First DriveThe new Vantage has been developed as a Porsche 911 beater, and our first taste on UK roads suggests it can live up to that bold claim
First DriveAston Martin's swansong for its venerable Vantage sports car allows it to bow out with its head held high, yet the performance AMR sub-brand's first o
What is it?
On the surface the new Aston Martin Vantage V12 would appear to be a double-edged sword. For on the one hand it is undeniably Aston’s wildest and most exciting road car in recent history. 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 £25,000 less.”
But whatever internal dilemmas Aston Martin may have created for itself with the 510bhp V12 Vantage, one thing is abundantly clear: this car is not for the faint hearted. It’s a proper hairy-chested driver’s car, similar in character to the original V8 Vantage from the late ’70s, early ’80s.
That is just as well, considering the sort of opposition it is up against. Step forward Ferrari’s achingly excellent but soon-to-be-replaced F430, Lamborghini’s quite brilliant new Gallardo LP560-4 and, of course, the Porsche 911 GT2.
Turning the regular Aston V8 Vantage into the tarmac-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 are 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.
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.
The only disappointing aspect is how much it weighs. Even though it has lightweight bucket seats and gets the carbon ceramic brake discs from the DBS, it weighs a mere 15kg less than its big brother.
The suspension is a massive 80 per cent stiffer at the back (40 per cent at the front) while the steering, dampers and rear differential have all been similarly uprated. And to prove how serious a driver’s car Aston Martin believes the Vantage V12 to be, it has even fitted track day-spec Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyres as standard. Which is great – until you come across a patch of standing water, at which point you’re in the lap of the gods.
What’s it like?
If it looks like a serious piece of kit 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 save 18kg over the regular items and feature huge side support.
Once you’ve worked out how to start it– 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 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 a surprisingly refined idle.
The moment you move away, however, everything begins flowing in the right direction. The exhaust noise improves three-fold when the engine is under load, and the ride is instantly firm without being overly ridiculous. 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. But when you do, and it doesn’t matter which of the first four gears you happen to be in at the time, the penny drops so quickly you may well never find it again.
Within the confines of a typical English B-road, which is where we spent much of this particular test, it’s one of those rare cars that feels so fast it’s actually a bit scary. In third gear, especially, it absolutely fires itself at the horizon with anything more than 3000revs 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. And in a warped kind of way that’s a delicious realization.
And boy does it stop well, too, thanks to the power and response of those huge great carbon ceramic discs.
The Aston’s monumental straight line performance would be all but useless if its chassis couldn’t take the heat, however, 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.
Should I buy one?
So far the Porsche 911 GT3 has had an entire sub-niche of the market to itself, but the V12 Vantage, though still not just as focused as the GT3, at last provides a viable alternative. It’s a surprisingly good attempt from Aston Martin, a car that hits the spot with far greater accuracy than the DBS on which it’s based. So yes, if you can afford it, go ahead and write out the cheque. You will not be disappointed.