Aston Martin V12 Vantage Review
The urgency of the launch and the other-worldly howl that accompanies it is beyond intoxicating.
This is a car that makes grown men dribble and wring their hands like little boys, “Can I play with it? Can I, huh?”
This car, like the magnificent DBS, and like the Vantage V8 (read our review here), has scribblers everywhere wetting themselves in torrents of superlatives. And Clarkson? He who can curl his lip at a Ferrari as if it's a mouldy custard tart - “It's superb,” quoth he.
It is superb, a fantastic car: fantastic to look at and fantastic to drive. It is also, for most of us, simply the stuff of fantasy. The V12, north of $400,000 by the time you get it on the road, is in such rarified air that only the very lucky, the very successful or the exceedingly well-born need apply.
With a 5.9-litre V12 engine producing 380kW and 570Nm of torque and with a top speed of 305km/h, it is a most astonishing sporting drive.
We had the six-speed manual. This is the one you’d order if you were allowed just one car in your best-of-all-possible worlds.
Do you need me to tell you how competent it is, how riotously powerful, how it can suck the doors off almost anything, and how, should you put it under the whip, you feel as if your eyes might bleed? Possibly not; so much of its reputation as a supercar precedes it.
But there are a couple of things you may not know. Like how forgiving it is to drive and how easy it is to live with. Provided the road is dry that is (we'll discuss this in a moment).
So let’s start with those first few seconds as you approach and settle yourself behind the wheel.
The first thing you will notice besides the muscular artistry of its lines, is how low and small it is… relatively. It’s wide, but, as we noticed when reviewing the V8, the Vantage V12 at 4438mm long is barely 240mm longer tip-to-tail than a Volkswagen Golf (at 4199mm).
But it is all sublime style: Aston's compact missile is the perfect iteration of the modern sporting classic. You can pick the V12 from the V8 by the carbon-fibre bonnet flutes, and some discrete but effective changes to the lower air-intake, front splitter and rear diffuser.
It also carries more pronounced side-skirts and bigger rubber and alloys. But otherwise it’s a Vantage.
The wide-opening doors cant upward as they open, protecting uber-expensive lower lips from raised kerbs and footpaths.
It's low, so you fall in rather than slide, but there is ample room to easily swing the legs over the sill; no graceless contortions necessary to get set at the wheel.
The leather interior, hand-stitched leather everywhere and gorgeous grey-blue in 'our' Vantage, is flawless, sumptuous, and absolutely premium fare. And, despite their sportscar moulding, the carbon-fibre framed seats are brilliantly comfortable (and remain so even after a longish day in the saddle).
Not so appealing, at least to these eyes, is the off-white suede headlining. It looks a bit naff I reckon, as though Aston didn't want to waste some of the cow; a modern textile would be better.
It's loaded with toys of course. Do I really need to list them? There is a premium Bang & Olufsen 13 speaker/1000w audio system, USB interface, Bluetooth as well as sat-nav, climate control, air-bags all round (and all those other things you'd expect in an exclusive, cosseting premium ride).
Press the starter and it springs to life with an urgent gruff bark. When the magnificent V12 nestled under the long fluted bonnet settles, you will notice at idle it's quieter mechanically than its V8 stablemate.
There is not the same mechanical whirl that accompanies the V8; but everything changes the moment you open the taps, even if just a little. Then you're aware of the thunder within.
You need a little care nosing it into the street because the front splitter is low. It is flawlessly fashioned carbon-fibre, and God knows what it would cost to replace.
In those first few minutes at the wheel, because you're numb with expectation, and scared shedless that some inattentive dimwit is going to rub up against you in an ageing EA stationwagon, you can be slow to appreciate the happy place you have found yourself.
How do you relax in a $400,000 car that can launch you, in the space of a rabbit's heartbeat, straight into the licence-shredder? It's all a bit overwhelming, until you notice how easy it is to drive.
The steering is weighted 'just right': light-enough and precise at low speeds (despite the massive boots) and seamlessly delivering more feel as speeds rise. The clutch too is nicely balanced, not too firm, and it is easy to snick back and forth through the six-speed box, even in urban traffic.
Provided you can adjust to sitting as low as a dachshund and don't mind peering over a long and largely invisible bonnet, and despite having the explosive power of V8 Supercar lurking at the toe, the V12 Vantage is relatively effortless to poke around town.
