Aston Martin hasn’t succeeded in releasing the world’s last new 12-cylinder car, at least not yet. But the Vantage V12 looks set to hit the pub right before owner call time. In a world of cars where everything will soon be at least partly electric, and an ever-increasing percentage of performance cars will be full EV, a new model taking such a road in one speed trip sounds exciting the old thing. This is the classic combination of a small car, big engine and minimal dynamic deflections – rear-wheel drive with a traditional limited-slip differential instead of the active car in the regular V8 Vantage.
The V12 Vantage engine is very expensive. Aston was barely giving up the last-generation car during its two separate rides, but the new car’s price tag of around £270,000 (there’s no exact official figure) makes it double the cost of the 2014 V12 Vantage S. That price is guaranteed by the exclusive limited production series, as Only 333 Vantage V12 engines were built for all markets. But it’s also based on Aston’s realistic assessment that people will really want this car – which is underlined by the fact that the entire range has largely sold out once the car’s existence is confirmed.
While some journalists were driving the V12 on Silverstone and nearby roads, PH’s first turn occurred at the end of scenic Wales. It was a long ride for me, but I was more than happy to have the opportunity to experience uber-Vantage on track in Anglesey and on some of the best roads in Snowdonia. It’s also one of the finest roads anywhere.
By getting to know the circuit at Anglesey, the V12 appears definitively in action. Vantage’s basic form is clearly recognizable, but has been transformed into 11: aggressive mission design rather than discretion. The V12 has a massive radiator grille, which is 25 percent larger than the V8’s and is integrated with front bumper and hood extensions necessary to accommodate the new engine. On top of that, you get a clearly enlarged track and very serious aerodynamic elements to channel air from behind the front arches, and it’s packed with new 21-inch wheels. At the stern there is a huge spoiler and a wide diffuser that takes up a lot of space, and the exhaust pipes are now installed in the middle. The Vantage F1 Edition is hardly timid and retired, but the V12 makes it look as aggressive as the S-Line.
Once in the familiar, much less changed cockpit, I expect the V12 to fire with equal brutality – but it doesn’t. Instead, it comes alive largely when the start button is pressed, without the snarl of a neighbor-hunting V8 or the brittle bark of the old, naturally aspirated V12. The 5.2-liter twin-turbo engine feels big and muscular, with the gentle throttle pedaling creating an impressive amount of bang for the buck. But the faint acoustic character of the car is a constant theme throughout the day.
Long before the A55 makes its way back to the mainland, it’s clear that the V12 chassis is taking an even, soft-spoken approach. As with the V8-powered Vantage, there are separate convertible dynamic modes for the chassis and powertrain, and these modes are still switched via switches on the steering wheel. While the standard car has GT, Sport and Sport Plus, the V12 modes are Sport, Sport Plus and Track. The lower settings, though, actually feel softer than I remember a V8 Coupe, even though the new model sits on stiffer front and rear springs. Steering immediately feels good, even under low-intensity use, with a purity and precision reminiscent of the DBX 707’s modified front end.
However, the refinement isn’t great. There are two reasons for this, the first being that the press car—behind its bulging exterior—has been used previously in development work and picked up a differential whine along the way; One is not available in production versions. The second problem is the one I’ve noticed in some other carbon-roof cars, which is the tendency to trap certain frequencies of noise in the cabin and create a low background drone. The optional carbon bucket seats also started to bite well before hitting the Betwys-y-Coed; Anyone who prefers gentle support should likely stick to standard sports benches.
But these are a slight grumble, soon forgotten once on the lesser-known three-sided driving route of North Wales – what I think of as the Festiniog Triangle. The V12 engine is very fast, but also able to deliver speed without any sense of undue drama. The engine produces less torque than it does on the DBS Superleggera—a peak of 555 lb-ft, 108 lb-ft less—but still manages to effortlessly project the car onto the road. When left in the drive position, the automatic gearbox will make a short shift even with reasonably keen acceleration inputs, but this doesn’t seem to reduce the rate at which the car picks up speed. Controlling the gearbox with paddles and working harder gives the opportunity to experience more of a still-silent soundtrack, but it doesn’t noticeably improve performance. This is one of those cars in which complete throttling on the road will be a rare event.
The ride remains nice with increased loads. There’s very little hint of buoyancy in Sport mode for the suspension over big bumps, but the Sport Plus hits it all without offering any sense of harshness, and even the Track’s expeditionary going proves unforgiving for non-track use.
