For nearly a century, the twelve-cylinder engine has rumbled inside the world’s most decadent cars, from pre-war Packards to classic Ferrari GTs. Now, this growling pack has a new member: The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, a British sports car that tosses Aston’s usual restraint out the window at 205 mph. Like a backyard hot-rodder - albeit one with a nicer backyard - Aston has crowbarred its 5.9-liter V12 into its most petite two-seater. Aston bills the result as the fastest car in its history, aside from the ultra-rare, $1.4 million Aston One 77. We have no reason to argue, following a whirlwind four-day drive from Brooklyn to the backwoods of New York’s Catskills region.
This Vantage in extremis rips to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and returns to rest with carbon-ceramic brakes. A three-mode adaptive suspension includes an extra-chunky Track setting. Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires bite into dry pavement like pit bulls served skirt steak. In fact, “Zero” might be the best way to describe the tires’ traction on slippery surfaces, which is so unpredictable that Aston had us sign a waiver acknowledging the risk. We didn't think twice. Our car was painted that signature Aston blue, which cut through the murk off the Appalachian trail like an lighthouse beacon.
This two-seater rocks 565 horsepower to rear wheels via the car's weak link, a seven-speed, single-clutch automated manual transmission whose crude shift quality recalls a caveman clubbing a wounded sabertooth. Yet the Aston’s mix of beauty, breeding, and depravity is key to its personality - part Ripper, part royal. Slashing carbon-fiber hood vents are one clue to that nature, along with an exhaust note murderous enough to make hairs stand on end. That exhaust system derives from the One 77 itself, and its V12 music alone almost justifies the $187,820 base price.
Note the “almost.” Like every Aston, the Vantage has matinee idol looks, but the age spots are showing. The aluminum architecture that underpins every Aston will need across-the-board replacement someday. A more-pressing emergency is Aston’s painfully obsolete infotainment and navigation systems, Volvo leftovers from the days when Ford owned both brands. The clock may also be ticking on that bomb of a V12. Like its ultra-luxury rivals, Aston is facing pressure to downsize engines or reduce cylinder counts to boost economy. For a two-pronged technology injection, Aston has partnered with Mercedes-Benz. In return for a five percent company stake, Mercedes’ AMG high-performance division will supply Aston with hand-assembled, twin-turbochargedV8 engines and modern cabin electronics. Muzzled by their turbocharged induction, those Teutonic V8’s may never sound as stirring and sweet as a V12. Yet Mercedes’ engines should surpass the V12’s horsepower without breaking a turbo sweat, even as they slurp far less gasoline.
In any era, cars like the Vantage have represented a rare and powerful indulgence. And like a diabetic digging into a box of crullers, Aston owners had better enjoy these twelve sugary cylinders while they can.
Photos by Aston Martin