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Aston Martin V12 Vantage S: Taking A Visceral Trip

So, what makes an Aston Martin?

Well, it needs to be powerful, of course. Something like a V12 with 554hp would be great. Ideally, if it’s still possible it should be normally aspirated. You should be able to hear the engine gasping in big lungfuls of air and the throttle should crack open instantly. It needs to be beautiful, too. The proportions should be spot-on, the silhouette should be unmistakeable, yet there should be no excess. No flamboyance or ostentation. It should look expensive, but somehow not flashy.

And it should exude a slight air of menace. There should be latent violence lurking beneath those fluid curves. The car in these photos, for example, with its carbon fibre grilles and hungry intakes. It’s a Aston Martin Vantage S V12, and it has a manual, seven speed gearbox. It may be the most Aston of all current Martins.

And I’ve just experienced it.

The “Aston Martin Shape” has become so familiar it’s engrained on the inside of my eyelids. Since the DB9 was first released what feels like an age ago, Aston Martins have taken on a leaner, more athletic aesthetic that somehow didn’t get my heart pumping like the juggernauts that preceded them. The Vantage of the ’70s and ’80s looked like a Ford Mustang in a Saville Row suit and was all the better for it. The supercharged V8 Vantage of the nineties, a personal favourite, was just utterly surreal to behold- a real thuggish, brute of a car yet still having a certain olde-worlde Englishness about it that made the biblical firepower it wielded all the more delicious.

I miss them.

Today’s Aston Martin seems like a different breed in comparison. The V8 vantage, when it first arrived, seemed tiny. Fragile, even. But those compact dimensions translated into house-fly agility. In British airshow terms, watching the new Vantage perform was like watching a Eurofighter Typhoon compared to the old Vantage’s Panavia Tornado. It was prettier, flightier, but a bit too…pretty.

But the simple fact is that the new is simply much better at everything than the old. Key to that is how much lighter it is, with the smaller dimensions offering a significant head-start in the weight-loss programme. Using structural bonded aluminium was a big step forward in creating a car that was very rigid, very slight. Of course, this all happened about a decade ago. It’s hard to imagine that the V8 Vantage has been with us so long.

With such a promising package, it wasn’t long before Aston Martin began to explore just what it was capable of.  Over time the engine became bigger and more powerful, countless upgraded versions came along, and then a V12 engine arrived. Then, inevitably, a more powerful V12 engine arrived.

They called it the V12 Vantage S, and they saw that it was good. But still people wanted more. It’s difficult to see what Aston could have offered. The car had everything. Pert looks, formidable power, delicate handling, they’d even managed to get the sequential manual gearbox finally sorted out. What more could you want?

Well, how about an injection of rawness? A manual gearbox. Something becoming increasingly rare in this day and age. Well, here it is. A seven speed manual gearbox with a dogleg first. It’s actually based on the guts from the automated, sequential box but without the automation.  This means absolute control by the driver over what’s going on. The requirement of another level of driving skill. The return of the ability to fluff a gearchange embarrassingly, miss a gear or misjudge the clutch. Good, old fashioned driving thrills.

This seemed like a very worthwhile addition to the Vantage S, and the tantalising thought of it saw that I spent a lot more time in the company of the Vantage S in the supercar paddock at Goodwood than I did with either the DB11, The Vulcan or any of the Ferrari’s, Lamborghinis, McLarens or cars from countless other hallowed brands.

Then I found myself sitting inside it. Stroking the stitching. Admiring the HVAC controls which, finally, look bespoke and suited to such a rarefied environment. I took the key in my hand and held it to the light, admiring the Aston Martin wings picked out in crystal, which could look tacky but is actually anything but. Does any other manufacturer offer such a beautiful key?

And then the engine erupted into life. It seems I would get the chance to feel that gearbox after all.

Alas, only as a passenger. But being a passenger on the Goodwood Hillclimb will do me fine, thanks.

What can I tell you about the car? Well, I can’t imagine that anybody could possibly be disappointed if they bought a V12 Vantage S Manual. The gearchanges came thick and fast, my talented driver flicking through the gate with confidence, certainly making things look easy. Meanwhile, the car sang a tune that was part opera, part industrial shredder, and all intoxicating.

I could feel the driver grabbing for individual additional millimetres of grip when he needed them, and the the Pirelli P Zeros handed it over without fail, even on a surface that hadn’t entirely dried out. It felt every bit the clichéd extension of the driver, and that’s not something a Vantage of the old school could ever accurately be accused of being.

And what does the Goodwood Hillclimb feel like?

Well, indescribable, really. Of course, this was a demonstration run only, intended to impress crowd and passenger alike. Outright speed was not the objective, but the way the two most important needles hurled themselves around the dash confirmed that he wasn’t going sparingly. And just like how riding a go-kart at 40 mph feels like at least twice that when you’re only inches from the ground, being a passenger on a narrow, brutal course like this brings a level of exhilaration of its own.

When you’re driving, you have reference points. You know how much grip you have, you know how the controls feel, you know what your inputs are and how they’re being interpreted. As a passenger you have none of that. You have 100% trust in the driver, and nothing else apart from a widescreen view of some very hard and unforgiving-looking scenery coming towards you very rapidly.

To a member of the vast crowd we passed at breakneck speed, it just looked like a spiritedly driven Aston Martin. It probably seemed reasonably hushed, too, certainly compared to the many outrageous race cars they had already seen that morning. But the passenger is subjected to all the sound, the noise, the vibration and the force that they could ask for. This is no shallow experience. This is having every atom of your being under sustained attacked by sensation.

And that is what an Aston Martin should do. Even just for a passenger.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Redusernab 2016. With huge thanks to Aston Martin and Aston Martin of America)

  • The Real Number_Six

  • CraigSu

    Still not a fan of the lipstick. At least it’s not a pig.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Marvelous. I agree that those 70-80’s Vantages looked like fat Mustangs. But classier. Not sure they performed any better.

    • Rover 1

      A bit like a Mustang. But not fatter. And in a Saville Row suit. Definitely classier.



      • Sjalabais

        If asked, I’d choose this over a Mustang 10/10.

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