Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT8 and V12 Vantage S Track Drive

Brutal and Brutally Expensive Brothers

NURBURG, Germany  This is not the infamous Nordschleife Green Hell, but the tarred, broad catwalk that is Nürburgring's Grand Prix track. We're here with the all-new Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT8 in green-and-lime flavor and an orange-over-white V12 Vantage S. Both were born in the surrounding Eifel Mountains where Aston Martin's deputy R&D chief Wolfgang Schuhbauer honed the limited-edition models.

The V8 Vantage GT8 is, according to Herr Schuhbauer, "a focused track tool which makes it very clear that performance is its top priority." Every time you blip the throttle, its engine seems to catch a whiff of dirty air, triggering a vulgar misfire. Lift off the accelerator at high revs, and a plume of fire spits from the exhaust. With the lubricants lukewarm, the V-8's full-throttle decibel assault borders on painful. "We're not quite done yet with the fine tuning," says Schuhbauer, grinning from ear to ear. In the GT8, you are strapped into devil-black racing buckets; in the V12 S, driver and passenger benefit from wider, less radically contoured seats trimmed with Sunkist accents.

The V12 Vantage S's stubby suede-wrapped shift lever connects to a dogleg seven-speed manual gearbox built by Graziano. Movements are speedy and short, the feedback is reassuring, and the double H-gate is less of a haptic jigsaw than the complex shift pattern suggests. The Pirelli P Zero tires warm up quickly, have a wide window of grip, and their breakaway behavior is predictable.

The same can't be said for the GT8's shaved, hard-compound Michelin Pilot Sport Cups, which can scare you witless. The GT8 is a colt that has never before felt saddle and bridle—its equipped with harder springs, stiffer dampers, tauter bushings, more aggressive brakes and almost as much carbon-fiber wing work as a Le Mans car—and is best treated with iron hands in velvet gloves to avoid any unexpected understeer scrubs or snap-oversteer situations. The V12 S, in turn, is anything but erratic.

Radically different characters separate these two seemingly similar stablemates. "We wanted to move these two models as far apart as possible," explains Schuhbauer. "That´s why they look different and feel different." For example, the rack-and-pinion steering chosen by Aston Martin for the GT8 works in perfect harmony with the suspension tuning and unequal-diameter anti-roll bars when you're on a road course, but it has androgynous response on the road. The V12 S, on the other hand, avoids sharp edges and enhanced efforts in favor of lighter, more fluent engagement. The GT8 has that silly steamhammer exhaust, and the quieter V12 S plays its no-less-catchy tunes softly but just as well.

Brakes on both Astons are of the drilled and ventilated kind, with truck-size steel rotors on the GT8 and even larger carbon-ceramic kit on the V12 S; both are physically impressive systems, prompt yet progressive. The GT8's lighter, slimmer, and higher-revving 4.7-liter V-8 produces 446 hp at 7,300 rpm, which is just about all you can can squeeze out of the old aluminum lady. The more vocal, mammoth 6.0-liter V-12 produces an even more impressive 573 hp at 6,750 rpm. Both are expressively garish, but understatement is conspicuous by its absence on the GT8, what with the fixed rear wing and low-flying triple-decker front spoiler.

Regardless of which variant speaks more to your soul, you wonder why one would spend a lot of money on a virtually evolution-free, eight-year-old sports car haunted by a list of well-documented flaws. The answer is quite simply "because;" the Vantage design has aged remarkably well, and the naturally aspirated engines of both cars have plenty of that musical olde-worlde magic. If you're in the market for a track-focused plaything, try and find one of 150 sold-out GT8s, a police magnet that can draw crowds with its carbon-fiber badges that cost $1,700 each. For a better balanced and more forgiving Aston that isn't as into hooliganism, there's the V12 Vantage S. Or put your name down for the Vantage replacement that'll be out at the tail end of next year.

2017 Aston Martin Vantage GT8 Specifications

On Sale: Now (Not for sale in North America)
Price: £165,000 ($217,000)(base)
Engine: 4.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8/440 hp @ 7,300 rpm, 361 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 7-speed automated manual
Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA Mileage: N/A
L x W x H: 178.7 x 75.7 x 49.5 in
Wheelbase: 102.4 in
Weight: 3,329 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds (est)
Top Speed: 190 mph (est)

2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $202,820 (base)
Engine: 5.9L DOHC 48-valve V-12/563 hp @ 6,650 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed manual; 7-speed automated manual
Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
EPA Mileage: 12/18 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H: 172.6 x 73.4 x 49.2 in
Wheelbase: 102.4 in
Weight: 3,671 lb
0-60 MPH: 3.8 seconds (est)
Top Speed: 205 mph