It might be yet another spin on the Vantage theme, but the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster shows there's life in the formula yet. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
So here it is, the Helen Mirren of performance cars. The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster fronts up with 565bhp from its 6.0-litre engine, a Sportshift III seven-speed automated transmission and the ability to hit 62mph in around four seconds and top out at over 200mph. It might be old, but you still fancy it.
Let's look at this rationally, or at least as rationally as we can with a car this good-looking. This Aston Martin Vantage platform is, in motoring terms, a bit of a museum piece. The Vantage first appeared in production-ready hard top form way back in 2005 for a 2006 model year launch. Back then its rivals were cars like the Ferrari 360 and the Maserati 4200 GT, models which have subsequently been replaced and then replaced again. It's not exactly an industry secret that Aston Martin isn't awash in development budget, so it needs to make the most of what it has. That original 4.3-litre V8 Vantage coupe spawned a Roadster variant, the engine grew to 4.7-litres, the suspension was refettled, and then V12 engines were shoehorned beneath the bonnet in 2011. Now we get an even more powerful S version of the V12 Roadster and while the basic underpinnings of this car might be distinctly senior, the amount of fun that you can have with twelve cylinders and 565bhp never really gets old.
If there's a better sounding production engine than this 6.0-litre V12, we've yet to hear it. With 620 Nm available at 5,750 rpm the V12 Vantage S Roadster will rocket to 201 mph and sprint from rest to 62 mph in only 4.1 seconds. The V12 Vantage S benefits from some racing car tech too, with CNC machined combustion chambers and hollow camshafts. The Sportshift III seven-speed transmission delivers hydraulically actuated paddle-shift gearchanges and is some 20 kilos lighter than the six-speed manual in the previous V12 Vantage Roadster. Carbon ceramic discs are standard fit as is ZF Servotronic power assisted steering. Three-stage adaptive damping is allied to three-stage stability control and two-stage anti-lock braking, allows the driver to more precisely tailor the car's dynamic character. 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Track' modes offer the driver plenty of options the system even governs the level of power steering assistance offered. Sport mode, controlled via a button on the centre console, alters throttle response, gearshift speed and timing, and exhaust note to, once again, tune the character of the car to the driver's requirements. The Sport button really gives the car its full voice and you'll want to be keying in the location of every tunnel in a 50 mile radius into your sat nav.
Design and Build
We've already had an S version of the V12 Vantage coupe, so we largely knew what to expect with this soft top derivative. Like the coupe, the aluminium vanes in the Aston Martin grille have been replaced by a carbon fibre arrangement that also includes black or titanium silver mesh. There's also the option of lightweight forged alloy ten-spoke wheels. The signature V12 pronounced bonnet louvres are retained and if buyers want an even more extrovert appearance, they can specify optional graphics such as a painted carbon front grille, front grille lipstick and tailgate panel. The cabin has come in for a bit of budget too, with revised seat trim and door panels as well as Sport and carbon fibre lightweight seat options. The Thinsulate three-layer fabric roof can be raised or lowered in just 18s at speeds of up to 30mph and stores compactly when down beneath an aluminium tonneau cover with no fiddling with catches or clips. At 1,745kg, the S tips the scales 20kg lighter than the previous V12 Roadster.
Market and Model
It used to be the case that the V8 version of the Aston Martin Vantage was always the car to choose. Less weight in the nose gave it a better handling balance. That was before Aston's engineers worked themselves into the ground to finesse and resolve the handling of the twelve-cylinder car. True, they can't do much about the additional weight, but the Vantage V12 now handles as it should and is more than worth the premium that Aston Martin charges. If you're looking at paying in the region of £160,000 for an open-topped performance car, what really comes close to this Aston? Yes, Porsche's 911 Turbo S Cabriolet features launch control, all-wheel drive and the ability to show the British car a clean pair of heels, but it also possesses about 10 per cent of the Aston Martin's charisma and likeability. Aston Martin has also given owners the chance to express themselves still further with a Q by Aston Martin Collection which comprises bespoke features including a palette of bold exterior and interior colours; body coloured carbon bonnet louvres; a red tint or satin finish to the carbon fibre elements on the exterior and interior of the car; a full carbon fibre centre console, black anodised and machined rotary controls and a steering wheel with a leather on-centre stripe in the chosen interior accent colour.
Cost of Ownership
Aston Martin Vantage Roadsters are no longer the virtually depreciation-proof asset they once represented and even this flagship V12 model will probably only be worth somewhere less than 50 per cent of its new value in three years time. Sloughing off £25,000 a year in depreciation makes this a car for people with genuinely deep pockets. Elsewhere it will generate big bills too. Servicing and spares are pricey, tyres are around £400 a corner and you'll only get single figure fuel economy should you get a bit enthusiastic with the throttle pedal. The bottom line is that if you think you can just about afford this car, you probably can't.
Just the title of Aston Martin's most potent open-topped car to date is enough to earn the V12 Vantage S Roadster a place on some people's shortlists. Yes, the design has been with us a long time, but elsewhere the process of inflation in supercar pricing has accelerated quickly and a car that once seemed an expensive indulgence has gradually become something that represents that rarest of things; a supercar bargain. While the Jaguar F-Type might seem a bigger bargain again, the Aston Martin has something that seems lacking in its cheaper compatriot. Authenticity. There's nothing synthetic, contrived or noticeably digital about a V12 Aston Martin. It's something different; something altogether more visceral. It's a car that emerges with few credible rivals. After so many years, that in itself must be some measure of success.