactly the same as the Ferrari F430. Production was limited to 1,000 cars.
Three years later, in 2012, a V12 Vantage Roadster variant was unveiled. 80kgs worth of chassis stiffening measures took the convertible to 1,760kg and extended the 0-62 time by 0.3sec. A redesigned boot lid and front air intake kept the top speed at 190mph. Only 101 of these manual Roadsters were made, at a new asking price of £150,000 exactly, and it’s thought that just thirty or so of these sought-after ragtops live in the UK.
Pumping out an anti-social 390 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilometer in 2009, the V12 Vantage was never going to be a long-term project, but in spring 2013 a new model based on a revised AM28 version of the 5.9 stepped in to extend the V12’s life – and its performance – in the purposeful guise of the V12 Vantage S. The AM28 was the same capacity as before, with the usual 6.0 on the cover despite the actual displacement being nearer to 5.9, but all the major bits – cylinder block (with machined combustion chambers), crank, valves, springs, pistons, intake manifold, higher compression head, hollow camshafts – were new, as were the oil and water pumps and the Bosch engine management system.
With re-jigged airflow to improve cooling plus new dual variable valve timing, the S generated 563bhp at 6,750rpm. Its torque curve was fatter than the V12 Vantage's right through the rev range, with 457lb ft peaking at 5,750rpm and (Aston claimed) 376lb ft at just 1,000rpm, a useful extra 52lb ft at that point. Aston’s new 7-speed Sportshift III automated manual transaxle transmission replaced the 6-speed manual. 25kg lighter than the Sportshift II, the new trans helped to deliver the S's overall weight saving of 15kg over the straight V12 Vantage.
Less weight and more power obviously meant more performance. One-77 apart, the Vantage S was the fastest accelerating road-going Aston Martin you could get. Maximum speed was lifted to 205mph and the 0-62mph time lowered to 3.9 secs, figures that wouldn't be bettered three years later by the twin-turbo DB11. The deep drainpipe gurgle at idle and thunderhowl at full chat wouldn't be bettered by the DB11 either, or indeed by many other cars you might be able to think of, then or now.
The S’s handling was developed at Aston Martin's Nürburgring test centre, centring on new three-stage adaptive damping, even better carbon ceramic brakes, and a new track mode. Close-to-production spec examples of the S completed the tough 24hrs race in both 2013 and 2014. Styling and aerodynamic changes included a carbon fibre front grille, black roof and rear grille, lightweight forged alloy wheels, and new finishes on the interior seats, doors and controls.
This time around, convertible fans were spared a three-year wait for the open-top version. As before, the 2015MY V12 Vantage S Roadster launched at Pebble Beach in 2014 was 80kg heavier than the coupe at 1,745kg, but its 0-62 time was only 0.2sec slower at 4.1sec and the top speed was marginally down at 201mph. It was priced at £152,526.
In April 2016 Aston announced that the V12 Vantage S would be available with a 7-speed manual transmission incorporating Aston's AMSHIFT tech using clutch, gear position and propshaft sensors to deliver heel-and-toe style downshifts and full throttle upshifts. In case you needed reminding of the dogleg shift pattern on your way into the car – and with this much metal thrashing about around you it was important to get that right – it was engraved on the door sill. At the same time the S received a new Sport-Plus Pack option with new cosmetics inside and out, 10-spoke graphite alloys and new accent colour options for the grille, sills, mirror shrouds and rear diffuser.
A Vantage GT12 limited edition of 100 cars was issued in 2015. Taking styling cues from the V12 Vantage GT3 sports car racer, these cars had 595hp engines with magnesium inlet manifolds and torque tube, a full titanium exhaust, race-style arches and boot wing, and lots of carbon fibre in the lightweight power seats and tailgate infill trim as well as in the cabin and the body panels (front wings, bonnet, door casings and optional roof). You could even have polycarbonate instead of glass for the rear screen and rear quarter windows. Weighing 100kg less than the V12VS the 1,565kg GT12 was arguably the nearest thing to the stripped-back RS concept of 2007. GT12 prices today are not light, however. A 700-mile GT12 is on sale in PH Classifieds at the moment at £329,950.
Interestingly we can make a direct comparison between the GT12 and the RS concept because the one and only road-registered RS01 concept is also up for sale on PH Classifieds at the moment at £295,000. When it was up for auction in July 2018 the estimate was £400k-£500k so you might think it's a bargain now, even taking into account the life it would have lived (the speedo was disconnected for the press tests at Ricard, ahem). It won’t be much good for touring unfortunately as the boot is largely occupied by the oil tank for the dry sump engine. What a thing to have in the garage though.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, telling you about V12 Vantages to buy before we’ve told you whether they’re any good from an ownership point of view. The core proposition does look juicy though. One of Britain's top motoring journos called the V12 Vantage 'one of the best Aston Martins ever'. Another rated the V12 Vantage S above the Porsche 911 GT3 in a Britain's Best Driver's Car contest.
