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V12 Vantage S; The 205mph Aston 10 Years On

27 September 2023

With an uprated Aston Martin V12, producing 565bhp and 630Nm of torque, squeezed into Astons smallest car in the range, the V12 Vantage S has somewhat of a reputation as being a bit ‘lively’. 205mph, at that point the fastest speed any production Aston had reached, was ideal for a blast down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans but detractors questioned it’s usefulness on a damp British B-road. The question being asked was, “is the V12 Vantage S too fast?”.

That’s what we’ve set off to answer on a brisk September Sunday morning. An invite to a supercar event at Matfen Hall, around 25 miles from our County Durham facility, suggested the perfect opportunity to put the V12 through its paces. 10 years on from the introduction of the V12 Vantage S, and with a confirmed ending to the V12 Vantage bloodline after the current production run is finished, we’re keen to see how our car stacked up.

The tasteful adjustments made to the Vantage bodywork for the V12 model (wider skirts, more pronounced front splitter and rear lip spoiler, extra bonnet vents and a bigger diffuser) avoid intruding on the timeless Ian Callum/Henrik Fisker design. It’s more aggressive for sure, elevating the car from sports car to supercar with those race-inspired additions, but it retains a core ‘Aston-ness’ that ensures it fits in within our showroom amongst other iconic Aston Martins.

A twelve-cylinder cold-start is always a spectacle, and the Vantage doesn’t disappoint as it rolls out into the crisp autumnal air, burbling softly as the idle settles. Despite its reputation as the rawest Aston Martin of the VH era (which spans from DB9 and V8 Vantage through DBS, Virage and Rapide to Vanquish), closing the door and pulling away feels decidedly reserved. That V12 burble is translated, through some impressive sound deadening applied to the bonded aluminium chassis structure, into a characterful exhaust note that avoids overstepping the mark. A ‘subtle’ V12? There’s perhaps no such thing, but Aston have done a fantastic job of keeping things somewhat reserved.

As regular visitors to Aston Workshop will know, the road leading from our driveway through to the main road is a fantastic test of damping and chassis dynamics. The peaks and troughs in the tarmac only serve to compliment the V12 Vantage S though, with the Adaptive Damping system more than up to the job of smoothing out the uneven surface. In fact, the initial feeling inside the V12 is one of reserved comfort; it inspires a lot of confidence despite the raucous reputation this model has. At low speeds the steering is delightfully light, and the overall diminutive dimensions of the Vantage body make placing it on the road fairly stress free. 

Ultimately though, slow speed manoeuvring is far removed from the V12 Vantage S normal use case. Reaching the road leading up towards Sunniside, a T-junction allows an opportunity to feel that monster 630Nm of torque in action. A slightly damp (and slightly loose) road surface promotes liberal use of caution here, but from 20mph onwards a fairly straight and completely empty stretch of tarmac allows for the full explosiveness of the 5.9L V12 to be unleashed. The sense of acceleration is wonderfully unique; its fast of course, but it generates smiles more than feelings of fear. The 20-60mph blast is over in an instant, but it is without doubt one of the most joyful 1-second experiences a car can deliver. Then come off the accelerator and the car settles immediately into a relaxed and overall comfortable mini-GT. It’s impressive how the V12 Vantage S can switch so effortlessly from extreme Supercar to reserved Grand Tourer, and it pulls off that Aston trademark exceptionally well. 

We soon find the A1, and with the Aston settled into motorway-style driving we can devote some time to picking up on the detail. The Vantage interior remained largely unchanged from the V8 launch in 2005 to the V600 limited run model in 2018, which lends the V12 Vantage S a sense of familiarity from the driver’s seat. The materials are updated though, with plenty of Carbon Fibre and Alcantara to remind the occupants that this isn’t a standard Vantage cabin. Vantages had three generations of centre console design, with this car having the middle setup. Gone are the recognisable Volvo parts, but physical buttons are retained before the introduction of the later haptic setup.

Infotainment has traditionally been a weak point for Aston, and while the Sat Nav and media functions all work fine they’re not quite as simple to use as the offering from 2023’s cars; luckily, the V12 soundtrack provides all the entertainment needed. The trademark Aston Martin dials with reverse-sweeping rev-counter are as gorgeous as ever, while the glass ECU key/start button is another visual highlight. The pedal feel from both the accelerator and brake is identical to a V8 Vantage set up which feeds into the sense of ‘normalness’ this totally un-normal V12 supercar generates during normal driving. 