We spent a day or so with it in the city then took it for a country lash, far from the rude intrusions of zero-tolerance cameras and the dismal tut-tutting of the sanctimonious.
Here, on a swift loping run through the open volcanic plains and undulating foothills west of Melbourne, you can uncover the soul of the beast.
It is riotously fast if called upon, will haul effortlessly in any gear with an intense devil-throated howl to its 7000rpm cut-off, and has simply astonishing cornering grip and on-road balance.
Press the 'sport' button, and things get even more urgent. This button, best left to track-day work, sharpens throttle response, alters the mapping of the engine management and amplifies the action of the accelerator (the effect of the pedal travel is amplified by a factor of four).
Button 'on', and the V12 Vantage will leap from 0-100km/h in 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 305km/h.
It's agility and cornering adhesion, thanks to its near perfect front-rear balance, the tuning of the double wishbones front and rear, and the massive Pirelli Corsa tyres, is simply mind-bending.
Braking performance is equally so: with 360mm ventilated discs at the rear and 398mm ventilated discs up front, jump on them and you'll feel like you've lassoed a stump. More to the point, the precise and finely-honed pedal-feel means that you can carry enormous speed into a corner, and wash it off effortlessly as you set up for exit.
Few cars offer such visceral joys at the wheel. It is, as we mentioned at the outset, a superb machine.
Ok, so if we were complete curmudgeons and wanted to complain about something, what would we find fault with?
Well, yes, the tyres.
When we picked up 'our' V12, we were advised by our friends at Trivett to be “very careful” in the wet.
The standard-issue V12 comes with track-style Pirelli Corsa tyres, they're dry-biased and they don't much like the wet (especially with a gazillion kiloWatts trying to force the issue.)
The streets being awash, we took it kind-of steady, and, yes, can confirm that there's not much grip at hand. Under wet skies, you could easily find something unintended.
Later, and next day, things cleared, the road dried and the sticky rubber came into its own. But it's not as if you can dial up the pits and slip in for a set of 'wets' everytime the skies threaten.
And the prospect of inserting your new $400,000 Aston into some grandad in a Maxima just because you hit a puddle is not likely to be on your daily 'things-to-do' list.
So, really, if you are going to drive on the road (and it's hard to think of anywhere else you might sensibly want to drive), change the tyres. Better still, maybe Aston could think of some more suitable all-weather boots for its monstrously powerful V12.
We would also, strangely enough, find fault with the positioning of the truly sensational gear-shift. Few gear-shifts feel as good; strange then that it's not quite in the right place. It is mounted too far rearward - too close to the elbow – and it cramps you up a little awkwardly in changing to 2nd, 4th and 6th.
And last of the things we might criticise: the fuel consumption.
We were giving it a bit of nudge for most of the time we had the car – how could we not? - and had a full day of city commuting. But there were also some longer, and significantly more sedate, country 'travel' legs.
Our city/country driving average came in at 23.2 l/100km, and that was after feathering the throttle most of the way back to town to try to improve the average. But, I guess, if you can peel off 400 big ones for the purchase, you're not likely to shed any tears at the bowser.
The V12 Vantage is fantastic, it is pointless saying anything else.
Would we buy it ahead of the Vantage V8? Who knows – both are intoxicating, both mind-numbingly powerful, both exquisitely styled and both an absolute hoot at the wheel.
And, here's the rub, both are docile enough and well-mannered enough to be considered as a 'daily driver'.
I guess, while we're playing hypotheticals, it would have to be the V12.
Why? Because it has four extra cylinders, because it costs more (and premium models are always the more desirable), and because the subtle styling changes – and even the OTT flutes in the bonnet – give it a little more brutish appeal.
Who wouldn't want to make the astonishing V12 Vantage their ride? There is one up for grabs now at Trivett in Melbourne for $435,250. With 'AM' licence plates, it's a snip.
Aston Martin 2010MY Pricing (AUD$)
Prices are Manufacturer’s List Prices, inclusive of GST and LCT, on-road costs additional
- V8 Vantage Coupe (manual) $250358
- V8 Vantage Coupe (Sportshift) $258754
- V8 Vantage Roadster (manual) $274784
- V8 Vantage Roadster (Sportshift) $283181
- V12 Vantage Coupe (manual) $379251