REVIEWS: Twelve 12-Cylinder Cars

May 23, 2005
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This is not trick photography. There are twelve different twelve-cylinder cars parked on the grounds of Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in the town of Pahrump, Nevada, just outside the gates of hell, a.k.a. Death Valley. Only none of us considered this hell. Embracing the wealth of power and might at our, uh, disposal, the staff of Automobile Magazine approached the long, straight, empty roads before us as if there were no tomorrow. A logical assumption. We had never seen so many twelve-cylinder cars in our history. And should we encounter the police, well, there would definitely be no tomorrow. Forgive us for the hyperbole, but who would argue that this must be the best time you could ever imagine having in your entire life?
ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH SContender for the 200-mph club.
There wasn't much wrong with the original Vanquish. It's hard to complain about an extruded-aluminum and carbon-fiber monocoque chassis that's coddling a 460-hp, 5.9-liter V-12 engine, the whole package tightly and stunningly wrapped in aluminum skin. But the arrival of the 450-hp DB9 dictated a bump in power for the flagship. The resulting Vanquish S debuted last fall with 520 hp and 25 additional lb-ft of torque (425 lb-ft), enough to cut the Vanquish's 0-to-60-mph time from 5.0 to 4.8 seconds. In December, Galpin Aston Martin delivered one of the first S models to Dr. Ned Momary, who kindly brought his black beauty to our twelve-cylinder party.
The first thing we noticed when Momary rolled up was that the Vanquish still looks terrific after four years. The second thing we noticed was a fantastic, deep-throated exhaust that seemed even louder than the old Vanquish's. Momary's aftermarket wheels also caught our attention: "With all the chrome trim," he confessed, "I thought the wheels needed to match." Who could argue?
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We had been wondering why anyone would want a Vanquish now that the DB9 is here, but experiencing the two side-by-side helped us understand that the Vanquish has more substance and presence, not to mention a roomier cabin, and it oozes elegance and desirability that much more than the very elegant and desirable DB9. It's also the fastest production Aston Martin ever built, with a top speed of more than 200 mph. Tell us no more.
LAMBORGHINI MURCILAGO ROADSTERIcon of teenage car lust.
The V-12 is to Lamborghini as steroids are to baseball. The very first Lambo, the 1963 350GTV, was powered by a V-12, so what else would you expect to find breathing through the Murcilago's enormous scoops? And with Ferrari conveniently on hiatus (the Enzo stopped production in 2004), the Murcilago is the most exotic expression of the V-12 sports car. It's today's version of an archetype that has appeared on posters on the bedroom walls of teenage boys since the 1970s.
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What's striking is how much the reality parallels the dream. The scissor doors, the deep iridescent yellow paint, the gun-slit visibility, the hell-unleashed sound, the awesome acceleration (0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds), the ludicrous top speed (200 mph), and the massive 335-series rear tires add up to one mighty fine real-life fantasy. This handbuilt marvel also boasts all-wheel drive, an available sequential-manual transmission-a $10,000 option-and a top-notch cabin codeveloped by Audi filled with so much black leather you expect to be tied up and spanked. Sure, Lamborghini's own V-10-powered Gallardo can be had for more than $175,000 less than the Murcilago roadster's $342,000 sticker, but there's nothing quite like the thunder of a 6.2-liter, twelve-cylinder engine.OK, so Cheryl Tiegs in a red bathing suit didn't come walking up to the car asking for a ride, but otherwise, the Murcilago lives up to the fantasy.
MERCEDES-BENZ SL65 AMGThe demon lies within.
We are in awe of the 604 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque provided by the SL65's twin-turbo-charged, 6.0-liter V-12, but similar numbers were produced nearly seventy years ago, in 1936 and 1937, by the record-breaking Mercedes-Benz streamliners powered by a supercharged, 5.6-liter V-12 and piloted by the likes of Rudolf Caracciola. For the 1938 racing season, Mercedes produced its first grand-prix V-12, a supercharged, 3.0-liter beauty, but then abandoned the twelve-cylinder format for the next half-century. The Mercedes C112 mid-engine concept was unveiled at the 1991 Frankfurt show with a 60-degree, 6.0-liter, DOHC V-12 engine that showed up in production form a year later in the 600SEL.