Far be it from us to suggest that, if you’re not even a little bit interested in the idea of an utterly majestic normally aspirated twelve-cylinder engine in an excellent chassis and a beautiful body that carries one of the greatest badges in automotive history, there’s something wrong with you. Assuming that you don’t fall into that unlikely sounding demographic, the possibility of buying a V12 Vantage for not much more than £60,000 may have already hooked you. You just need to find out what, if anything, might lie in wait for the unwary buyer.
SPECIFICATION | ASTON MARTIN V12 VANTAGE (2009-on)
* 2013-on Vantage S
Engine: 5,935cc V12 48v normally aspirated
Transmission: 6-spd manual (*7-spd auto or manual), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510 (*565)@6,500rpm (*6,750)
Torque (lb ft): 420 (*457)@5,750rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 secs (*3.9 secs)
Top speed: 190mph (*204mph)
Weight: 1,680kg (*1,665kg)
MPG (official combined): 17.2 (*19.2)
CO2: 388g/km (*343g/km)
Wheels: 9 x 19in (f), 11 x 19in (r)
Tyres: 255/35 (f), 295/30 (r)
On sale: 2009 - 2018
Price new: £135,000 (*£143,000)
Price now: from £63,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The bark that signals the fire-up of an Aston V12 suggests all kinds of naughtiness ahead. The metallic rasp and grumbly overrun cackle on that first exploratory rev add to the sense of anticipation. It delivers too. Beyond the first inch or so of dead motion there’s terrific throttle response and instant lunge at any rpm whether you’re in the V12V or the S. Committing to shoving the throttle deep and keeping it shoved will deliver new and even more addictive rewards.
All versions of the V12 Vantage had a 'Sport' button that allowed the driver to choose between the Normal default and the Sport mode which gave a sharper throttle response, more initial torque and a sportier exhaust note from all engine speeds, not just from 4,000rpm as in Normal mode. Make sure that button is working. You’ll know as soon as you press it.
The S had three driving modes, Normal, Sport and Track, altering damper firmness, throttle response, gearshift speed and timing, exhaust note and steering assistance. In Normal mode Aston said that the V12 Vantage S became more usable and refined than the V8 Vantage S. In Sport, they said it was dynamically close to the outgoing V12 Vantage. In Track mode they reckoned the S became the hardest-core and fastest production Aston ever.
A Performance Pack version of the S used 1.6kg lighter magnesium manifolds and a 14kg lighter titanium exhaust with a GT12-developed muffler to add 30hp to the output. The Performance Pack came with a new CF rear diffuser and a not inconsiderable price tag of £16,254 inc VAT. Then again it sounded amazing and it provided bootfuls of thrunge from 2,000rpm.
Major engine problems are rare but there have been instances of oil-starvation related failure, the consequences of which can/will be horrific. These V12s do use some oil, so monitoring is important, and you’d do well to heed AM’s advice to change it every 10,000 miles. Make sure that this level of maintenance is marked as having been done on the service history of potential cars for purchase. For reassurance and/or advice on this topic it’s worth having a chat to the folk at Bamford Rose who have a good knowledge of these cars. Aston Martin’s three-year unlimited mileage warranty was extendable and included cover for factory-organised track events.
The girder-thick shaft for the six-speed manual suggested a molasses-heavy change so it came as a pleasant surprise to find that it was lighter than it looked. Ratios are quite short so you’re not limited to the bottom two gears if you want to razz the motor to higher rpm, which you will.
The S began life with Aston's Sportshift automated manual. These transmissions started off poorly with the oil-cooled 6-speed Sportshift I and its slightly silly 'creep' function but they did get progressively better through the lighter, air-cooled Sportshift II and III seven-speeders. They have all been tarred with a fairly nasty brush from the point of view of useability, jerkiness and unpredictability, but if you used the V12 Vantage S’s Sportshift III as the designers would say they intended you to, ie via the paddles, you could get around the D function’s constant attempts to shunt you into a high gear all the time. Making full use of the kickdown function and being prepared to put the effort into learning the upshift points so that you can unload the trans just before each shift will minimise much of the jerkiness. In manual mode there’s a meaty throttle blip on downchanges but if you also happen to have (or have had) a PDK 911 or an S tronic R8 in your stable, you’ll always know that the Aston’s transmission solution is more Championship than Premiership. Owners of V8 Vantage S cars who remember their clunky Sportshift II paddle-shift experience with little enthusiasm shouldn’t shy away from the V12 S however because the newer version is better. The clutch componentry should be checked on any car you’re looking at buying though.
