“This is the car the 911 could have been!” It takes quite a lot for PH to turn down a slice of apple pie. But a chance to ride alongside Aston Martin boss Ulrich Bez at a coffee stop on the launch for
the V12 Vantage S
is too good to miss. Especially when he’s in full flow. “It is absolutely everything I always wanted in an Aston Martin!” he continues in a brief pause before another Banzai overtake and howl of rung-out V12.
See, colours other than yellow are offered
As retirement presents go it beats an engraved pocket watch, that’s for sure.
But better than a 911? Really?
As it stands the V12 Vantage S is flicked vees at both the new GT3 and Turbo S and represents a very exciting way to spend £140K if you fear the latest uber Porsches have traded tech for soul.
Let’s get this out of the way first. The V12 Vantage isn’t perfect. But incremental engineering changes mean it’s a night and day step up from the previous V12 Vantage. And what niggles remain can now be more generously appraised as characterful than irritating.
Levering that signature 6.0-litre V12 into the Vantage was a long-held dream of Bez’s. Many at Aston said it couldn’t be done. After emerging white faced from driving it a few might have wished it hadn’t. It wasn’t a bad car. And it was definitely an exciting one. But the leap from that car to this new Vantage S shows just how much room for improvement there actually was.
And if you fear fast cars have gotten a bit aloof and uninvolving this is the vehicle you need in your life.
573hp here and 205mph potential
First impressions aren’t great though. Now solely equipped with a seven-speed Sportshift III automated manual – transaxle mounted and now air cooled – progress through Palm Springs traffic is punctuated by the kind of head-noddingly slow ‘auto’ shifts most would consider a relic of a bygone age. A lift mitigates the worst but in auto mode you have to try and second guess when this is going to happen.
You’ll forgive this car pretty much anything the first time you open the taps though. AMG tie-up and turbo engines on the horizon or not it reasserts Aston’s place as a builder of cars that can be both classy and uncouth.
If it’s muted and weighed down in the Rapide, DB9 and Vanquish in the Vantage the Aston V12 is finally let off the leash. Based on the significantly revised AM11 in the Vanquish but described as AM28 thanks to a heavily reworked ECU it’s animalistic as you’d hope. The peakiness blunted in the bigger, heavier models is negated and there’s a ferocious appetite for revs not seen in other applications. You can pootle around in D without having pressed the Sport button and think this was a reasonably refined car.
S brings adaptive dampers to the Vantage range
But with the exhausts opened and the new backbox bypassed it’s suitably bonkers, the relative lack of weight letting the car pick up speed like no other V12 Aston and with it the revs spinning up from a bassy, muscular tickover through angry mid-range to frankly terrifying top end. It’s at its best if you shift up before getting too close to the redline, keeping it in the 5,000rpm range where its most potent output lurks.
By which point you’re going quick enough to be considering the implications of a night or two with Bubba in the cells if the Highway Patrol are waiting. Because they’ll have heard you coming from some distance away.
The previous V12 Vantage did all this too of course. But never quite felt able to put its excess of power down properly, hampered by over-stiff springs and a choppy ride. The wet roads of Wales are a very different testing ground from the arid Californian desert but previous experience of a death grip on the wheel and constant flashing from the DSC light is forgotten as the Vantage shows a new level of sophistication. Yes, it can actually deal with the power now. Which is nice.
Black 'centenary grille' marks S out from the front
The changes are extensive if relatively subtle, adding up to a big change in character. The Graziano ’box and new rear silencer (little used in our tenure) chop, respectively, 25kg and 7kg from the rear of the car, shifting the weight balance forwards a little to 52:48 from 51:49. Springs have been backed off by around five per cent, the Sport mid setting on the three-stage adjustable dampers equating approximately with the previous fixed rate passive items. Air cooling for the gearbox means three extra horsepower going to the wheels rather than the previous oil cooling circuit, like they were needed, and the V12 Vantage S gets Servotronic steering for the first time. Aston changed the previous 17:1 rack to a 15:1 item used in the Rapide and Vanquish with the Vantage S and ‘MY12.5’ Vantage upgrades and though faster geared it's lighter, making the front end feel much more direct than before.
Yep, it's paddles or nothing in the V12 S
Weighting varies according to which of the three damper modes you’ve selected but unless you’ve really over-estimated your corner entry speed the extra 80kg of the V12 engine over the V8 and its position over rather than behind the steering rack rarely translate into nose-heavy understeer.
And, even if you have, the ability to trail the brakes with your left foot and pick up the throttle early with your right means it’s easy to dial this out. Meanwhile the ‘Track’ mid-way DSC setting allows you to exploit the short wheelbase and punchy torque delivery without expensive excursions into the undergrowth. True hairy chested heroes can, of course, switch it off entirely and be rewarded with oversteer on demand.
Meaning for all the blunderbuss subtly of such a massive engine in a relatively tiny car the V12 Vantage S has a much broader operating window. You can tickle it along in the quiet exhaust mode, short shifting and riding the torque and make relatively discreet but still massive progress. Or open it all up, go mental and enjoy one of the most thrilling powertrains around.
Uprated Brembos use tech from One-77
Do you miss the manual? Actually no. It was always a bit unwieldy anyway, the paddles allowing you to focus more on the rest of the car and the gritty, mechanical nature of the automated manual meaning there’s still plenty of interaction even if you’re not actually moving the clutch yourself. Hypocritical after all the GT3 soul searching? Not really; it’s a question of the right gearbox in the right car and the combination of significant weight saving and a punchy, exciting power delivery mean it’s the appropriate transmission for this car.
And that’s what it’s all about. Manufacturers talk a lot about reducing noise, vibration and harshness but in the V12 Vantage S’s case these seem attributes to celebrate and enjoy, not smother behind electronic smokescreens, flatter with driver assistance gizmos and mask with sound proofing.
Going fast should be exciting and, just every now and then, a little bit scary. The V12 Vantage S celebrates this, and in spectacular style. So we’ll forgive a Bez a bit of hyperbole and let him live out his retirement in fitting style.
ASTON MARTIN V12 VANTAGE S
Engine: 5,935cc V12
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 573@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457@5,750rpm
0-62mph : 3.7sec
Top speed: 205mph
Weight: 1,740kg (with 75kg driver)
MPG: 19.2mpg (NEDC combined)