Los Angeles, California—Just like any hot rod, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S started out in the usual way. A half dozen engineers were standing around the Vantage and looking at its 4.7-liter V-8 engine, and they all turned around to look at a 5.9-liter Aston Martin V-12 on an engine stand nearby. And then someone said, “So, do you think it’ll fit?”
After some head scratching, a little massaging of the plumbing, and a new hood, the V12 Vantage came to life. And that’s how we came to be making a U-turn in the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster at the bottom of Ortega Highway. In a 565-hp convertible like this, one run through the canyon and over the ridge just isn’t enough.
Never mind that English heritage stuff
The 5.9-liter AM28 V-12 gives the soul of a hot rod to the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, as you’d suspect it would since it’s rated at 565 hp @ 6750 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque @ 5750 rpm. This engine might have started life as two Ford Duratec V-6s stitched together, but years of development by Cosworth and others have made this 60-degree 5935cc V-12 nothing like the lazy engine that you might remember from the first Aston Martin DB9 that arrived in the U.S. in 2005.
With its low-friction valvetrain, variable valve-timing and the latest Bosch engine management system, the V-12 feels awake at last, and it spins effortlessly to its power peak, which comes nearly 1000 rpm higher than a decade ago. Even better, the V12 Vantage S lets you hear the engine’s voice, as the powertrain’s Sport mode lets the exhaust system bark, and you can hear the crackle from this V-12 with its unique, uneven-fire cylinder timing.
If you can’t drive a Smart, just tell us
There was a time when a car like this would come with a manual transmission, but sadly such a thing would make it sale-proof these days. But never fear, the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster still requires a challenging protocol for shifting gears, only now it comes from a single-clutch, seven-speed Graziano automatic. No wimps need apply.
Until recently, the single-clutch automated manual was preferred to the dual-clutch design for high-performance cars because it shifted quicker and coped with greater torque loads, plus it offered the same manual gear selection with shift paddles and the same mode for automatic shifting. Now the latest dual-clutch transmissions have caught up with the single-clutch design on the performance side, while they continue to offer smoother clutch engagement while you drive around town.
So maybe you’re thinking that the Graziano is a backwards step here. And when it’s in automatic mode, the V12 Vantage S’s single-clutch transmission does shift slowly, and the powertrain seems to pause a moment before the next gear is automatically selected. It’s kind of like driving a Smart Fortwo in this way, and just as in a Smart Fortwo, the process is quicker and smoother if you lift off the throttle pedal for an instant to help things along. If you’re too clumsy to sense these shifts in automatic mode and too lazy to use the throttle, well, what can we say? When someone complains about single-clutch automated manuals in urban driving, we say to ourselves, “What can this guy know about performance cars when he can’t even drive a Smart?”
But none of this matters, really. The V12 Vantage S Roadster is meant to be shifted manually all the time. That’s why the shift paddles are attached to the steering column (professional style, so you always know where they are). That’s why there are three different powertrain modes—Normal, Sport and Track. That’s why you can feel the clutch firmly engage with every shift. That’s why you’re driving an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster in the first place.
Who let the dogs out?
This newest version of the V12 Vantage S has three chassis modes, not just two: Normal, Sport and Track. It’s probably a secret that the V12 Vantage S rides so well in Normal mode, since most drivers of the sporty persuasion think it’s manly to boast that they always drive around in Sport mode. Fortunately this newly calibrated Sport mode (it’s slightly more relaxed) is awfully nice in the Vantage S, as there’s quick enough throttle action and crisp enough suspension response to give the car an edge, yet the chassis still feels supple on the road.
You have to squint at Aston Martin’s typically illegible instruments and scroll through the menu in the instrument binnacle to find Track mode, and it’s triple difficult when the convertible top is retracted and the sun is in your eyes. But pretty soon you’re blazing along the highway, and the 565-hp engine will steal your breath away when you get deep into the narrow, English-style throttle pedal. The car strains at its leash in Track mode like some kind of bad dog, since the transmission shifts so aggressively. As a result, this 3847-pound convertible gets to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. It’ll also get to 201 mph if you’re an idiot.
At anything less than 201 mph, you feel like a hero. There’s lots of speed in this car, yet the edges are rounded off slightly to make it perfectly drivable. The quick-ratio, hydraulically assisted steering sends communicative messages from the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires. The suspension helps the tires grip in the corners, yet there’s plenty of wheel travel to absorb bumps. The all-aluminum chassis always feels balanced on its relatively short 102.4-inch wheelbase. Even the fade-resistant carbon-ceramic brake discs engage predictably.
Most of all, the quick action of the Graziano transmission and the characteristic smooth throttle response of a V-12 engine make this car far, far easier to drive really, really well than any average human has a right to expect. The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster is fast, solid, and calm. As you dive into a corner, the car settles easily on its front suspension, then you pick up the throttle and feel the car surge (not jump) forward as the rear suspension carries the load. Down the canyon on Ortega Highway, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S finds its way as quickly and naturally as water flowing downhill.
So good, it makes people wave
Though we hate to admit it, there’s more to the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster than the way it drives.
It looks great, fluid and yet strong in that distinctive way that has made an Aston Martin instantly recognizable to everyone. It also looks great whether the electric-operated top is down or up, although you can’t see behind you if the top is up. (This is a car that should have blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic safety alert.) Though the dash is high and the windshield looks narrow, the driving position feels more spacious than that of a Jaguar F-Type, and the door also swings upward a bit as you open it so you won’t feel threatened by curbs. The new, optional Carbon Pack treatment gives the interior appearance some overdue zip. Finally, better pack light, since the power-operated top consumes nearly all the trunk space when it’s retracted.
Aston Martin has come a long way in this new century, and the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster shows us the reasons. It’s mature in the Aston Martin way, yet secretly tough in the same way that you find in a Ferrari California T, Jaguar F-Type, or Porsche 911. Best of all, everyone likes an Aston Martin. Every car that we came upon while driving up the canyon and over the ridge pulled over at the first wide spot, and the driver waved happily as we went by.
On Ortega Highway, it seems like everyone would rather be driving an Aston Martin.
2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster
Engine:5.9-liter, 48-valve DOHC V-12; 565 hp @ 6750 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 5750 rpm
Layout:2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive convertible
EPA Mileage:12/18/14 mpg (city/highway/combined)
L x W x H:172.6 x 73.4 x 49.2 in
0-60 mph:3.9 sec
Top speed:201 mph
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