Increased chassis loads reveal another difference from the regular Vantage, as switching to a conventional limited-slip differential removed the feeling of maximum smoothness from the V8 and its active torque differential. So while the steering provides plenty of frontal bite, it feels as though it takes a little more effort to turn the V12 and stabilize it into faster corners – although once the power hits, there’s plenty of grip from the Pilot Sport 4S’s rear tires. The other grumble about road use is a real grumble: The standard carbon brakes for the V12 test sometimes make a screeching complaint about gentle stops. Most of them happen silently.
The debate about where the Grand Tourer ends and the sports car starts is endless and unwinnable, but – by the time I return to Anglesey – the Vantage V12 certainly looks more like a GT. It’s a very Aston feature, of course – but it looks a bit contrasted with the massive spoiler (which erases a reasonable percentage of the rear view) and carbon ceramic.
While I should never turn down any opportunity to drive the track in Anglesey, especially a one-on-one session in bright sunlight, by the time I’ve finished my first job, I’m happy to try the V12 on the road first. The real world is definitely his happiest place. Despite its enormous speed, the Vantage is definitely not a natural path weapon.
As on the road, speed is easily generated, shortening not so long straights in Anglesey as well as anything else I’ve driven there in the past. The grip is solid and the carbon brakes seem perfectly happy to handle the massive heat loads. There is no difficulty in tying it all together in a quick roll; Any V12 buyers who choose to take their cars to track day will likely be on the sharp end in terms of speed.
But Anglesey’s tighter corners highlight the challenge of convincing the massive V12 to change direction – it’s 1,795kg in its lightest form on Aston numbers. I quickly learn to lower the speed to something close to the minimum corner speed before sending the front end out looking for a vertex; This is not a car that tolerates aggressive braking on the road. It’s also clear that traction control is working hard on its way out of the bends as it tries to keep the torquenami in check, no matter what mode the powertrain is in.
Choosing the more permissive sport mode in the DSC slows down the initial intervention, certainly increases the level of excitement, but also underscores how hard traction management has been. It’s suddenly all too easy to provoke over-steer, even in the fastest corners where the driver’s temptation half-positions tend to over-engage subtly to prevent excessive drama. I felt like there was a very big gap between the modes – too much or too little interference. On the empty dry track, I actually preferred to drive with the DSC turned off completely rather than trust the Sport – this removes the uncertainty of when the system will step in and puts the entire burden on me.
The use of the track also made the gearshift feel distinctly slower than the dual-clutch, with the relatively tight stacking of the eight gearshifts providing plenty of opportunity to try it out. But, as on the road, there is so much grunt that a short haul has little effect on the overall pace.
Even in the circuit, the motor seems a little muted. I was wearing a helmet and experiencing frequent adrenaline surges on the fast lap, and I didn’t notice that much; The exhaust is more than sonic enough to give a good impression of where the V12 is in the rev range. But standing in the lane and listening while someone else drove for a while proved that something was definitely missing when compared to the dazzling noise of some previous Aston V12s; There’s plenty of high-quality zing, but not enough heavy “braaap” bass underneath this one. I’d like more sound and fury, but Aston has to make a car that meets increasingly stringent noise standards – and there’s no doubt the aftermarket will be able to improve the experience for any owner who feels a similar shortfall.
The Vantage V12 is a very likable car, but it’s also a bit confused. Aggressive styling promises a different driving experience from the mature reality of the chassis on the road. A wide rear spoiler might be a vital part of the package providing up to 204kg of maximum downforce, but if it were my name against a design hatch, I would certainly accept Aston’s offer to omit it from the spec. To me, the V12 looks more like the kid of a DBS Superleggera rather than a fire-breathing Vantage-plus. However, a car like this never gets around logical arguments in the spreadsheets – and the emotional appeal of its massive engine and relatively sleek body, as on previous V12-powered Vantages, is still huge and undeniable.
Specifications | Aston Martin Vantage V12
engine: 5204 CC V12, Dual Turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
power (hp): 700 HP @ 6500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 555b ft @ 1800rpm
0-60 mph: 3.4 seconds
maximum speed: 200 mph
Weight: 1795 kg “lightest configuration”
Carbon Dioxide: 315 g/km (estimated)
price: It has not been confirmed, but c. £270,000