Aston Martins generally remind me of Siamese cats: fairly nimble when they need to be but generally more content to sit around looking gorgeous.
The Vantage has always been more of a lynx, a wilder and more athletic member of the family. Except for the very limited-edition and sold-out Aston Martin One-77, the Vantage is the most driver-focussed range in the British sports car maker’s line up, and now it’s available in an even more voracious V12 S as the new flagship.
In a world where V12s are becoming an endangered species in favour of smaller, force-fed powerplants, Aston Martin is one of few sports car makers still offering an engine with a double-sixpack of cylinders. In its latest iteration, the normally-aspirated 5.9-litre unit produces outputs of 421kW and 620Nm – a significant power hike over the standard Vantage V12 which had 380kW and 570Nm on call.
This gives the S a claimed top speed of 330km/h and 0-100km/h sprint in just 3.9 seconds, making it the second quickest-accelerating production Aston Martin yet, behind only the One-77.
Visually identifying the V12 S as the head honcho in the Vantage range is a carbonfibre grille inspired by the recently-unveiled Aston Martin CC 100 Speedster concept. It also wears bespoke forged alloy ten-spoke wheels, whilst retaining its predecessor’s pronounced bonnet vents.
The design brief was to make this the best handling Aston Martin, says Ian Minards, the company’s director of product development. To this end the V12 S is equipped with quicker steering and three-stage adaptive damping – a first for the Vantage family – which allows the driver to select between Normal, Sport and Track modes. There’s also a Sport button that enhances throttle and gearshift responses and opens the exhaust’s throat for a more bellowing holler.
My stint behind the wheel at the international media launch in Palm Springs did nothing to repudiate Minards’ claim. California’s twisty mountain passes revealed an Aston Martin in touch with its dark side, and it’s the sportiest car I’ve yet driven from the legendary British stable.
A big V12 engine under the bonnet conjures concerns of possible nose-heaviness, but this Aston is nothing of the sort. The car zigzags through twisy roads with an alert, quick-turning nature. The nose tucks neatly into turns, the hydraulically-assisted steering wheel feels alive in your hands, and the carbon ceramic discs allow heroically late braking.
In contrast to the grand touring nature of most Aston Martins, the Vantage V12 S is a flat-out sports car that competes head on with the likes of Ferrari’s 458 and Porsche’s 911.
Unfortunately it’s equipped with an old-fashioned automated-manual transmission which makes slow and jerky gearshifts. Aston Martin contends that this seven-speed unit is much lighter than the dual-clutch transmissions being used by rival manufacturers, but if you’ve ever experienced the lightning-quick shifts of a dual-clutch Porsche or Ferrari, the Vantage’s power pauses can become exasperating, especially in normal-paced commuting in automatic mode.
The harder you drive it and the more you learn to properly time manual changes, the better this transmission feels, however. When driving in full-blitz mode, the hard-hitting nature of the gearshifts adds a fittingly aggressive feel to proceedings and gives the beast an angrier nature.
This isn’t a benign, please-everybody sort of sports car, but one with a more capricious personality that attracts drivers of a more purist persuasion. The jerky gearbox certainly makes this a car you won’t want for your daily drive. That said, the ride quality’s more than bearable and though stiff, the suspension’s not set to spine-jarring levels.
The weight saving delivers the goods in terms of handling and acceleration. Punching the throttle delivers most agreeable g-forces as you get squeezed into your bucket seat with chest-caving urgency. Along with its manic acceleration the V12 has momentous mid-range muscle in higher gears.
A hardcore sports car needs a matching voice, and this Vantage delivers with an aggressive 12 cylinder symphony that echoes alluringly off mountain pass walls.
Aston Martins are about automotive jewellery and the eight-year old Vantage, while perhaps showing some laugh lines here and there, has aged gracefully. The two-seater cockpit radiates understated class with its glass key and double-stitched leather, but can be fired-up with an optional carbonfibre interior pack and black pedals. The satnav system, like the transmission, isn’t the most user-friendly thing in the world however, and here some of the age lines are showing.
The Aston Martin V12 S will go on sale in South Africa within the next couple of weeks at an estimated R2.9-million pricetag. The importers, Daytona Group, are already taking orders for the car, which will be sold with a three-year/unlimited mileage warranty and service plan. -Star Motoring