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2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S First Drive: British Hot Rod with a Hot Bod

By Matt Degen on January 24, 2014 12:13 PM
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The idea of a hot rod is pretty straightforward: Stick a big engine in a small car, then watch it go fast. Hot-rodding has long been associated with American classics, from highly modified Ford T Buckets to Hemi-powered Plymouths, but we're not the only ones who have found delight in the simple big-engine + little-car formula.

Turns out our friends across the pond are pretty good at this automotive equation, too. The latest such British creation comes from Aston Martin, which several years ago began stuffing a big V12 engine into its not-big Vantage. 

For its next act, the 2015 V12 Vantage S, Aston Martin dropped in a new 6.0-liter engine and fresh 7-speed automated-manual transmission, and gave its flagship Vantage minor exterior and interior design tweaks. The result, Aston boasts, is its quickest car to date (not counting the highly limited $1.5 million-plus Aston Martin One-77). In addition to hitting 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, the 2-seat V12 Vantage S has a top speed of 205 mph. 

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This new king-of-the-hill Vantage just went on sale, with deliveries set for late March. The price of admission starts just under $185,000 -- a $65,000-plus premium over a base V8 version. At launch it will be available as a coupe, and Aston Martin reps couldn't possibly speculate on whether a V12 Vantage S Roadster with the new engine is in the works (wink-wink). Does this V12 Vantage have what it takes to gain an advantage over other super-performance cars? Aston Martin invited us to Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida to find out.

Set amid palm trees tickled by wafts of balmy air and a sky brimming with clouds that couldn't appear more perfect if they were digitally created, PBIR proved to not only portray the V12 Vantage S' formidable performance prowess, but magnified its captivating design. Truth be told, that's the first thing you notice about any Aston. The V12 Vantage S may fit the formula for a traditional hot rod, but it sure doesn't look like one. Its striking movie star looks (we'll skip the usual James Bond references) make the 2015 V12 Vantage S as visually stunning as its souped-up motor makes it fast.

Just how souped-up? Try 565 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque. To put that in perspective, the naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) engine employed in this Aston is four times more powerful as what's in a Toyota Corolla. Not exactly a surprise considering Aston's V12 beast has eight more cylinders than Toyota's commuter. And the V12 Vantage S is built to tear around tracks, not get groceries.

Used thusly, the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is a mesmerizing machine. Its acceleration is exhilarating, yes, but just as enthralling are the sounds its exhaust makes at full throttle and the way this 2-seater sticks to the pavement in sharp turns. Then there are the brakes: carbon-ceramic discs at all four corners. Brakes aren't usually something you get excited about -- until you really need them. And this is certainly the case on a track setting. These babies worked flawlessly throughout the day over hours of intense driving. They were magical in their ability to rapidly erase speeds of over 140 mph on the straightaway right before PBIR's tight turn back into the paddocks. 

On the track is where we also got to experiment with and literally feel the difference in the V12 Vantage S' new three-stage adaptive damping system that can be toggled between Normal, Sport and Track modes. This system, a first for the Vantage model lineup, electronically optimizes the suspension to your needs and preference. If you're cruising in Miami, for instance, you'll likely choose the relatively comfortable Normal setting. If you're crushing a racetrack, Sport or the hard-core Track settings are the way to go.  

Finally, we must laud the 2015 V12 Vantage S for being forgiving even to those of us who do not normally wear a helmet when driving. Some high-powered cars are prone to losing their cool -- and their grip -- when a driver nails the throttle at the wrong moment or lifts off it too quickly in another. In our time with Aston Martin's newest Vantage, neither of those mistakes ended badly. In fact, the car never even lost its composure. 

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Coming off a track setting, it's hard not to be impressed with the 2015 V12 Vantage S. Already in my mind I was playing the "if I won the lottery, which color would I choose?" game. And then I experienced, albeit briefly, the new Vantage in slower speed settings, and that quickly refreshed my memory of the disadvantage of the last Vantage I drove.

If the V12 Vantage S has an Achilles heel, it remains the automated manual transmission (AMT). Think of these types of transmissions as a hybrid between a traditional automatic and a manual. Though Aston still offers a traditional 6-speed manual in the V8 version of the car, it's not offered in the new V12 Vantage S coupe because of insufficient demand. While you'll never have to worry about operating a clutch pedal or shift knob, an AMT still feels like a manual transmission the way it engages and disengages gears. So unlike a traditional automatic where shifts can be nearly imperceptible (auto writers are fond of using the term "buttery"), the 7-speed AMT in the V12 Vantage S is not. Even in its latest version, dubbed Sportshift III, when this transmission shifts, you'll know it's doing so. This stands in contrast to high-caliber rivals such the Audi R8, Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type, whose automatic transmissions feel far more refined. 

During aggressive driving, the Aston Martin's transmission adds to the overall visceral intensity of this V12 coupe. And in manual mode blasting down a straightway, each tug of the steering-wheel-mounted paddle feels akin to pulling the trigger of a .38-caliber pistol. In these moments, it's a rewarding sensation. But at slower speeds and in normal driving, the transmission's operation is more intrusive. (Ironically, the AMT actually feels smoother in Sport mode, even at slow speeds, than it does in Normal mode.)

Optimists may look upon this as part of the car's charm, that the new V12 Vantage S is a beauty with more than a remnant of gruffness to its nature. Others, whose idea of the perfect transmission is one that's so smooth you barely notice it's there, may be turned off by the one in the Aston that always reminds you that it is.

Both types of buyers will no doubt get a supercar with striking looks, awesome power, and the kind of cachet that equals front-row status in the valet line.

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