It's hard to be subtle when you're behind the wheel of a bright blue Aston Martin V12 Vantage S with a screaming engine and rich exhaust note that conspire to make you go faster. This is excess at its finest. As hard as it is to resist temptation and take it way, WAY over the speed limit, it would be impossible to get away with the argument that "it must have been the driver of that other blue V12 Aston Martin that was speeding." But that's Aston in a nutshell: the cars blend elegance with high performance, and represent some of the most exclusive exotic sports cars on the road.

We drove the V12 Vantage S in a ritzy part of town, where Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars frequently roam the streets. Yet none of them is as eye-catching as the gorgeous Aston, and I doubt they get as many thumbs-up as we did.

Attention aside, the $202,320 (including destination and gas guzzler) V12 Vantage S Roadster is a wonderful car to drive -- as long as you use the transmission in a very specific way. This car is the most performance-biased of the lineup, with a short wheelbase and an agile suspension. It comes with one engine and one transmission: the V12's 6.0 liters work together to put out 565 bhp and 457 lb-ft of torque, which runs through a 7-speed automated manual transmission. All that power means this roadster has a top speed of over 200 mph, and it reaches 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.

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Paddle shifts to the rescue

Steering and acceleration are fantastic, and the roadster is entertaining on canyon roads as well as on the highway. But what can make or break this car happens when shifting gears. Put it in D, and you'll discover the gear changes are clunky and the transmission's response seems delayed. The end result causes the car to lurch. However, if you use the paddles to shift, you will find the response excellent, and the Vantage a dream to drive. It's the best way to get the pleasure of a manual without that pesky third pedal. People that don't try out the paddles will truly miss out.

The V12 Vantage S Roadster is more than the sum of its parts, far more than just handcrafted luxury and high performance for grown-ups. Driving this car makes you feel special. Above all, the fact that the Vantage garners a lot of attention in Southern California, where you can find an absurd amount of supercars on the road at any time, speaks volumes.


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