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Mercedes has offered V-12s ever since, but only recently has its AMG division applied its own particular demonic magic to a twelve-cylinder application, for the SL65, the CL65 coupe, and now the S65 sedan. For those of us whose idea of driving nirvana is to probe deeply into triple-digit territory on a long, straight stretch of Nevada desert road, the SL65's endless, locomotive-like acceleration from 120 mph onward is utterly addictive. This powertrain doesn't make Ferrari-style music; instead, the V-12's furious power and torque create a hurricane under the car that you feel churning beneath you on its way to the rear axle.
ASTON MARTIN DB9With a bark as fierce as its bite.
It's the most beautiful car on the road, a romantic vision of speed and beauty that grabs your heart every time you see it. But for all that, this is a tough car under its aluminum skin. The 450-hp, 5.9-liter V-12 comes to life like a Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 in an old Spitfire fighter plane, barking through its exhausts.
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There's plenty of toughness in the rest of the car as well, and it's clear that the DB9 is a sports car at heart, built for the rigors of top speed instead of parade laps to and from Starbucks. It weighs nearly 4000 pounds, despite all-aluminum construction. The steering effort is heavy, and the brakes demand a firm push. The suspension is resilient but calibrated for serious work, while the wide Bridgestone Potenza RE050A run-flat tires will send a lot of harshness and noise into the passenger cabin whenever the road surface is coarse.
The payoff comes when you make a run to the dark side of the speedometer, where the DB9's top speed of 186 mph can be found. The V-12's exhaust crackles each time you flick the shift paddles on the steering wheel through the rear transaxle's six gears. At extreme speed, the DB9 is settled, poised, and confident, although you notice that the instrument panel is a fraction too high for great visibility and there are distracting reflections in the windshield.
The DB9 is a throwback to the classic era, all beauty and performance, with a bit of luxury added. We couldn't keep our hands off it.
BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GTFor new-age Bentley Boys.
The Bentley Continental GT is the perfect cross-country cruiser for racing drivers. Not the modern variety, weaned on cookie-cutter cars and antiseptic tracks, but the prewar Brits who broke land-speed records in Bonneville behemoths powered by monstrous airplane engines. Not only is the Bentley sized like an airliner-it's the world's heaviest coupe by half a ton-but when the turbos of the W-12 are spooled up, the Conti sounds like an F-15 whistling past on a strafing run.
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Critics carp that the Bentley is just a Volkswagen in fancier duds. Well, yeah, the Continental shares much of its chassis and drivetrain with the Phaeton. And, in fact, the W-12-two VR6s bolted together at a 72-degree angle-is found in both the VW and the Audi A8. But the Bentley gets a twin set of turbochargers and intercoolers, providing the oomph for 0-to-60-mph times of 4.7 seconds and a top speed that's almost quick enough to get you into the 200-mph club.
Its luxurious cockpit has the plummy feel of an exclusive London club, while the flamboyant exterior styling features a long-tail fastback reminiscent of LSR cars of the '30s. Fittingly, the Bentley works best when you don't deviate from a straight line. (It doesn't turn so much as it banks.) But even when you're bombing along at 120 mph, the prodigious W-12 still has plenty in reserve.
FERRARI 612 SCAGLIETTIOne for the family man(iac).
Ferrari and twelve-cylinder engines go together like spaghetti and meatballs. Or horsepower and torque. A V-12 powered the first car to bear Enzo's name, and countless Ferraris since 1947 have showcased twelve-cylinder screamers designed by luminaries such as Colombo, Lampredi, Jano, and Forghieri. If practice makes perfect, then it's no wonder that the 65-degree V-12 sitting behind the front axle of the 612 Scaglietti is so refined. Maybe even too refined. There's no spine-tingling shriek here, just an understated growl that rarely rises above an undertone until you approach the 7250-rpm redline.
The 612 is the most practical of Ferraris-flawlessly engineered, infinitely capable, and, well, with its two-plus-two seating and capacious dimensions, the family Ferrari. And while its name pays homage to the marque's longtime coachbuilder, our "Grigio Ingrid" (beige) Scaglietti is also the Ferrari most likely to be lost in a parking lot.
