On the surface, the new Aston Martin Vantage V12 would appear to present something of a problem for its maker. On the one hand, it is undeniably Aston’s wildest and most exciting road car in recent history, which is nice. But on the other, it does seem to point a great big finger in the direction of the DBS and say, “Anything you can do, I can do better – and for a lot less money.”
This is not how Aston Martin sees the situation, naturally. According to this car’s creators, there remains a gaping chasm between the real-world personalities of the smaller, more focused Vantage V12 and the more luxurious, gran turismo-orientated DBS. The fact that they share the same engine and gearbox and weigh within 33 lbs of each other is no more than a happy coincidence, apparently. Even so, one look at the new Vantage V12, or, better still, one decent drive over just about any kind of road and you will not be any less confused.
Except for perhaps one thing. Within the first few yards you will realise that the V12 Vantage is, dynamically at least, everything that the DBS is not. It feels agile and compact and really very rapid indeed, without ever going over the top.
At a stroke it makes the DBS seem at best a little flabby, at worst downright redundant. And at $221,000, compared with $261,000 for the DBS, it’s also more “attainable” in the showroom, even if Aston claims that it will build just 1000 Vantage V12s and that’s it (right now it would be happy if the order book got anywhere near the last page).
Whatever dilemmas Aston Martin may have created for itself with the V12 Vantage, though, one thing is clear: this car is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a proper, hairy-chested driver’s car, similar in character, you suspect, to the original V8 Vantage from the late 1970s and early 1980s, the one with the He-Man front spoiler and a brace of driving lamps dangling from the front it.
I used to go weak at the knees at the mere thought of that car when I was young, and although the V12 Vantage is rather more restrained in its outlook, it clearly emanates from the same gene pool. From its four big cooling slats in its new lightweight hood to its deeper carbon fiber splitters, the V12 radiates energy and attitude in an obviously similar style to the original Vantage. It has the same bad-boy aura about it, an edgy menace that makes you wonder: just how good is this thing going to be to drive?
The answer is, “Very.” Which is just as well, considering the sort of opposition it is up against at this rarified end of the market. Step forward Ferrari’s excellent but soon-to-be-replaced F430, Lamborghini’s quite brilliant new Gallardo LP560-4 and, of course, the Porsche 911 GT2.
In truth, the Lambo and Ferrari are cut from a slightly different cloth compared with the Aston. They’re mid-engined and will always offer a less brutal, more tactile driving experience beside the front-engined, rear-drive Aston. They are also much closer to the DBS on price.
The GT2, on the other hand, is pretty much the mirror image of the Aston – if not in pure mechanical layout, then certainly in character, and on price. The Porsche costs just $6,446 less than the V12 Vantage and has the same, “Come on, then, if you think you’re hard enough” side to its personality. In theory it’s the perfect rival.Technically speaking
Turning the V8 Vantage into the asphalt-shredding V12 did not take Aston Martin an especially long time – about 12 months from start to finish – and the processes required to do so were nothing if not predictable: shoehorn the larger V12 into the engine bay without chopping the chassis around too much, lower and stiffen the suspension, fit the carbon-ceramic brakes from the DBS and give the interior a once-over so that it reflects the car’s extra potential.
Yet the end result is a car that looks and feels like an entirely natural evolution of what’s gone before. It doesn’t seem in any way like an afterthought model.
No matter how much extra firepower the V12 Vantage has over the V8, however, beside the mighty GT2 it is still eclipsed in most key areas. The Porsche has less engine capacity to call upon – 3.6 liters versus 6.0 liters – but the fact that it has twin turbos helps it to develop 523hp and a whopping 502lb ft of torque from a mere 2200rpm.
Try as the Vantage might, it can’t quite level with the GT2 on power – it has 510hp at 6500rpm – let alone on torque, where it is obliterated with “just” 420lb ft, not developed until 5750rpm.
And that’s before you so much as mention their respective weights, at which point the GT2’s raw dynamic advantage goes up a gear again. The Porsche weighs just 3,175 lbs, whereas the Vantage mugs the scales at a slightly disappointing 3,704 lbs. This means that the GT2 easily has the upper hand on both power and torque-to-weight ratios – 363hp and 349lb ft per ton versus 303hp and 250lb ft per ton.
