Aston stuffs its biggest engine in its smallest coupe one last time.
While the clock on large internal-combustion engines might be close to midnight, we know that the 2023 Aston Martin V12 Vantage is not going to be the final new model launched with a dozen cylinders. The Lamborghini Aventador’s replacement will also stick with a V-12, albeit with hybrid assistance, and Ferrari’s forthcoming Purosangue SUV will have one too. Others may also sneak under the bar.
But we do know that the new V12 Vantage will be the last of its line, the final twinning of the company’s largest engine with its smallest sports car. A limited edition of 333 cars will be produced for all markets, and the run sold out within days of being announced last year. And while Aston hasn’t released an official price tag for the car, we’re told that it’s around the $300,000 mark—very nearly as much as the bigger, grander, and quicker DBS, which uses basically the same 5.2-liter twin-turbocharged engine. So, can less truly be more?
Much of the V12 Vantage’s structure is shared with the minimalist V12 Speedster the company launched last year, which was itself based on a heavily modified Vantage Roadster platform. Despite that, there will only be a coupe version of the new V12 Vantage, with its engine in the same state of tune as the Speedster; with 690 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque, the Vantage’s output isn’t too far off that of the DBS. Output is delivered exclusively to the rear axle through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and while the regular Vantage uses an electronically controlled active differential capable of biasing torque side to side, the V12 has a conventional plate-type limited-slip diff.
Our first drive took place in Wales, where we used some of the country’s finest roads—high on the list of the best in the world—and the tight, technical Anglesey race circuit, which sits next to the Irish Sea. While the V12 Vantage’s performance impressed throughout, it was soon clear that, for all its might, the engine only ever speaks with a soft voice.
While the regular V-8-powered Vantage is loud and lairy, the V12 exhibits a much more relaxed character. That’s true for the exhaust, which burbles at low revs and zings when the engine is worked hard, but never develops many muscular bass frequencies. But it’s also true for the rest of the car’s dynamic behavior. Despite sitting on stiffer springs than its V-8 sibling (Aston quotes rates that are firmer by 50 percent at the front and 40 percent at the rear), the V12 Vantage still feels impressively pliant over bumpy surfaces. Even the adjustable dampers’ Track setting doesn’t feel overly harsh for road use.
There were a few refinement issues on the car we drove—some related to its prior life as a development car, some not. The loud whine from the differential can probably be attributed to the hard use of development work, and we presume the diffs in customer cars won’t sound like that. The V12 Vantage also suffered from an issue we’ve noticed in other carbon-roofed coupes, with certain frequencies of noise seemingly trapped by the roof, creating a drone that was obvious at constant-speed cruising. Plus, the optional carbon bucket seats traded well-clamped lateral support for increasing discomfort after a couple of hours behind the wheel. Any comfort seekers would be well advised to consider the standard sport seats instead.
Yet it is very hard to fault the V12 Vantage in terms of performance. The engine might make 108 fewer pound-feet of torque here than it does in the DBS, but it still has more than enough muscle to make the car feel monstrously fast. The automatic gearbox’s tendency to upshift well short of the 6900-rpm redline seems to have little effect on the rate of acceleration.
But it lacks the edgy feel of the V8 Vantage. The lesser car’s active differential pushes torque to the outside wheel during enthusiastic cornering, producing an entertaining sense of impending oversteer even short of the point at which the rear tires actually run out of grip. The V12’s conventional limited-slip differential doesn’t do that, and it takes slightly more effort to get the car turned and settled into a corner, although traction was impeccable from the Pilot Sport 4S tires. The steering felt great, too, with revised front geometry providing newfound crispness and precision. The V12’s standard carbon-ceramic brakes survived repeated hard use without complaint, although there was some audible grumbling at lower speeds.
Yet there is an undoubted mismatch between the aggression of the V12’s design and the gentleness of its dynamic demeanor. The vast rear wing is a case in point, contributing to a claimed 450 pounds of peak downforce and undoubtedly improving the car’s sense of high-speed stability. But it also eliminates a fair percentage of the view through the rear window. Aston says it’s possible to order the car without the wing, although with a consequent reduction in downforce.
Driving on the 2.1-mile circuit at Anglesey solidified the impression of a grand tourer in track-rat clothes, to the extent we were glad to have first experienced the car on a fast-flowing road, which seems more like its preferred environment. Although hugely fast, the V12 Vantage does not feel like a natural track car. The engine has little difficulty in motivating its considerable weight—3957 pounds in its lightest configuration, according to Aston—but the mass was evident in Anglesey’s tighter corners. The V12 feels nose heavy when cornering near its limit and needs to be carefully shepherded into bends to avoid running wide, the traction control then intervening hard to keep the rear end under control.
There is a more permissive Sport setting for the stability-control system, although we soon discovered this allows significant oversteer even at the higher speeds where such driver-flattering modes tend to subtly increase intervention. The result certainly felt exciting, if not especially elegant. And even the quickest changes of the automatic gearbox also felt too leisurely on track compared to the speed of a dual-clutch transmission. As on the public roads, we soon learned it was easier to short-shift and trust in the breadth of the engine’s torque.
The V12 Vantage is a hugely likable car, yet also a slightly confused one. The pugnacious design suggests it will offer a supercar-baiting driving experience, yet the dynamic reality is far closer to Aston’s tradition of comfortable grand tourers, like a slightly smaller and fractionally slower version of the DBS. Opting to forego the rear wing would obviously remove much of the peak downforce, but it would also make for a more classically elegant car, one with the visual polish to match what’s under the hood. And if enough of those 333 customers go that route, maybe Aston will have to cook up one more really extreme V12 Vantage to use up their supply of giant aerodynamic aids. One can dream.