If you want to buy a new car with a V12 engine and a manual gearbox, there is only one you can get: The Aston Martin V12 Vantage. It's worth every penny.
(Full Disclosure: Aston Martin wanted me to drive the V12 Vantage so bad that they gave me five full days with the car and let me take it up to Monticello Motor Club and drive it on track. They told me I could drive it 500 miles. I drove it 492.8.)
Hot rodding is a simple science. Take small car. Take hugely powerful engine. Insert hugely powerful engine into small car. Profit.
That's the formula for the V12 Vantage, because this is Aston's smallest — and most beautiful — car equipped with Aston's largest engine. It's a tight squeeze to get all 510 horsepower in there, but it's certainly worth the trade off because adding 100 horsepower to Aston's capable VH Platform really makes the Vantage come alive. The feelings, the sounds, the sensations, everything is more immediate and visceral. It's an Aston unplugged.
And on a personal note, I have been enamored with the Vantage since the day it came out. When I first saw one in 2006, I decided that within six years I would own one. No, I don't currently own one, but I finally got to drive one. And I drove it at the same time that Aston announced the V12 Vantage would no longer be a part of their lineup.
The platform has been around since 2005, and it's time for a replacement, no matter how subtle the change in design language is. That makes this a rather poetic moment: The last V12 powered car with a manual gearbox is going extinct. It's a true shame, because it's basically motoring perfection.
Last time, I tried (and was shot down by the boss) to give the Lamborghini Gallardo a 10 for its stunning and striking exterior design. I still stand by that car as a high water mark in automotive design. Even though the V12 Vantage shares basically zero characteristics with the Lamborghini, I find it absurdly beautiful.
Just look at it. The low stance. The wide body. The long hood. The short rear deck. Everything about this car oozes beauty. Then look at the intricate detailing. The divided rear lights. The delicate button to open the trunk. The disappearing door handles. The louvers on the hood. The traditional Aston Martin grille. There are not many other cars that have a road presence like the V12 Vantage.
It's a very different design than the Gallardo. Where that car was drawn with a ruler, the V12 Vantage is a free range design, as if a designer were given a pencil and told to run free in a field, occasionally drawing on a canvas while he ran. Ian Callum has told me that he designed this car (along with the DB9) during his tenure at Aston Martin, and it was then slightly altered by Henrik Fisker when he joined the company. Accounts tend to differ there depending on who you talk to.
If this is a car that was created by a tag team of Callum and Fisker, they need to work together more often. I said that I thought there was nothing wrong with the design of the Gallardo. I think the same here, except moreseo. If I could give this car a 13/10 for appearance, I would.
What do you think the love child of me and an Aston Martin V12 Vantage would look like? Sexy? Would it have a bunch of louvers in its chest? Carbon fiber head? I really want to find out.
The interior experience of an Aston Martin is truly unlike any other car, and that's because it's held in the details. Instead of getting rid of buttons, the Aston is comprised of a number of delicate buttons and require a fingertip to operate, like a classic Braun calculator. Tweeters rise out of the dash when you start the car. When you insert the key, which is made of sapphire, mind you, the ignition turns red, which makes the car seem like it has a pulse. The gearshift is an alien's skull of metal. It feels like the entire gearbox was milled out of one solid aluminum chunk.
Then there are the more intricate details. The doors have a storage compartment, and within is a small leather loop to hold your cell phone. In the cupholders, there is an insert to extend the armrest. The parking brake always folds flat, whether it is on or off, out of your way. Everywhere you lay your hand is Alcantara. The wheel, roof liner, and seats are all covered in the stuff.
Here are my minor points of contention: If the sun is shining on the center stack, good luck seeing the display. The seats could use some better side bolstering, and the passenger seat could use a better range of adjustments. This car, which is a Carbon Black edition, has both matte and gloss accents inside, which kind of clash. The vents and some of the switchgear seems to still come from the Volvo parts bin. In an interior of Saks Fifth Avenue, some bits are decidedly Target.
It's fast. The 510 horsepower beast gets from 0 to 60 in just 4.2 seconds. This does not put it in the running for fastest car in the world or even near GT-R territory. It's basically BMW M3 territory.
But do you realize how it feels to accelerate in a car with 12 cylinders willing you along while it relies on you to tell it what gear it needs to be in? It's incredible. The revs in the Aston rise quickly, unencumbered by what we mortals call friction. Three lights on the dash go red as you approach redline. You get off the gas, thrust your left foot down on the clutch, pull the gear lever to the next gear with the sort of authority reserved for opening a lock of the Panama Canal, release the clutch, and get back to full power. Sure, that's normal for any car, but in the Aston it feels like a sophisticated dance.