The seven-speed dogleg manual that became part of the S offering from 2016 (after a lot of rumours and counter-rumours) demanded concentration if you were out for a hard thrash and you were still relatively new to the car because it wasn’t always intuitively obvious where the gears sat in the gate. Expensive shifts from fifth to second have been made. It was no problem if you were pottering and able to spend more time thinking about your lever movements, and over time the action became second nature, but on a back to back first-time test drive of the two V12 manuals a six-speed might feel like it had the edge. Did a high-torque 5.9 litre V12 really need seven gears? Probably not, but it was different and you could always ignore first altogether and just work the gate like a regular double-H six.
Servicing intervals for the Aston Martin Vantage V12 S are set at 10,000 miles, and even with nothing extra needing to be done you’ll be lucky to get away with a minor service bill under £800. Better news is that some V12 owners have been achieving average whole-life fuel consumption figures in the low 20s. One app-assisted track test discovered that V12s were using just 24hp at 70mph.
A short-wheelbase car with a shedload of power and torque needs a good chassis, so it’s lucky that the chassis package for both S and non-S V12 Vantages is slick and confidence-boosting.
Unlike the V12 S which had three-stage electronic adaptive suspension, the first V12 had fixed-rate suspension. To reduce float, its chassis ran 15mm lower and was 45 percent stiffer than the V8 Vantage’s. The downside of that big increase in stiffness in cahoots with the extra power of the V12 was occasional difficulty in getting clean traction on a bumpy road. The S’s adaptive damping (with spring rates from the Vanquish) mitigated that through its more nuanced operation and smoother front-to-rear weight transfer. It worked well on both track and tour. Owners of V12 Vantages looking for S-quality suspension will be pleased to hear that specialists can retro-fit the S system to a V12 for around £6k.
The V12 Vantage had a ‘proper’ hydraulically assisted steering rack providing a good wodge of heft at the wheel through corners, if not the same amount of delicacy as the V8. The Servotronic setup on the S was a Vantage first. Linked to the adaptive dampers, it offered two levels of assistance and a degree of accuracy that made relatively light work of catching the powerslides that were on the menu with the two-stage Dynamic Stability Control switched off. Owners who have driven both cars have said that they prefer the steering weight of the S to the non-S in urban driving.
Both V12 Vantages had carbon ceramic brakes that did a better job of blending feel, power and progression than most similar setups. The improved items on the S (adapted from the One-77) were especially effective. Get the discs checked on any car you’re thinking of buying though as a worn one won’t be cheap to replace. You’re looking at £8,500 up front and £7,300 at the back. That includes the pads mind, ha ha. Weighing carbon discs is a good way to establish the level of wear. You should also have a look at the tyres as some low-mileage cars could very well still have the original ones fitted, and tyres do get hard with age.
Matt black lightweight alloys were a popular option even at £3,700 a set because the standard wheels could seem quite dull.
Wieldy, clean, squat and compact – it’s both narrower and shorter than the McLaren 570S – the V12 Vantage is easy to place on the road and fairly easy to park in the multi-storey taking into account the fact that you can’t really see the front of the car. The low seating position and shallow glass don't give the greatest visibility compared to something like a Ferrari 550 but the ‘swan’ doors tilt up on opening so you won’t scrape them on kerbs and the wobbly heatwave issuing through the carbon-framed bonnet perforations should always give you an adrenalin charge.
Compared to the earlier V12V, which was quite soberly painted (although there were some fabulous hues like Fire Red), the V12VS came in a range of quite urgent primary colours, presumably with the intention of taking on the Italians at their shamelessly showy game. James Bond would never countenance any Aston in yellow or Flugplatz Blue, but times move on and if any bodyshape can take a lurid colour it’s a V12 Vantage.
Paint cracking around the door handles is pretty normal. Carbon Pack cars had CF mirror housings and front wing air vents. Scuffs on the front splitter can often be mended with a squirt of lacquer but splits aren’t so amenable to a cheap fix. Lights front and rear are subject to condensation and are expensive to replace.
