Driven: 2011 Aston Martin V12 Vantage

Twelve, size small
Looking at it in pictures and on paper, it may be difficult to really get excited about the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Sure, it's gorgeous and has a beautifully balanced V-12 under the hood, but it's also the final homogenization of the Aston Martin coupes: three models with the same look, the same architecture, and now the same engine.

Chief engineer Paul Barritt makes his case for this car, though, and it's enough to pique our interest. "This is the most edgy Aston we do," he says. "It's our most driver-focused car." And to drive that point further, Aston will offer the V12 Vantage with a manual gearbox as the only transmission.

On the 'Ring
Even with race-liveried Lexus LFAs and Aston Martins lapping the Nurburgring simultaneously, our caravan of relatively slow-moving production cars captures the attention of the beer-swillers who have already erected gypsy villages in the woods surrounding the track, six days before the annual twenty-four-hour race. I have my reservations about driving such a powerful car my first time out on the legendarily complicated and dangerous track, but the 510 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque quickly prove to be more of a boon than a threat on the Nordschleife. Despite its age, the 5.9-liter V-12 pulls just as hard whether it's spinning at 3000 rpm or 6000 rpm, so coming out of a turn in the wrong gear doesn't really penalize a rookie. Gearing is unchanged with the exception of a shorter final drive ratio. The omnipresent torque of the V-12 makes driving in town easy as well, helped along by a friendly clutch and nicely weighted shift lever. However, when aggressively downshifting into second, it's easy to pull the stick too far to the left where you can't get into gear. Sport mode won't make the car any faster, as it only alters the throttle map and opens the muffler bypass earlier.

The extra 154 pounds of the larger engine causes a two-percent weight shift to the front for a still-respectable 51/49 percent front-to-rear split. Steering feel and response is near perfect and the 19-inch Pirelli PZero Corsa tires grip masterfully. The V12's suspension is lowered 15 millimeters and stiffness is comparable to a sport-pack-equipped V8 Vantage. The car corners flat and confidently, but the ride became tiresome on a lengthy road drive. Standard carbon ceramic brake discs are easy to modulate on the road and provide the stopping force they promise. The pedal, though, doesn't provide much feedback when pushed firmly, obscuring the antilock brake threshold.

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I got to drive the V12 Vantage at the dealership unveiling event yesterday. It is incredible. The speed and power of this car blew my mind and it handles like nothing I have ever driven before. I want one but my wife wonders why I can't be happy with the 2007 V8 Vantage I bought 3 years ago...

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