Turbo V12 power and a serious chassis makeover turn the last-ever V12 Vantage into a startlingly fast and quite serious track car but it may finally have a shade too much grunt for its own good

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Aston Martin used to have a strategic need for the Aston Martin V12 Vantage sports car. Funnily enough, though, that need can no longer figure quite so keenly as it once did; and that may at least partly explain why the company’s management has just called time on the car’s extra-special bloodline.

The first-generation V8 Vantage was sensational-looking, enticingly sweet-handling and alluringly attainable back in 2005. Even after its V8 engine had grown from 4.3 to 4.7 litres, though, it was never that fast. It was the all-important ‘baby Aston’: a feeder-series sports car always eager to please, with a chassis of powers so far in advance of those of its engine that it simply demanded more grunt.

And so, when the first V12 Vantage production car was unveiled in 2009, justice was done to the car in a way. It made a peak 510bhp. But these days, thanks to the turbocharged engines of Mercedes-AMG, you can get a V8 Vantage with more power. This new V12 Vantage, the last there will ever be, comes with much more potency than any of its predecessors, adopting the twin-turbocharged 5.2-litre V12 from the DBS Superleggera; and yet it’ll do 0-62mph in 3.5sec, and a V8-powered Aston Martin V8 Vantage F1 Edition will do it in 3.6sec.

Aston got a kind of buy-one-get-one-free deal on the powertrain development work for this car, most of which was done for last year’s ultra-low-volume V12 Speedster; and so the V12 Vantage’s 690bhp engine and eight-speed transaxle gearbox were almost oven-ready for it. But the car’s price evidences no such saving in the project development budget, nor any sentimentality from Aston Martin’s side. The final V12 Vantage costs a cool £265,000 – £115,000 more than the priciest V8 Vantage currently on the books. And yet, with production capped at 333 units for the global market, all examples were sold to quick-fire deposit-lobbers before the order books even opened.

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The V12 Vantage remains a car with an utterly singular appeal, even among special-series super-sports cars: it’s part GT3 competition car with numberplates, part lab-experiment mutant broken free from its manacles. It’s much more like a Porsche 911 GT2 than a GT3; the smallest model that Aston makes, but with the very biggest engine it could have crammed under the bonnet. And the good news? That the Gaydon firm has managed to make this version feel like an even more serious track machine on the one hand while simultaneously finding at least some ways to nurture and indulge its wild side.

The serious bit is accomplished by lightweight carbonfibre and composite body panels, some major chassis stiffening measures, and quite a wide-ranging suspension makeover. This Vantage has 40mm-wider axle tracks than a V8; 40-50%-stiffer coil spring rates, with new secondary tender springs adopted at the rear axle; reappraised anti-roll bar rates (stiffer than on a V8 at the front, yet softer at the rear); all-new ‘Skyhook’ adaptive damping hardware; and recalibrated power steering. 

Even allowing for that aggressively scooped carbonfibre clamshell bonnet, bumper and ‘wide-body’ front wings, the car is 110kg heavier than a V8 and yet it still has 20% more power to weight, because 690bhp.

Aston gave us an afternoon at its Stowe development circuit at Silverstone for a first taste of the car, as well as some time on local roads. On track, there’s a heft and accuracy to the steering and a grasping firmness to its body control that both speak of extra mass closely controlled. It corners in even more level and immediate fashion than a V8, with just a shade less perfect steady-state handling balance and greater high-speed stability, although still with some throttle adjustability of handling when you go looking for it. By and large, though, the V12 Vantage wants to be driven properly, and quickly, on a circuit - not goaded or trifled with. It has the braking power, the body control, the grip and the stamina to lap very quickly and consistently, as well as absolutely huge accelerative oomph - and going back to that well, lap after eye-widening lap, is probably where it’s at its best. 

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And yet, at all times, the car’s titanic engine always stands ready to rip its aura of composure apart at the seams. It can pour on torque that the driveline and chassis seem to simply throw their hands up in the face of. Mechanical slippy diff or no, you’re at constant risk of bonfiring your inside rear tyre if you come out of tighter corners too urgenty when the electronic traction control is switched off. On the road, while the car’s vertical body control is surprisingly supple at everyday speeds, startlingly guttural acceleration and short, snatchy and uncompromising damping are only a dip of the toe away.

The V12 Vantage feels like a bit of a brute wherever it’s let loose, to be honest, and so it should. But the mournful wail of the old GT12’s atmo V12 engine isn’t equalled by Aston’s modern turboocharged lump, and so the ferocity of the car’s performance is missing a dimension in dramatic expression.

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Truth is there is an enormous abundance of force here, but a slight want of sensory soul. There is outright track pace and handling capability the likes of which no other Vantage has known, but also a driving experience that feels more often distorted by a behemoth of an engine than enhanced by it, and that is left slightly out of kilter.

Having had a baby Aston with too little power for so long, perhaps now we finally have one with too much for its own good. Could you call it the ultimate Vantage? In one sense, Aston already has. It's certainly an emphatic farewell letter; but, however fast it may be and however epic 690bhp may make it seem on paper, it doesn’t quite go down as this tester’s personal favourite.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.