Both cars have six-speed manual ’boxes and are rear-wheel drive with traction control. They both have carbon-ceramic disc brakes all round (which is impressive), very sophisticated ESP systems and a Sport button that improves the throttle response by altering the engine mapping. Only the GT2 has a proper launch control system; the Aston driver has to make do with a delicate right foot to achieve the perfect getaway.
Interestingly, both cars also come as standard with track day-spec tires. Porsche’s offering uses Michelin Pilot Cups, while the Aston rides on 19in Pirelli P Zero Corsas. You’d expect as much from the GT2, but for the Vantage to go the same route shows just how serious a driver’s car Aston Martin thinks it has produced. Watch out for those puddles in winter, though; with tires like these, in both cases disaster is just one unseen patch of standing water away.On-road racers
If the Aston looks like a serious piece from the outside, the theme continues at pace when you climb aboard. The first things you become aware of are the steering wheel (clad in soft-feel Alcantara) and the new lightweight seats, which not only save 40 lbs beside the regular items but also feature huge side support.
They feel fantastic from the moment you slide down into them, at which point you begin to notice the other improvements, and one or two less welcome features. Such as the wretched Emotional Control Unit and the rather clumsy-looking new aluminum gearlever, also inherited from the DBS.
No matter, because the overall impression inside the Aston is very strong. Compared with the Porsche it feels more special, more custom-made, more expensive. You sit lower and feel more subsumed into the car. In the GT2, to begin with at least, it’s as if you’re perched up too high behind the wheel, yet the similarly high-sided bucket seat doesn’t adjust for height like it does in the Vantage.
Once you’ve worked out how to start the Aston – insert the key fob into the dash and then hold it there for three seconds while singing the Thai national anthem backwards – the noise that erupts when the V12 catches is (or was for me) a little bit of an anti-climax. I had expected it to burst into life with a deafening explosion, but instead it delivers a merely quite loud cough of revs and then settles to an idle that’s no more dramatic than the deep chugga-chugga
of the GT2’s tickover.
The moment you move away, however, everything begins flowing in the right direction in the Aston. The exhaust noise improves threefold when the engine is under load, and the ride is instantly firm without being ridiculous; it rides very well, actually, despite the rear springs being a massive 80 percent stiffer than normal (the fronts are up by 40 percent). Even the gearchange feels lighter, more direct and just better than it is in the DBS.
The Aston doesn’t reveal the full fury of its new personality until you find the space, and have the inclination, to put your foot down and hold it there for a few seconds, mind. But when you do – and it doesn’t matter which of the first four gears you’re in at the time – the penny drops so quickly that you may well never find it again.
Within the confines of a typical country road, which is where we spent much of this particular test, it’s one of those rare cars that feels so fast that it’s actually a bit scary. The rate at which you can devour the space between you and the next corner is quite shocking the first time you experience it. In third gear, especially, it absolutely fires itself at the horizon with anything more than 3000rpm wound into the crank.
And if you then press the Sport button, which transforms the throttle response from ‘Oh yes’ to ‘Oh my God’ in a heartbeat, the Vantage enters that rarest of arenas in which the acceleration it can generate becomes genuinely uncomfortable. You end up wondering whether it’s you or the car that’s in control.
In a warped kind of way, that’s a delicious realization. It’s what would keep the Vantage V12 interesting to its owners for many years to come as, gradually, it revealed more and more of its ability. And boy, does it stop well, thanks to the power and response of those huge great carbon-ceramic discs.
The Aston’s straight-line performance would be all but useless if its chassis couldn’t take the heat. But if anything it’s even more impressive through the corners than it is down the straights. That’s an extraordinary achievement on Aston’s behalf because, while the regular V8 is a decent enough handler, it’s no rule-breaker.
Put it another way: on most of the roads on which we compared them, the Vantage was sufficiently better sorted to be able to leave the GT2 behind. Only when the surface was smooth and the straights were long could the Porsche reverse the situation. Its suspension was simply too stiff, its body control too crashy, to live with the Aston elsewhere – when the roads were like most of the more interesting country roads you’ll find, in other words.
So the fact that the GT2 walloped the Vantage back when we lined them up later to see which was quicker from 0-150mph on a deserted runway… well, it didn’t really prove much overall.
We knew already that the Porsche was a little bit quicker in a straight line – just as clearly as we knew that the Aston was the better, more usable road car overall. One that could, and should, pave the way for a whole new species of Aston Martins that proper drivers are going to adore.Words: AutocarPhotos: Tom Willcocks