One last breath: the Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Pictures: Alex Tapley

The plane is familiar territory; the 5.2-liter twin-turbo V12 from the larger DB11 and DBS Superleggera was introduced at the front of the much smaller Vantage, producing 690 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. Enough for a 0-62 mph time in the middle of three and a double ton, given the space and lack of applicable laws. A larger body. There aero. No hybrid, no real attempts at fuel efficiency, no regrets and no excuses. An outrageous swagger of a car that subverts the usual subtleties of Aston Martin’s image.

You won’t be confused as to which Vantage you’re looking at, that’s for sure. A 40mm extension in track width doesn’t sound like much, but the new V12 looks thick and wide, the impression of serious face intensity amplified by a decidedly prying set of exterior modifications. Subtle, it is not. It’s a car that carries its performance like a glittering brass knuckles. Starting at the front, there’s a new carbon fiber front bumper and bonnet – now with a horseshoe-shaped vent at the front – and carbon fiber front fenders linked to the rear by a new “motorsport-inspired” one-piece carbon side skirt. There’s carbon on the roof, and the rear bumper and venturi are new (yup, carbon fiber), as are the integrated twin pipes of the central exit exhaust system, which is made of real metal, although thinner than usual to save weight.

Then there’s the big wing sitting on the carbon trunk lid, which makes the V12 Vantage look like it could be more comfortable in livery rather than red paint. Interestingly, you can choose the V12 without, and once you see it bare and in a more subdued color, I doubt the ironing board is on the agenda. Especially when you learn that, according to Aston, the V12 has “similar levels of high-speed stability” without the wing (although less overall downforce). The set apparently produces 204kg of downforce at 200mph, but you could also tell me it pulls invisible unicorns out of the exhaust at 200mph, because I can’t prove that either without renting an airfield or risking the prison.

Still, with all that carbon, the V12 must be close to offsetting the weight of the 12 cylinder over 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 noted minutiae that speak of obsessive weight gain. But the seats are still partly electric – there’s a pull strap for the base, motors for the seatback and a full set of now partly redundant controls on the center console. The car still weighs at least 150 kg more than a V8 coupé. Uh.

You will also be slightly disappointed with the interior. The carbon-backed seats look amazing and are surprisingly comfortable, but what little you’re looking at – the dash itself – is downright out of touch. In a car costing well over a quarter of a million pounds the small glued center screen has aged badly and the center console looks like someone stuffed a shotgun with buttons then just fired it on the dashboard. At this kind of price, we can’t – and shouldn’t – let Aston Martin down. Sticking a “V12” badge amid the mess of switches isn’t enough to distract.

Yet no one buys this thing for the consistency of button strategy except for the one marked “start”. This one does not disappoint. Step on the brake and press hard, and you’ll hear a priming roar from the fuel pumps before the engine starts. It doesn’t bark through life like V8 cars, but launches with a higher pitch. Only then does he puff through the exhaust like a drunken lion. Its good. Hit ‘D’ and you’re on the move, ZF eight-speed automatic smart and deft enough to trawl without any hiccups, no fuss. A bit of tinkering for a while to get used to everything and first impressions are good.

There are three modes, Sport, Sport+ and Track, and the lower controls are stiff but not uncomfortable. If you look at the specs, it should ride like a marble skateboard; front springs are up 50%, rears are 40, there are 13% stiffer upper stays and there are new bushings and geometry, plus recalibrated settings for the active dampers and steering to make the super responsive car. Open the trunk and there’s even a spacer that looks like a welded industrial pipe between the rear towers. It’s not pretty, but it shows the intent. And yet the V12 is capable of normal use without too much effort – it’s not comfortable, but it’s usable. Right and light piece of road, switch between modes, drop two gears via the left paddle and put it on the ground. My face silently passes through the entire repertoire of facial expressions of a crazed street mime: surprise, shock, disbelief and finally outright fear.

I forgot I had the traction control turned off, and what started as wheelspin is suddenly a thick, noxious cloud of Michelin Pilot 4S evaporated. There is power here. Turn up the speed — traction is firmly restored — and there’s that usual Vantage change as you go faster: what feels dense and a little heavy lifting as the speed increases, until you’re riding something that largely looks like a different car. It loses perceived mass in direct relation to how hard you press the accelerator. It also has enormous grip if you don’t try to provoke it, precise steering helping to arc the car where you want it. But it’s hard to get the car to hold to a line if there are bumps anywhere in the vicinity – even in the softest damper setting the car will jump, flaring the rear tires and making you work for every inch. The V12 doesn’t rev like a chainsaw, it takes a while to build and lose its internal momentum, gathers its power and turbo torque in a measured way. Once launched, it is obviously huge. But it doesn’t like to lose revs: break traction and you can’t just close the throttle to smooth out the excess, because the engine doesn’t react like a switch. This makes this car better at big corners experienced at the edge of grip, rather than the short, snappy bumps of your typical B-road.

After a few hours of driving on different types of roads, it gets a bit frustrating. Quite frankly and counterintuitively, while the V12 shifts well, it doesn’t feel as fast compared to some of its contemporaries. The way the V12 produces power is a wave, a bare-handed smack of silky revs that builds as you approach redline. But the car is a fist of a thing, and it feels like it needs something faster, more punchy, more aggressive. An engine that attacks from the start, rather than delivering with V12 sophistication. The V8 F1 Edition has essentially the same performance stats except for a tenth or two less acceleration and 5mph – not enough to make a huge difference in feel – and it feels more insistent and perky , more ready for it. As for the noise, it’s really nice, a moan that feeds on its own urgency as it gathers, but it won’t make the hairs on the back of your neck come to attention. like the non-turbo 2009 original. Maybe he loses some vocal range due to the choke effect of the turbos, but it could have been a bit meaner.

It loses perceived mass in direct relation to how hard you press the accelerator.

Competition with the surgical Porsche 911 Turbo S? Not really. The Aston is a theatrical thing, where the Porsche is utterly brilliant, but a bit obsessed with getting it done. The Aston flies by making light operatic noises and pleasing the crowd, while the Porsche disappears to the left with all the aural excitement of a big dog coughing up a lung. It’s not that the V12 isn’t fast – it is – but it’s a tough car to drive and feels much more old school.

The big car/small engine philosophy was a bit different, in that “big” engine usually meant more powerful. An intentional mismatch of muscle to mass. The V12 is still the most powerful Vantage, but it’s not exactly the fiercest. Frankly, it’s not the best Vantage, the most balanced. Which wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not – quite – quite silly either. It’s a bit of an outlier, framed by specificity, narrowed bandwidth. It would shine on flowing highways and racetracks where it could squeeze around corners with ridiculous speed, the V12 sat tight and shining in its comfort zone. But the UK isn’t where you can get the most out of it very often, short of making gloriously unnecessary noise on Kensington High Street. Logic and emotion aren’t always best friends. Sometimes they argue, and something objectively, logically flawed gets punched in the face by something subjectively, oddly brilliant. But the V12 Vantage doesn’t feel like it’s offering anything ridiculously unique, and that’s a bit of a shame.

The exaggeration here should be celebrated, approved and appreciated, but accepting that it is a caricature. And it makes no difference anyway; the 333-car run has already been sold, presumably to people who understand the flaws, but appreciate the fireworks. And like a firework, it’s the V12 that goes out with a bang and then a fade to black – former Aston boss Tobias Moers says this car will be the last of the V12 Vantages as more efficient powertrains are entering the Aston Martin portfolio. One last breath for the lucky ones then, but you have a feeling it’s the right decision.

About Ellie Cohn

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