The existing Aston Martin V12 Vantage is my favourite model to emerge from the British concern, more of a personal preference than any of the others in the car maker’s well-reviewed range. True confession, though – much of the car’s appeal is the result of first impressions gathered during a very memorable press event in May 2010.
Back then, yours truly established a personal best for top speed on a public road in the V12 Vantage along the autobahn in central Germany (303km/h). I then followed up that milestone by experiencing the Nordschleife from the driver’s seat for the very first time. These experiences would merit inclusion in any hardcore car aficionado’s scrapbook, so, naturally, I viewed the V12 Vantage not so much as a mode of transport and more as a partner in crime.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I journeyed to Southern California last week to sample the brand new 2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S and learned that it’s comprehensively better than the original in pretty much every respect. Despite the fact that we had access to roads that were nowhere near as wide open as the autobahn or the Nordschleife, the new car proved to be extremely capable.
First, the facts: The V12 Vantage S utilises the latest version of the company’s 6.0-litre V12 power plant – it debuted last year in the Vanquish coupe—which produces 422 kilowatts. This is a significant increase from the old V12 Vantage, which mustered a relatively measly 380kW. The car’s torque has increased markedly as well – the new car boasts 620Nm, up from 570.
Through the magic of a brilliant engine management system from Bosch, the new V12 also features more torque down low – specifically, 510Nm at 1000rpm, as opposed to just 410 for the old V12. It would make sense that these increases should have a tangible effect on performance and the factory-supplied results bear this out.
The V12 Vantage S can sprint from 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, some 0.5 seconds quicker than for the previous car. Top speed is up as well – by heaps – from 305 to 330km/h. This makes the V12 Vantage S the fastest Aston Martin in the current line-up and, behind the limited-run One-77, the second-fastest in history.
While it would’ve been fantastic to test the new Vantage out on a racetrack, the roads surrounding Palm Springs turned out to be entertaining and illuminating at the same time. For one full day, we powered around a series of lightly travelled thoroughfares around vineyards, ski hills and national parks.
Here’s the thing about driving a brilliantly engineered car, though: It makes high speeds seem effortless.
Of course, the Aston Martin Vantage V12 S has more power and low-end torque than previously, so it accelerates effortlessly. This process is aided and abetted by a new automated manual 7-speed gearbox, dubbed the Sportshift III. This transmission has been fine-tuned over previous versions offered; purists will bemoan the fact that it’s the only transmission available on the car, other purists will love the fact that it provides quicker shifts than ever before – in 70 milliseconds flat.
Although this is slightly off the pace of the fastest dual-clutch transmissions in the world, Aston's product development director, Ian Minards, is confident their choice was a wise one: “We save about 50-60kg in weight with this transmission over a DCT and we’re 25kg lighter than the old car’s 6-speed manual.”
Dual-clutch transmissions are also very complex, requiring significant investment, while the long-term reliability and running costs remain in doubt. The decision to drop the manual was also made by the customer: The expected take rate for a manual would have hovered around 5%.
This transmission is certainly quick – witness the acceleration times – and it’s largely fantastic, in spite of the torque interruption during shifts. For some people, this sensation makes the drive more invigorating and I found the Aston to be less brutal in this respect than, say, a current Lamborghini. My main issue with the gearbox is not that it’s an automated manual or that the torque gets interrupted momentarily, I merely hoped for a slightly higher redline for the V12 and a tachometer and shift light that were easier to read when driving at a rapid pace.
The transmission features a fully automatic mode, as well as paddle shifters for manual action. The sport mode button on the centre console quickens shift speed, heightens throttle response and alters the exhaust note. (In full automatic mode at low speeds, the sounds of the transmission are a bit discomforting, not unlike the noise the Nissan GT-R DCT makes; everything works fine, it just sounds more mechanical than expected.)
There are other aspects of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S that can be adjusted: the traction control system (three modes: on, track and off) and, for the first time in a Vantage, the adaptive damping system (another three modes: normal, sport and track). According to Minards, the latter system has given the V12 Vantage more range than ever before: In normal mode, it’s softer than the previous version and, in track mode, it’s more race-ready than its predecessor.
Of course, I viewed it as my duty to place all the variables into their most extreme settings so as to determine whether this Aston was truly worthy of the winged logo. Quick answer: It is.
The V12 Vantage S is fast, sure, but it’s how the car handles that makes the biggest impression. The car features a limited-slip rear differential, a quicker steering ratio, lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels and Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires with a compound custom-developed for Aston Martin.
The result: Through the narrow and twisty bits, into and out of second-gear corners, and along fast sweeping sections, the car simply sticks to the road like Krazy Glue to flypaper.
The only times the Aston got out of shape were on the few occasions when a strip of sand or dirt coated the surface of the road. It’s almost as if their engineers have managed to defy the laws of physics – a car with a big V12 engine out front and 52/48 weight distribution should not handle this neutrally… yet it does.
Clearly, there has been much time spent on developing this car in an effort to bring it ever closer to its main rivals. Some observers may contend that the 2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S still falls short of the best from Germany and Italy… well, if it does, it doesn’t fall short by much.
The 2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S starts at AU$389,300 and arrives here later this year.