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From the inside peering out, however, the 612 looks pretty sweet. The leather-swaddled cockpit is an idyllic marriage of style, comfort, and utility. In sport mode, the paddle-shift transmission offers the most exhilarating gearchanges this side of Formula 1. Despite its size, the Scaglietti feels nimble around town, and most drivers will run out of talent long before they reach the car's cornering limit. As for that engine, while it may not be as noisy as the sexier Ferrari V-12s of yore, it's just getting warmed up when its rivals are hitting their electronically governed speed limits.
MERCEDES-BENZ CL65 AMGKing of Torque Mountain.
Select the 6.0-liter overhead-cam engine of your choice. Have it assembled by one of the conscientious craftsmen employed at Mercedes-Benz's AMG. Then fill the cylinders with 22 psi of air at a comfortable temperature. Wonderful things are bound to happen whether there are two or twelve cylinders hammering the crankshaft into submission. Your rear tires will melt on cue. The automatic transmission will grunt like a weight lifter and change gears with a bang, struggling to survive behind the most potent engine offered across a regular retail counter. The 100-mph acceleration will stretch neck muscles with the same vigor as a traction-limited launch from a stoplight.
With 738 lb-ft at your disposal between 2000 and 4000 rpm, you are the undisputed potentate ruling Torque Mountain. Pick a point ten miles away on the distant horizon, crack the throttle, spool the turbos, and you're there before an enforcement officer can radio for backup.
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But the CL65 AMG's special treat is that it's a straightline racer masquerading as a poser. From its stylish hardtop profile to its impeccably tailored interior and its burled and buffed walnut, the pretext is unadulterated luxury with an exhaust note so muffled at idle you have to stand by the pipes to detect underhood activity. No one would suspect that this $186,520, smooth-riding, 4654-pound pillar of four-place respectability could possibly pack this much heat.
The only thing missing is a switch to let you stretch the rapture beyond the factory's 155-mph speed limit.
AUDI A8L W12 QUATTROTake that, Lexus.
This Audi A8L carries W12 badges on the grille, trunk lid, and passenger doors to distinguish it from the dclass V-8 model. But, paradoxically, the top-of-the-line A8 is so serene at its electronically limited top speed of 130 mph that you could swear it's powered by a turbine-or a flux capacitor.
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Although the W-12 is a brilliant engineering solution, it's also the answer to a question nobody asked. Yes, it allows the A8 to motor from 0 to 60 mph in a brisk 5.0 seconds, or 1.3 seconds faster than the V-8 model, but this is a function of more displacement rather than additional cylinders. Of course, the W-12 comes with some serious bragging rights, which is no small issue when you're investing six figures in a car. Also, Audi's version makes more power than the one found in the Volkswagen Phaeton (though it lacks the turbo-charged grunt of the otherwise similar W-12 in the Bentley Continental GT).It may seem uncharitable to complain about an engine that's too capable. The problem with the A8-a problem most automakers would love to have-is that there's hardly anything else wrong with it. OK, so maybe the handling is a bit inert compared with the BMW 760i, unless you're right at the limit. But the Audi looks more elegant, its Multi Media Interface works far better than BMW's iDrive, and its interior can lay legitimate claim to being the best in the world. Oh, and all-wheel drive doesn't hurt.
BMW 760iBuilt to fly at warp speed.
Whistling through California's Ibex Pass at 2100 feet and 150-plus mph, a click-turn-click of the iDrive mouse commands the in-dash display to report instantaneous fuel mileage. The 6.0-mpg reading at this velocity and the cloud-like ride suggest a biz-jet trip, but the reality is that we're piloting a BMW 760i confidently in touch with its aviation roots.
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BMW built its first V-12 seventy-nine years ago by lashing together two of the in-line sixes it had designed nine years earlier for aircraft use. Faithful to those origins, the 760i is still a splendid way to fly. The cockpit is all business, with no fancy burl or bright chrome to distract the captain. The seats are firmly bolstered to cradle four occupants comfortably when high-g maneuvers are in order. Forced induction and all-wheel drive are ex-cess baggage when there's 438 hp on tap from a four-cam, 48-valve, direct-injected V-12 that hums with a gas turbine's ease.
BMW's early aircraft engines had three throttles the pilot opened in stages according to altitude. Likewise, the 760i offers three shift modes; when you select manual, each gear waits patiently for you to cue the shift.