Like the Gallardo, the Aston is an experience in acceleration. You're there the whole time. There is no launch control or auto shift mode. You are what makes it get to 60 in an awesome 4.2 seconds or a mediocre 5.3 seconds. It's a connection between man and machine unlike many out there.
Here we have massive carbon ceramic discs that do a ludicrously good job. You need to get just a little bit of temperature in them before they reach their optimum, but once they do, they grab immediately and strong. There is great initial bite without being grabby. It's a wonderful combination.
Around town, carbon ceramics have a reputation for squeaking a lot, but that isn't the case here. They're easy to modulate and a joy around town. What I did find is that prolonged track use has an adverse effect. The rotors hold up fine, but the pads cook themselves rather quickly. After three laps of Monticello's full 3.8 mile course, the pads were already showing signs of over heating which did dampen a bit of the fun.
That makes for an interesting note: Carbon brakes are supposed to be great on track, not as great on the road. These are the opposite.
The chassis is well controlled and tuned, with great damping. Ride quality over rougher roads is rather good for an ultra-sports GT. Longer trips, like a two hour drive out of Manhattan on highways and backroads, is not exhausting. You'd expect to be beaten up, but chassis tuning doesn't let that happen.
I believe that because of the inherent stiffness of Aston's architecture, the V12 can have subtlely softer springs than you think. That results in a ride which is not jarring and is surprisingly compliant.
So Aston put snow tires on this car. In May. I know. I know. They also knew I was taking it to do some hot laps at Monticello Motor Club. Granted, the Pirelli Sottozero is one of the highest performance snow tires you can buy, but it's still a snow tire.
That didn't make me not push the car. When you're driving fast, you don't want to work against the limits of the car. What I mean is if you find out that corner entry speeds need to be a little lower or else you'll scrub speed and push wide, then enter slower. Don't keep entering a corner at a million miles per hour and then complain about understeer. Work with what you have.
Snow tires are incredibly soft and have interesting tread patterns meant to clear away snow, not go around a track to set a lap time. That's why I was so shocked at how well the car did. At full tilt, corner entry is crisp with a bit of push midcorner. It's solid out of the corner, with just a small wiggle of the hips if you really step on the power.
What I was expecting was a super sluggish turn-in, a massive push mid-corner, and then a tough time on corner exit. That's because of the massive lump that's under the hood, which I thought would act as a lead weight and force the car straight on in a corner. It's a pleasant surprise.
Now put some real tires on it.
Getting in a car with a V12 and a manual is quite the experience, if it's a good manual transmission. Thankfully, the Aston has a a great manual. The shifter and shift action is connected and solid, as if the entire gearbox is milled out of a solid piece of aluminum. It feels authoritative.
The clutch is a bit vague at first, with a lighter action than you expect. It takes some getting used to, but isn't bad in the end.
You have two soundtracks in the Aston. At low revs, the Aston is silent. Then you get to 3,000 RPM and all hell breaks loose. The two trumpets out back fire off a sound that Louis Armstrong wishes he created. It's goosebump inducing.
Then we have the Bang & Olufsen stereo. It's really incredible and produces some of the crispest playback I've ever heard in a car. It really is concert quality. And not nosebleeds of Giant Stadium concert quality. We're talking fourth row center on the floor at the New York Philharmonic quality. It's lovely.
The Aston has Bluetooth, nav, parking sensors, a backup camera, satellite radio, and all of those other doo dads. But it feels like it only has them because people want them. The nav is a Garmin unit, which isn't bad but doesn't feel expensive. Hooking up your phone is infuriating. If you've never seen Aston's interface before, it's the most illogical setup in the world. It's like it was designed by ducks who hate Bluetooth.
And during my first night in the car, it decided that it liked Classic Vinyl on Sirius so much that I wasn't allowed to change the station. It also decided that not every playlist on my iPod should be accessible, so I had to listen to Christmas music.
Again, like the Lamborghini, this isn't a value proposition. This car stickered for $195,440, and that includes the $8,330 B&O stereo. Here's the thing though: This is the only super sports GT with a manual gearbox and a V12. And it's now extinct.
I think that makes it worth it. You're getting what is probably the last of the breed. There could be another V12 car with a manual coming from Aston, but I tend to doubt it. Otherwise the new Vanquish would offer one. Like the coelacanth, the V12 Vantage is temporarily extinct. Hopefully it reappears from the murky waters below the automotive industry soon.
It's a masterpiece.
Engine: 5.9L V12
Power: 510 HP at 6,500 RPM/420 LB-FT at 5,750 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed Manual
0-60 Time: 4.2 seconds
Top Speed: 190 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,704 Pounds
Seating: 2 people
MPG: 11 City/17 Highway/13 Combined
MSRP: $183,535 ($195,440 As Tested)