One Week With: 2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
A seven-speed sendoff
It's shaping up to be a perfect day on a perfect road. Here am I in the driver's seat of a 2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S. But this is no ordinary V12 Vantage; this is one of just 100 to be built for the U.S. with a dogleg seven-speed manual gearbox — a fact the car demands I remember every time I step over the embossed "1 of 100" door sill plate — as a sort of sendoff for a model that's been with us since 2005. As soon as next year, Aston will replace the current Vantage with an all-new model built on a shortened version of the aluminum-intensive chassis found under the English brand's newest star and guiding light, the DB11.
Bolted to that lighter, tauter chassis will be a Mercedes-AMG-built 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 derived from Benz's AMG GT. Plans for a new V12 Vantage are said to be on hold, but if the model does return, it will have the DB11's new twin-turbo, 5.2-liter V-12 underhood in place of the 5.9-liter, naturally aspirated, frothy-mouthed beast currently rocketing me up a circuitous road that climbs the hills along the Southern California coast.
And oh what an engine it is. This English-designed and German-built V-12 produces a hard-edged, mechanically complex howl that raises neck hairs and elicits goose bumps wherever it's heard. You'll want to keep Sport mode engaged to ensure the exhaust flaps are open for maximum effect.
The ocean drops further away as the car gains elevation and switchback after U-shaped switchback have me fairly convinced that I've just entered a hillclimb competition. Whether local patrolmen will be equally convinced is less certain. The next hairpin and its safety yellow 20-mph warning sign are approaching just as the engine crescendos in third. Hard on the brakes and the car drops speed like a stone tumbling off the cliff edge on my right.
On a road like this, it's clear why it makes sense to keep first gear down and to the left. I'm using second and third gear exclusively on this road and it's a simple back-and-forth, up/down motion between the two cogs - like the low/high gearlever on that Outrun arcade console I spent countless quarters on in elementary school.
At nearly 3,700 lbs, the V12 Vantage is far from what you'd call lightweight, even in these days of lavish creature comforts. Part of the magic of the car is the way it seems to shrink once it's on the move. It's impossible to not be aware of the 12-cylinder mass mounted up front, but the car isn't the understeering pig it could easily be with this configuration. Instead, it's wonderfully nimble and playful as it zig-zags up the hill; even with all the electronic nannies kept engaged (it's an awfully long fall off the side of this road), the car is happy to oblige a little slide here and there, happily pushing its tail wide with mid-corner throttle. Steering remains hydraulic, long after rivals Porsche and Jaguar have switched to electric units; both feel and weighting are natural on the move. There's little doubt the car would be happy to entertain some lurid drifts, but this road isn't the place to indulge.
Soon, the asphalt playground is in the rearview mirror and the smell of warm engine and even warmer brakes wafts through the cabin's open windows. In its element - the right road, the right day - this car is among the best in the business, but there's no getting over that the V12 Vantage is a flawed machine in day-to-day use.
With just under 6,000 miles under our car's belt, the center display screen has begun randomly turning itself on and off, retracting into the dash then rising back up again — sometimes several times in a row. The car starts at $184,995 but there's no proximity entry, the fuel door release is hidden underneath the dashboard, and the center console relies on a moveable two-inch square of cushion to keep your elbow from falling into the cupholder.
The color scheme is certainly questionable too, with the gray faux-swede interior with orange accents looking like an unfortunately designed pair of sweatpants. At least that should be able to be fixed with a keener sense of judgment come ordering time.
Unfortunately, the gearbox isn't perfect either - far from it. While most gear changes straight up and down (e.g. between second and third gear) work exceptionally well, crossing over diagonally from third to fourth or sixth to fifth is a bit of a crap shoot thanks to uneven weighting and narrow gate spacing. In traffic, the clutch pedal effort is fairly high and pulling the gear lever all the way back into first requires a bit of effort to get through the detent. Yes, this adds to the experience — several perfect diagonal gearchanges in a row are cause for self-congratulation — but it's certainly not an experience that anyone other than the most ardent of enthusiasts will take pleasure in. Another niggle is a throttle pedal that sits a little low for smooth rev-matching and requires driving with a kinked right ankle. To its credit, the car has a selectable mode for software-controlled rev-matches (and full-throttle upshifts), which I left deactivated.
Those looking for something that feels special or exclusive will instantly bond with the V12 Vantage. The sound alone is enough to make it feel more exotic than your average Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type, while the car's various quirks and follies will either grab hold of your heart and force you to acquiesce or send you clamoring for your local German car dealership. As for me, I'd simply like another perfect day in this old-school Aston on another perfect road.
2016 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Specifications
|Engine:||5.9L DOHC 48-valve V-12/563 hp @ 6,650 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||12/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||172.6 x 73.4 x 49.2 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.7 sec|
|Top Speed:||205 mph (est)|