Palm Springs, California -- Docking the key of the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S in its receptacle brings this supercar to life in the same way as an orphanage on the morning when all the children have spilled their orange juice. The ominous hubbub would make any headmaster wince. Events from this point forward could be very hard to control.
Nevertheless, we proceed with the day's plans. Poking the glass button labeled "D" on the center console enables us to launch the V12 Vantage S. Slight pressure of the right foot makes the 565-hp 5.9-liter V-12 vociferate testily until we touch the leather grip on the right-hand shift paddle, pulling forward for the second of seven ratios offered by the unusual, rear-mounted automated-manual transmission. The engine yowls with desire to propel the shapely coupe from 0 to 60-mph in 3.7 seconds and reach the top speed of 205 mph. But practicality prevails in Palm Springs: we repeatedly slow while traversing steeply crowned cross-streets in order not to scrape the chin spoiler.
When we do leave town and gun it on the Palms to Pines Highway, we find the V12 Vantage S blithely capable of heroic feats. Three-stage adjustable damping is included for the first time in the Vantage. Leaving Normal, Sport is the choice here rather than Track. The new Servotronic steering firms up, and the car pivots through hairpin turns without drama. The violent full-throttle upshifts on straightaways are not for anyone who's protecting a lower spine injury, but the 457 lb-feet of torque helps us to readily find 120 mph before stamping on the brake and letting the six-piston front calipers settle the nose in advance of the next turn.
This is how we spend an entire day and excite a great yearning that will long outlast it.
The engineering department has its hairy way
"It's an engineer's car with lots of techie stuff," Ian Minards, director of product development, had said the previous evening. "It's been a bit of a personal crusade of mine."
It was raining then, a rare thing in Palm Springs, and we stood under umbrellas as the tall Brit conducted a walkaround of the V12 Vantage S. "The tech story is that we've upgraded pretty well everything: new springs, new dampers, new exhaust, new gearbox, new engine," he said. "You name it, in this driveline, it's new."
Minards pointed out "the engine is driven as far back in the chassis as possible," achieving a front-midengine layout. It has been upgraded with a new engine management system for the latest diagnostic capabilities, and this V-12, first seen in the Vanquish, is about 33 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
The startling news is that the six-speed manual transmission that was included in the V12 Vantage, which until recently had remained on offer as a 2012.5 model, is replaced by a seven-speed automated manual, saving 55 pounds. Servotronic steering, used for the first time on the Vantage, offers selectable boost curves for normal or sport driving and makes the most of the shorter-ratio (15:1) rack.
"What we wanted to do is take the V12 Vantage and make it more accessible," Minards said. "The beauty of the technology--the adaptive damping, the steering, and the transmission--is that you can get to the power and the torque."
Engineering gives way to art
But the V12 Vantage S is more than an engineer's car: it's dead sexy and desirable, with as many voluptuous curves as the big statue of Marilyn Monroe standing at Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way. We've chosen the featured color, Yellow Tang, with silver 10-spoke, 19-inch, forged-alloy wheels, and when we first saw it early this morning, the diffused light vitally accentuated the car's creases and bulges; the long hood and swooping top seemed to us very nearly perfect, the quintessence of a sports coupe.
Inside the cockpit, the two seats are upholstered in plum-colored leather with Alcantara inserts, and these two materials are liberally used in one way or another to trim the wheel, dashboard, headliner, and doors. Body-color accents are found on the shift paddles, doors pockets, and of course in the stitchery that holds so much of it together. It's somewhat outré yet still tasteful.
However, the interior layout is dated. It's hard to call the center console busy, but in comparison to the Vanquish, it sure is. The steering wheel lacks power adjustability, which we commonly find in cars and trucks that are one quarter the $184,995 base price. And our phone's navigation app far outperformed the built-in system. The fly-off handbrake along the doorsill to the driver's left made us feel like Carroll Shelby at Le Mans, but we would prefer a conventional ratcheting mechanism.
Something special for your weekend
Aston Martin chief executive Ulrich Bez tells us during dinner that the 2015 V12 Vantage S marks the first time in his thirteen years with the company when he would describe one of its products as "a toy." He calls it a "Sunday-morning, feel-your-muscles" car.
Indeed, with the rumbling tires and the difficulty of climbing driveway mouths, along with a cargo space that is manifestly unsuitable for trips to Costco, it isn't practical for daily use. And it was way too much car for the twisty sections of road leading to Mt. San Jacinto, although local traffic recognized the message sent by the grille that is copied from the CC100 Speedster, the concept car created to celebrate Aston Martin's centennial. After Jeeps and SUVs kindly used the turnouts and let us pass, we saluted them with the resonant exhaust note that had deepened with selection of the Sport driving mode.
Only a few hardy buyers will go for the V12 Vantage S after it becomes available early in 2014. For that matter, only a few hardy buyers select Aston Martin in general: just 612 of their cars had been sold in the United States since January 1 of this year. Brand awareness isn't even on par with that of the other alternative maker of exotics in outrageous colors, namely, Lamborghini.
So for those in the know, for those with the means, the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S will be a delicious indulgence, coming with idiosyncrasies. We wouldn't claim that the ruckus from the Pirelli P Zero directional tires sounds musical to such a person, but neither will it necessarily be disharmonious, especially when the amazing engine achieves a crescendo.
2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
|Engine:||5.9-liter DOHC V-12 (5935 cc) Power: 565 hp @ 6750 rpm|
|Power:||565 hp @ 6750 rpm|
|Torque:||457 lb-ft @ 5750 rpm|
|Transmission:||seven-speed automated manual|
|Steering||Electronically assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Suspension, Front:||Double-wishbone, coil springs, monotube shocks, stabilizer bar|
|Suspension, Rear:||Double-wishbone, coil springs, monotube shocks|
|Brakes:||Four-wheel ventilated carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|Tires:||Pirelli P Zero Corsa 255/35 ZR19 front, 295/30 ZR 19 rear|
|L x W x H:||172.6 x 79.6 x 49.2 in|
|Track (F/R):||61.8/62.0 in|
|Cargo volume:||10.5 cu ft|
|0-60 MPH:||3.7 seconds|
|Top Speed:||205 mph (est.)|
|EPA Mileage:||13/19 mpg (city/highway)|