The Sportshift transmission, found here in 3rd-generation 7-speed guise, is at its best in the V12. The first-to-second shift is still a little less smooth than a traditional auto box, but for everything above that it’s a very accomplished day-to-day automatic-style transmission. Slip into manual mode however and it really comes into its own. Changes are snappy, with both up- and down-shifts more direct and purposeful than in auto mode. Overtakes are a genuine joy, whether making use of the generous torque on offer or dropping a few ratios to make more of a show of it. The 7th gear is actually rarely used below 70mph, while the Sport setting normally drops one more gear to keep things nice and lively. 

Heading out on the A69 where a 70mph speed limit is in place, 7th is finally engaged and the car is settled and surprisingly peaceful. Wide-section tyres (255 at the front, 295 at the rear) emit some noticeable but not overall intrusive noise, with very little wind noise making its way in. In true GT mode like this, the V12 Vantage S manages to reach the heady heights of 26mpg (according to the live reading on the dash), which we think isn’t too bad for a 5.9L, 565bhp 12-cylinder.

Enough of how accomplished the Vantage is at low-speeds or motorway runs though; on the twisty stuff is where the V12 Vantage S is at home. The final leg of the journey is on proper ‘weekend driving’ kind of roads. Sport mode and adaptive damping engaged, the V12 feels as if it’s been uncaged at last. The weight of every touch point seems ideally set up for this kind of driving. The steering is responsive without being over-heavy, the damp road surface does little to upset the progressive brake feel, and the soft click of the shift paddles avoids the ’game console’ feel of other paddle-shift setups. The recent rain has left large puddles of standing water, but on the stretches in-between are short blasts to try stretch the legs of the V12 Vantage S a little.

This was never the day for disengaging the traction control, but even when it does kick in it’s more reassuring than intrusive. Have no doubt about it, the rear wheels can easily break traction even in a straight line but pay the car due respect and driving the V12 Vantage S is a very rewarding experience. The ride remains supple throughout this more ‘spirited’ driving, but never anything other than planted. This isn’t a particularly light car (around 1660kg) but it doesn’t feel heavy through the corners. Its predictable, engaging and above all fast.

V8 Vantage is often pitted against the Porsche 911 in the ‘fast sports car’ category, which would place the V12 Vantage S as a rough rival to the 991 generation GT3. The Vantage has more power, a higher top speed and twice the number of cylinders, but it manages to wear its statistics with subtleness. The GT3 is most probably a better out-and-out super-sports car, but the V12 Vantage S trades some race-car-for-the-road feeling for a little more mini-GT comfort and refinery. It’s incredibly fast, but after 20 minutes or so of driving it’s also very predictable. The slightly wet conditions certainly put a cap on how much performance can be extracted from our car, but they don’t make it undrivable; it’s just as at home drifting on at 70mph on the motorway as it is threading through winding B-roads, which is a trademark of the finest Aston Martin models. 

Pulling into the impressive grounds of Matfen Hall, we need to answer our original question; is the V12 Vantage S too fast? It’s exceptionally quick, and without due caution it could quickly have become too much for the damp September roads we drove on. But it has a reservedness that inspires confidence that doesn’t over-step into over-confidence. Indeed, around town or on a motorway cruise it’s incredibly drivable. On the more interesting stretches of road, it’s a supercar through-and-through. It feels like a proper Aston, fitting neatly into the ‘Brute in a Suit’ niche that Aston Martin has carved out. 

At a supercar event made up of McLarens, Audi R8s and a huge selection of Ferraris the V12 caught admiring looks and put smiles on faces, the 12-cylinder burble enticing but never overbearing. Aston Martin have always tried to promote a Gentlemen’s Racer image for their cars, and that’s exactly where this car sits. It’s comfortable, but not lazy. It suits the drive to the racetrack just as much as it suits breaking the tracks lap time record. It’s fast, but to describe it as “too fast” would be missing the point. It simple has all the quickness you’ll ever need.

This 2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is currently for sale at Aston Workshop. Click here for more details.