First drive: 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster
Aston Martin’s 2015 V12 Vantage S Roadster is the fitter and sportier younger brother of the Aston line. Where its big brothers can calm down and cruise, the little drop-top is all fight.
Echoing off the sandstone walls, pock-marked by wind, water, and dynamite, the noise of the furious Aston V12 sounded not like a complex machine made by man but rather the devilish cries of a beast from another realm. The sun beat down hard, as I lobbed the Madagascar Orange Aston into corner after perfectly carved corner. Bobbing from sweeping left to hard right, I gripped the steering wheel lightly. Though I was ripping through corners well in excess of triple the recommended speed, the light but incredibly quick and precise steering and faultless suspension together kept me calm. Driving full-throttle up a mountain in 108-degree weather is how most automakers torture-test an engine, as such strains might well overwhelm even the most keenly crafted and cooled motor. Hauling flat-out up Highway 74 outside Palm Springs, California, however, is simply how Aston Martin chose for us small group of journalists evaluate its 2015 V12 Vantage S Roadster. Hot weather, hotter car, and the open road: the scene was set.
Aston Martin originally built the V12 Vantage as a bit of a larf – sort of a V12 lover’s swan song. Incredibly, it’s become one of the brand’s most popular models. Now in its V12 S Roadster form, the wee convertible stands as Aston’s fastest and fastest-accelerating roadster yet – sailing past 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. Add to that, with the top up, it’ll hit 201 mph. However, as I stood in front of my orange drop-top Aston, I couldn’t care less; I was in awe of its beauty. The V12 Vantage S Roadster is distinguished from the rest of the line by several features: a new carbon-fiber grille, new seats, lightweight forged-alloy 10-spoke wheels, and flared wheel arches.
My favorite distinguishing characteristic, however, just might be new carbon-fiber hood louvers. Not only do they help cool the masterpiece of a V12 shoehorned beneath, they also give the V12 Vantage S Roadster a very menacing, sporty look. While the rest of the Aston line looks like a handsome gentleman ready to charm the pants off of any woman he so desires, the V12 Vantage S Roadster looks like that same man’s younger, fitter brother. Rather than simply embodying the art of damsel seduction, the hale and hearty V12 Vantage S Roadster looks ready to punch you in the face and then seduce your girlfriend.
Behind the wheel
On the open road, behind the wheel of the debonair drop-top, the whole handsome package falls into place. The V12 Vantage S Roadster isn’t just a pretty face with ceiling unlimited; it’s a motoring enthusiast’s dream. Outside the hard, unforgiving supercar world, every car has its limit. Come into a 30-mph corner at 90 mph, and a driver will inevitably find the limits of traction; tires will give up the ghost, suspensions will bend to physics, or the chassis will twist. In the V12 Vantage S Roadster, I found none of these things. With the suspension in Track mode and the engine management and steering system in Sport, I found no flaws in the V12 Vantage S Roadster. Really. No matter how hard I pushed the car, it just kept going; it just kept impressing me. Wholly impressive, too, are the Ventilated Carbon Ceramic Matrix brakes with mono-block calipers. Not only do the brakes look very grand indeed, they also slow and stop the car without flaw. There’s a good reason for this: They were yanked from the hubs of the Aston Martin CC100 Speedster concept. Gobs of power are available at virtually any rev range. And the power pull doesn’t peter out at the top, as with other big motors. At full throttle, the driver has wind in his hair, sun on his face, and the cries of perhaps one of the best engines on the road to day being piped at him through an unrestricted sport exhaust. If the driver wishes not to pretend he’s racing in Le Mans, the transmission can be clicked into top gear anywhere above 45 mph and the V12 Vantage S Roadster calms down and becomes one of the most comfortable and gentlemanly grand tourers on the planet. Believe me; I was surprised, too. Within seconds I went from howling, rollicking V12-powered British cad to calm, quiet, and comfy cavalier. At speeds below 70 mph, the cabin – even with the top down – is whisper quiet. The seats are exceptionally comfortable at any speed.
Make it go
At the heart of the tarmac triumph is Aston Martin’s 6.0-liter naturally aspirated V12. Thanks to technology derived from its many years of racing, including CNC machined combustion chambers and hollow camshafts, the twelve-cylinder produces 565 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque. Although peak torque doesn’t hit until 5,750 rpm, 376 torques are available at just 1,000 rpm. This mean the V12 Vantage S Roadster will eagerly push the driver back into his seat at any speed. Typically, when describing a car’s engine and transmission package, I describe the gearbox as being bolted to the motor. While this is true, too, in the Aston, it’s not quite accurate. You see, while the engine is at the front – and connected to the transmission – the gearbox is actually in the rear of the car for near perfect weight distribution. That’s not the only interesting bit about the gearbox either. Rather than a manual transmission, like that found in the original V12 Vantage, the V12 Vantage S Roadster features an auto-shift manual (ASM) seven-speed transmission. Yes, it is a manual gearbox with a clutch instead of a torque converter. Rather than the driver pushing a clutch and moving a gear leaver, this manual transmission can shift itself – or be shifted by the two paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The word I want to use to describe the V12 Vantage S Roadster is “perfect.” The Aston goes and corners like a Huracan, but won’t suffer the same disdainful glares from onlookers. Nor will the Aston’s suspension beat the driver up, like that of the Lamborghini. Mercedes-Benz’s V12 SL65 AMG might be as smooth and comfortable as the Aston, but can’t touch the Aston’s style and presence. As much as I want to call the Aston perfect, I can’t. Perfection is a chimera: unattainable. And despite its nearly godlike abilities, the Aston’s ASM gearbox shows it is mortal. In Sport or manual it’s the full banana, a viscous motoring experience. When the driver is ready to take it easy, however, the Aston still wants to fight. In automatic shift mode, the transmission lurches in gaps between gears. This is understandably frustrating; especially in a nearly flawless car that costs $199,450. Yet, therein lies the issue. There is nothing else like the V12 Vantage S Roadster on the road today. It goes like a Lambo, corners like a Ferrari, rides like a Rolls-Royce, and draws attention like Jennifer Lawrence. If living with that means doing my own shifting … I think I can manage.