The Aston Martin brand has been fraught with more than enough drama to rival the James Bond movie franchise. The company has exchanged hands countless times, with powerful, visionary and equally enigmatic men steering the carmaker to where it is now.
Which brings us to today, and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S. Admittedly, this Aston isn’t a technological tour de force. Neither does it have a successful production-based motorsports pedigree. Or the drama and flair of a full-on tempestuous Italian exotic.
No, this one has a totally unique character, as I will find out during my 24-hour stint with it.
The chassis is a strong, light bonded aluminum structure tied together by special adhesives—somewhat similar to how Lotus assembles its cars. The engine is Aston Martin’s own, codenamed AM28, hand-built and finished in house. Final inspection of this fell to a Mister Dan Rhodes. And if I ever meet Mr. Rhodes, I’ll buy him all the beer, scotch or whatever he prefers, because by George…the engine is simply amazing!
Power output from the dry sump 6.0-liter normally aspirated, quad-cam 48-valve V12 is a whopping 565hp and 630Nm. A compression ratio of 11.1:1 plus four catalysts ensure that this Aston meets the most stringent emissions regulations the world over. Sadly, natural aspiration will soon be dead. Or at least, few and far between, as car manufacturers scramble to deliver heady, stratospheric horsepower levels, while keeping weight, emissions and fuel consumption down—something easily achieved by forced induction. But before we ring the death knell for the big burly V12, this Aston Martin gives it a final hurrah!
Power is transferred exclusively to the rear wheels via a rear transaxle-equipped Sportshift III single-clutch automated manual. Placing the entire transmission out back helps improve weight distribution as well. Aside from stability and traction control, sticky Pirelli tires mounted on 19x11-inch rears and 19x9-inch fronts and a limited slip differential also aid traction and handling.
The shape is also equally pleasing. It’s a classic front-engined GT that seats two comfortably. The long hood, fastback rear with integrated ducktail spoiler, and bulging fender flares all look like sex on wheels. In terms of appearance, it's very different from an Audi, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini. Interestingly, the Vantage was built as a more hard-core model to compete with these aforementioned brands. And while sales figures might say otherwise, Aston has definitely succeeded, because the overall aural experience is second to none.
The engine initially grabs your attention. Rather, it grabs you by your lapels, slaps you silly, then throws you over its shoulders with savage brutality. Power builds up very smoothly and progressively, yet also very quickly. You will suddenly find the limits of the rear 19-inch Pirelli P-Zero Corsa track-day tires. In fact, were it not for the electronic driving aids, I’d have swapped ends multiple times as I powered my way out of intersections, U-turn slots or roundabouts facing oncoming traffic.
After you get used to the power, you realize the brakes are also equally impressive. Brembo calipers—six-piston fronts and four-piston rears—grab massive carbon-ceramic matrix discs to provide eye-popping and fade-free retardation, hauling down the Aston back to legal speeds just as easily as the V12 accelerates it to three times the limit. If I were to raise a complaint, it’s that the brakes are a tad difficult to modulate at low to medium speeds—typical of almost all carbon-ceramic brake setups. But it’s a minor concern. At serious speeds, it somehow becomes second-nature.
Then there’s the suspension. Bilstein dampers suspend the Aston, and the damping rate can be stiffened by pushing the sport setting. I do find the regular touring setting a tad too stiff and jumpy already. And the rear—despite the Aston possessing an almost perfect 49:51 front-to-rear weight distribution—can be a bit lively at speed. Best to reserve that sport suspension setting for race tracks. But in normal mode, it feels comfortable enough for daily use.
Finally, the steering: the front tires ask for a decent amount of effort, but feel lively and organic. There’s a bit of tramlining, as to be expected from a car with front tires wider than most rear tires—or any tires for that matter. But my goodness, it feels alive in the most positive way possible! Feel, feedback and accuracy are excellent—and it’s surprisingly quick. It’s not muted, doesn’t filter out the niggles on the road as well as a more modern sports car (a Ferrari 488 or a Porsche 911 GT3 RS have excellent steering feel, yet are able to filter out the nuances on the road), but it feels right, it feels proper. It feels like—pardon the cliché—a brute in a suit.
The inside is equally impressive. The speedometer and rev counter dominate the interior, with the former rotating counter-clockwise and making the two needles meet. The steering wheel is wrapped in suede, with paddle shifters behind it, and it adjusts for reach and rake. Despite coming with fixed back bucket seats, there’s adjustment fore and aft, plus a tilt function which makes the interior a very comfy place to be in. A rear shelf adds useful cargo space, and the trunk is surprisingly huge. Just don’t put eggs though, as the exhaust underneath the will cook these in an instant.
I love the Aston. And I mean I love it. The sound is very sensual and energetic at the same time. I can’t decide if I’m being transported to a dark room with cuffs and a very young nubile female (think Fifty Shades of Grey), or at the Circuit de la Sarthe for a 24 Hours of Le Mans race. I keep flooring it, slowing down, then flooring it again, simply to hear the cacophony of engine noise and the mild backfire from the exhaust on trailing throttle. You need to work to get the most out of the Aston, and you need to respect it lest it kidney-punches you before tossing you over a cliff.
This Aston has true character, something that tends to get lost in the pursuit of speed and performance. In a time that that's all about convenience and instant gratification, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S redefines the true joy of motoring.