Aston Martin's V8 Vantage, with its relatively tiny body and huge V8 engine, is a savage car at times. But, in the face of more extreme competition, mere savagery just doesn't cut it. As a result, the company's chucked in an engine with four more cylinders. This, unsurprisingly, has transformed what was already a brute of a supercar into one of the angriest, most spiteful vehicles that money -- £130,000 specifically -- can buy: the V12 Vantage.
'Angry' is perhaps the best way to describe the V12. It appears enraged with everyone and everything from the moment you start its engine. Insert Aston Martin's 'emotional control unit' (a key that doubles as a start button when placed inside a docking station in the dashboard) and the V12 detonates with a din that will terrify old ladies -- and you, for that matter. When idling, it snarls like a rabies-ridden pit bull terrier until you blip the throttle and that snarl gives way to an ill-tempered bark. It's not very subtle, but it is brilliant.
If looks could murder
The car's looks aren't particularly subtle, either. The large bonnet vents, which are necessary to keep the huge engine cool, don't come across well in photos. See and hear a V12 Vantage in the metal, however, and suddenly those vents make total sense. They're very much a part of this car's fiery personality.
There can be no debate regarding the rest of the car's appearance. The curvy rear end, voluptuous haunches and purposeful silhouette look breathtaking in pictures, but even more so in the flesh. It's small wonder that James Bond was such a hit with the ladies. Rab C Nesbitt would have pulled just as often if he'd had one of these.
The interior of the V12 is basically identical to that of the epic Aston Martin DBS, except the leather and Alcantara of our test car were dyed in the blood of a thousand virgins. That's our hunch, anyway. They had a deep red colour, giving the cabin a part boutique, part slaughterhouse appeal that perfectly complemented the murderous vibe of the engine.
It's not perfect in there, though. The flyaway, rally-style handbrake mounted to the right (not the left) of the driver is unusual at best and a pain in the backside at worst. It always returns to its original flat position instead of ratcheting into place as you lift it, making it difficult to know when the handbrake is engaged.
Disengaging it is even trickier. You'll do it incorrectly at least once a day, particularly during hill starts, when there's a strong chance you'll stall the car, roll backwards into traffic and generally make a fool of yourself, no matter how good a driver you are. You can get around this to some extent by applying unusually high revs to rule out the possibility of stalling, but applying extra revs to this car's already furious V12 engine is like screaming out loud in a library -- everyone will think you're a prat.
The V12's cabin tech is surprisingly non-murderous. Having lost our rag with some of the tech in the DBS, we half expected this car to be just as frustrating. But all of its gizmos worked as if they belonged in a car that's far more civilised than this. The sat-nav, an item that'll be familiar to Volvo owners, now accepts full seven-digit postcode entry, which those in early DBS models didn't. Also, when dynamically recalculating routes due to excess traffic, it provides a full appraisal of how much longer or shorter the new route will be.
The Bang & Olufsen audio system, an optional extra, is well worth investing in. It was impressive in the DBS, but sounds even better here due, perhaps, to the V12's smaller cabin. The motorised acoustic lenses (tweeters) rise and fall from the dashboard in dramatic fashion; the subwoofer enclosure behind the driver and passenger booms imperiously; and the mid-range speakers positioned just behind your head, in the door panels, and by your feet deliver music with precision and soul -- a rare combination.
What's logic got to do with it?
Anyone who's ever sat inside an Aston Martin will tell you that the user interface is appalling. The primary control buttons, splayed across the dashboard and centre console, are beautiful to look at, but they're so impossibly small, and the logic of their operation so nonsensical, that even working the stereo is like sitting a Mensa exam.
What does the 'T1/T2' button on the radio do? Why are the buttons that activate the cabin ceiling lights located directly below the eject button on the CD player and not near the lights themselves? Why, when the car has an enormous 152mm (6-inch) sat-nav display, is all the music information shown on a tiny 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD strip next to the key?
Bizarrely, it's harder to drive the V12 at a low speed that it is to drive it quickly. Whereas you may be tempted to fiddle with the stereo or handbrake at low speeds, none of those trifles are of any concern when driving the car on a track or twisty B road.
In such situations, the boisterous V12 engine walks the walk. Sink the throttle, and it'll emit a blood-curdling scream before flinging you towards the horizon in a spectacular fashion. Its 0-62mph time of 4.2 seconds isn't especially quick on paper -- not when compared to the 3.7 seconds of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano HGTE -- but you'll feel every shred of its acceleration power in the pit of your stomach. And then you'll press the button marked 'sport'.
On many cars, the 'sport' button is installed for decorative purposes, but not here. With the V12, it turns what is already an angry car into one with an insatiable rage that can only be quenched by speed. Hit sport, even while doing 30mph in fourth gear, and the V12 will lurch forward as if it's caught scent of wounded prey. Even without additional pressure on the accelerator, it'll pick up speed as you just sit there, clutching the steering wheel in astonishment.
Handle with care
The car's handling is terrific too. Our test car shipped with dry-bias tyres, which means they grip like a breast-feeding baby orang-utan in the dry, although they're pretty useless in wet conditions. Throw the car at a corner and the grip is exceptional, with little hint of understeer. Those lucky enough to find themselves on a track will find it difficult to resist unleashing every last ounce of horsepower, because the reward is exhilaration beyond measure.
Don't get us wrong -- there are a few issues that prevent this car from being truly perfect. The steering wheel and driver seat seem out of alignment, giving the
impression that you are, to a degree, sitting sidesaddle as
you drive. The manual six-gear gearbox could be smoother, too. The gear lever itself is too far back, and a paddle shifter in a good manual system, such as the one in the Ferrari 599, is miles better than a clunky H gate -- no matter what your grandad says.
The Aston Martin V12 Vantage is a stunning car. Other manufacturers have, and will continue, to make faster, more advanced vehicles, but we get the feeling the V12 will always remain in a class of its own. It's mesmerisingly beautiful, hugely rewarding to drive and will deservingly be considered one of the most desirable supercars ever created.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage stats
- Top speed: 190mph
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds
- Max power: 510bhp
- Economy: 17.28mpg (combined cycle)
- Price: £130,000 (starting price)