When the pavement heaves like some third-world airstrip, the 760i's chassis systems engage autopilot to maintain a straight, true path. With perfect steering, superb suspension geometry, and impeccable damping in touch with your fingertips, white knuckles are never part of the deal. What a pity this airship is restricted to a Vmax of 155 mph.
VOLKSWAGEN PHAETON W12 The ultimate People's Car.
The VW Phaeton is an enigma, an impassive, brooding sedan that crouches Sphinxlike in the middle of the prestige car market. No one seems able to solve the riddle of its existence. Is it an authentic attempt to move Volkswagen into the rarefied class of premium carmakers? Or is it an expression of engineering vanity by the brilliant but eccentric Ferdinand Pich, the former chief of Volkswagen AG?
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Once you drive this heavy, 5399-pound car to its top speed of 130 mph (the speed rating of this car's soft-riding tires), you finally get it. This is the ultimate Volkswagen, all function and no pretense. It's the perfect expression of Pich, the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who undertook the winning of the 24 Hours of Le Mans by building fifty identical Porsche 917s as if they were mere passenger cars.
Make no mistake, this car has plenty of luxury. In its four-passenger configuration, the Phaeton gives each occupant his or her own private space, with every necessity except a personal minibar. When you're hurtling across the landscape at 100 mph, it's like having your own private railroad car.
Just like a locomotive, the Phaeton is nearly effortless at speed. The 420-hp W-12 engine delivers its power without drama, simply winding up like a giant electric motor. You never really notice it.
There's no artificiality in the Phaeton, no image or fake personality. It's all car, no hype. No wonder that those who are more comfortable with brand-speak and marketing messages just don't get it.
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MAYBACH 57Over-the-top VIP delivery.
Considering that the Maybach is so heavy that the gas-guzzler tax does not apply (anything weighing more than 6000 pounds is considered commercial), its effortless handling of the three-ton mass at hand is stunning. At low speed, you feel an urge to step on the gas, a champing at the bit. So you press that right pedal, and away she goes. There is no gathering of energy before delivery of power, just delivery, pure and simple, thanks to 664 lb-ft of torque.
As much as it makes your heart swell to feel the Maybach's 543-hp, twin-turbo-charged, 5.5-liter V-12 engine (which shares a block with the V-12s from Mercedes-Benz) rush straight to 60 mph from a dead stop in just over five seconds, you will be shocked to feel it roar straight to 155 mph with equal abandon. And with passengers.
In fact, what were you thinking driving so fast with people in the back? As if passengers would notice, cosseted as they are in the most heavily padded lap of luxury ever conceived by a modern carmaker.
Champagne chills in the cooler that's nestled between the two rear passengers who are luxuriating on heated leather massage seats. Pleated side curtains (at a mere $3050!) extend at the touch of a button to darken the rear cabin as a movie plays on the dual 9.5-inch flat-screen monitors embedded in the backs of the front headrests. Music booms from the 600-watt, twenty-one-speaker Bose audio system.
It may be the only time we've ever seen automotive journalists content to ride while someone else drives.
ROLLS-ROYCE PHANTOMNot for the faint of ego.
It used to be said that Rolls-Royce was for the driven while Bentley was for the driver. But in the wake of the breakup of the two marques (it was a total shock to VW that it didn't automatically get Rolls-Royce when it bought Bentley), all preconceived notions about chauffeurs and their needs went directly out the window.
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That's how we got a rockin' Roller. BMW had one ultraluxury car to work with, so it tucked a bored, 6.7-liter version of its own 6.0-liter V-12 behind the world's most impressive expanse of chrome, giving the 5577-pound behemoth a 453-hp and 531-lb-ft kick in its elegant slats. No longer the Zsa-Zsa-mobile, the Rolls-Royce Phantom rewards your lead foot with a solid 5.7-second 0-to-60-mph time.
Though not a locomotive like the Maybach, the Phantom's ride and handling are more buttoned down than we have a right to expect. Not knowing any better, BMW's high command saw fit to develop great, responsive steering and equally competent brakes that instill the confidence necessary to blow right through to triple-digit speeds.
For all that, the Phantom screams, "Look at us! We're very wealthy!" It is old-school ostentatious in a most fantastic way, making us feel like spreading the Grey Poupon with abandon. There is a reason the bulk of them are found within ten square miles of Beverly Hills.

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