As a new Smart is unveiled, we look at the greatest rear-engined creations of all time
Aston Martin V12 Vantage review (2012 onwards)
Summary: One of the most charismatic British sports cars on sale is a unique and rewarding machine: not perfect, but even this is part of its considerable appeal.
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First drive: Aston Martin V8 Vantage
We like: Character by the bucketload, wonderful engine, beautiful head-turning style that makes it the People's Supercar, rewarding highs when the roads are right
We don't like: Stiffness on bad roads, slower than other hyper-price supercars, no paddleshift auto, 60% dearer than the superb V8 Vantage
You've got to love Aston Martin. In a world full of cars with downsized engines, Aston sells a model that combines its smallest car with its largest engine. Twisted downsizing, you could call it - and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage is all the more glorious because of it.
We're familiar with the V8 Vantage here at MSN Cars, having been hugely impressed with the revised 2012 Vantage range earlier in the year. As Porsche dials out the involvement in the latest 991 911, so Aston has turned the volume up, and the V8 Vantage is all the more charismatic because of it.
can it justify the staggering price premium over the wonderful V8?
So where does that leave the V12 Vantage? Well, it remains the range-topper of Aston's 'small car range', offering the most extreme and driver-focused setup for Lamborghini-like on-road drama at far less than Lamborghini-level prices. Compared to a Gallardo or a Ferrari 458 Italia, it's a bargain, despite costing nearly 60% more than a standard V8.
There's added interest in driving this car too - for, later this year, Aston Martin will launch the V12 Zagato, which uses the platform of the V12 Vantage beneath a beautiful new bodywork. In effect, then, we're already driving THE Aston Martin of 2012. So, how does it fare - and can it justify the staggering price premium over the wonderful V8?
A V12 in a car shorter than a Honda Insight is as glorious as it sounds. Hiding beneath the so-distinctive bonnet louvres and producing 510hp, this monster of a powerplant is even more powerful here than in the larger DB9, and the engagement starts the moment you press the central glass-capped Aston Martin starter key into the dash.
After a high-tech whirr, the engine explodes into life, the baritone exhausts stirring dogs from whole streets away. The excitement is instant and the sound immediately evokes images of classic V12 Jaguar E-Types: the noise is extremely pure, rich and detailed. There's no creamier-sounding Aston than this - not even the glorious V8 quite matches it.
It is fast, in a way you'd expect a big V12 to be, without truly morphing into hyperdrive. The sheer electric vivacity of a Ferrari or Lamborghini is lacking here, but don't let that put you off, because the immediate and torque-laden drive of the V12 Vantage is gratifying in its own right. On British B-roads, there's more than enough pace here.
On flowing, twisting roads it is lithe, quick-witted and precise
To achieve 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds, you really have to rev it - this engine is surprisingly peaky for a big V12 - but it's so impeccably smooth and characterful, this is no hardship. More of an issue could be the manual gearbox: it's OK, but a bit vague, while the clutch is heavy and the gearknob ridiculously large. The V8 has the better manual gearbox and, unlike on that car, there's no paddleshift auto option here.
Ride and handling
First things first: this is a very different car to the V8. We were besotted by that car's range of abilities that appeared perfectly attuned to UK roads. The V12 works well on British roads too - but not all of them. Choose tight, gnarly, broken country lanes and you'll be daunted in a way you wouldn't be in the V8 alternative.
Why? Because the V12 is stiff - significantly stiffer than the V8, which gives a very taut and focused ride even on smoother roads. Throw in imperfections and the V12 can quickly get the jitters, its rigid rear end juddering under power and stability control light frequently flashing in sympathy. It's not disastrous but it's not as fluid as the V8.
Combined with this is the weight of the engine, which can give the sensation of fighting with size and mass, of becoming as fearsome to control as you'd suspect a compact V12 monster would be, even if the car itself still responds more energetically to the wheel than it has any right to. No, if the country lanes are bad, it's best to hold back in the V12 Vantage. Wait until things smooth out and it can become exemplary.
This is a car that seems made for the Nurburgring. On flowing, twisting roads it is lithe, quick-witted and precise. There is no delay in the controls. There is no roll, hesitation, or imprecision. It goes, flows and threads with delightful panache that, when combined with the reward gained form the engine, makes you feel like a million dollars. It stops as well as it goes too, courtesy of powerful carbon ceramic brakes.
It also floods the driver in sensations. The steering is brilliant, writhing about the straight-ahead and varying its weight constantly to give a level of detail Porsche has regrettably eradicated in the latest 911. In terms of feedback and reward, the V12 Vantage's steering is one of the best around, a true delight for drivers. And the dislike of rough roads? Call it character once more...
The Aston Martin V12 Vantage interior, accessed via those delightful hinge-up doors, is beautifully finished but is showing its age in places. The centre console is complicated, the Bang & Olufsen stereo display is awkward to control and the wonderfully clear and logical Garmin sat-nav is frustratingly awkward to navigate via the dash scroller.
It's hard to mind too much when it's as characterful as this though. The sense of occasion is huge, from the low-set driving position to the wide centre console and glinting dials hidden behind glass covers. It's compact inside, but this only adds to the appeal, and the shelf behind the passengers combines with a decent hatchback boot to make it more practical than you'd think.
Special mention must go to the optional Kevlar-carbonfibre lightweight seats. These are almost as stiff as racing car's buckets, trimmed in gorgeous soft leather - and are among the most comfortable and hip-hugging seats on sale. They're firm, yes, but few road car seats feel more like a GT3 car's than these (and they make the V12 Vantage a full 17kg lighter).
Aston says the V12 Vantage has the highest lateral grip of any car it sells
With the Alcantara-clad steering wheel perfectly positioned, it's an immensely feel-good cabin to sit within, even smelling as rich as it looks. With excellent build quality and finish in evidence too, it's easy to justify the £135k list price for charisma alone...
Economy and safety
We ran the V12 Vantage on a gentle 50-mile motorway run, taking things steadily. We returned 25.6mpg according to the trip computer. Not bad for a 6.0-litre motor - and proof that big engines can deliver decent economy if driven steadily. Overall, the computer showed 21mpg, a fair result for such a charismatic car.
Aston says the V12 Vantage has the highest lateral grip (that's cornering grip) of any car it sells: you cannot get a road-going Aston Martin that holds the road better than this. Meaning that it's arguably the safest Aston of all if driven within its very high limits - with ample active and passive safety aids should you exceed them.
The MSN Cars Verdict
The V12 Vantage isn't perfect. On dodgy roads, it feels slightly dodgy. It isn't as hypercar-fast as a similar-price Porsche and its V8 sibling remains the more wide-ranging all-rounder. Who cares: for heart-on-sleeve appeal with rewards of impeccable highs, the V12 Vantage is a winner.
Get it on the right road and it's a joy. Keep it off the wrong ones and it will also reward daily driving with a level of interaction few cars can match. Throw in the fact you'll turn heads from onlookers who love and salute the car, rather than enviously scowl at it, for one of the finest brutish British cars to make you proud to be British: a classic Aston Martin.
|Need to know||Aston martin V12 Vantage|
|Engines, petrol||6.0-litre V12|
|Torque, lb ft||420|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.2|
|Top speed, mph||190|
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