Short cabins are an Aston trait. Tall or otherwise large passengers will feel snug in a V12 Vantage, just as the first DB7 passengers did in 1994. The 240-litre boot (in both coupe and Roadster) is surprisingly commodious but the rear cabin luggage space and glovebox are a bit tokenistic. In the V12 the small distance from the front to the back of the cabin is the price you pay for the short wheelbase and axle-mounted gearbox that help to make it such a good drive.
Still, there’s good interior width and it’s a beautifully formed environment packed with superbly worked leather and Alcantara. The carbon fibre bucket seats are a really worthwhile option as the standard perches don’t offer anywhere near as much support. The crystal and steel Emotional Control Unit (keyfob to the rest of us) is a lovely thing that will always look good on a pub table as and when they open up again. Some might wish that the manual gearstick was slightly further forward and topped by something a bit less over-engineered but the lovely fly-off handbrake is a nice compensation for that.
The S was given touch-sensitive controls for its centre console but they're not the easiest to operate. Its 600 watt standard sound system was very good, but a 1000 watt B&O upgrade was available. It can be hard to pin down what ‘standard’ means on 2017-on cars, any of which could have gone through the Q Commission bespoke customisation arm that was launched in February of that year. The S’s AM II infotainment system included real time power and torque readouts as well as Apple CarPlay and an improved sat nav. There was a Bluetooth streaming module upgrade issued in the mid-2010s that’s well worth having. Aircon systems have been known to lose all their gas.
So, having got to the end of this piece and realised that both the 2009-13 510hp V12 Vantage and the 2013-on 565hp V12 Vantage S combine supercar performance and looks with the agility of much less powerful cars, the obvious question you now face is ‘which one should I go for?’.
Unfortunately, it’s not a straightforward price thing because there’s a lot of overlap between the two models. If you secretly want to be tipped in the direction of the earlier V12, you could characterise it as more ‘analogue’ than the V12 S, maybe rawer, and with its less emissions-restrictive ECU maybe more responsive. On the other hand, the S is newer, more powerful and has better suspension. Even in comfort mode the S might feel a trifle nobbly but that’s not the same as uncomfortable. It’s a great compromise between sporty and tour-y.
If you must have a manual, you’ll quickly notice that S cars with the dogleg 7-speed stick shift are very thin on the ground. That’s not much of an issue as there’s nowt much wrong with a 6-speed V12 manual. As noted earlier, you could modify one to S level or better, combining the six-speed box with the S suspension to produce what might well have been the best V12 Vantage if only they’d built it at the factory, but the cost of doing that yourself might only serve to make the S look like even better value for money that it already does.
If you’re on a limited budget, the good news is that the straight V12 manuals are, at the moment at least, the most financially accessible cars. With what would be classed as above average mileages (ie up to 40,000) they now start from not much more than £60,000 after a big drop in values a year or two ago. That seems peculiar as ‘high’ mileages are arguably better than crazily low ones on these cars, plus many Astonistas are of the view that the first manual non-S is in fact the best all-round V12 Vantage. ‘Best’ is a subjective term of course but even if we take that variable out of it we are still talking about V12 manuals here. Just saying ‘V12 manual’ should be enough to fling you back to the glory days of Italian thoroughbreds of half a century ago. Here you’ve got a V12 manual with a super-premium badge, great handling, high net worth interior and a very good mechanical record, all for sixty thousand. Need a pinch? You’d have to be quite an optimist to imagine these values dropping much further.
The most affordable V12 we saw anywhere in the UK during our research was a privately-owned 2011 38k car in black at £63,000, while a dealer example from 2012 with 30,000 miles was just under £70k. The PH Classifieds you can get this 2013 black on black coupe with 37,000 miles and a new clutch fitted just over a year ago for £72,990. The dearest V12 coupe we found was a 24,000-mile 2011 Carbon Black edition car in orange at a pound under £90k, but the most expensive overall was this 7,000 mile 2012 Roadster at a hefty £129,995, which (along with the low numbers on sale) reflects the rarity and strong appeal of the open-top six-speed manuals. If a dogleg Roadster is the only car for you then Andy Palmer’s 2016 S should do the trick. With under 11,000 miles and the sort of spec you might expect from AM’s former CEO it’s £139,950.
As noted above, the vast majority of V12 S cars are Sportshift IIIs. The cheapest we found was a 13,000-mile 2014 car at £72,500, with a good choice of pre-2018 cars available between that price point and £95k. Here’s a nice 16,000-miler from 2014 in the standout shade of Chiltern Green at £86,950. The dearest S (outside of GT12s) was a 2018 Red Bull Racing Edition dogleg with just 65 miles covered at £189,950. If you’re happy to go take an auto and save £30k in the process there’s another low-mile RBR on PH's Classifieds at £159,850.
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