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BBC Autos

Joyride

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S: The dandy’s bruiser

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

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With apologies to Mr Bond, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is a bad guy’s car.

Here is a 565-horsepower, 6-litre V12 engine that threatens to overflow its aluminium banks. Here is exhaust hardware lifted from Aston’s diabolical, all-but-unobtainable One-77 hypercar. Here are lacquered vents and ductwork, black as obsidian. And ultimately, here is the fastest series-production car ever conceived by the league of extraordinarily unhinged gentlemen from Gaydon, England.

Don't think that this fastest of Astons forgets its manners, though. Present are all the dandy-baiting flourishes and comforts befitting the badge. Alcantara, supple leather, body colour-matched stitching, carbon fibre accents and a wondrous air conditioner ensure that felony speeds are achieved with maximum style and minimum lower-back sweat. And while the only transmission available, a seven-speed automatic, might dissuade some purists from trading in their stick-shift-equipped V12 Vantages, the S maintains a pleasing air of analogue about it.

BBC Autos was granted an audience with the V12 Vantage S at Palm Beach International Raceway, a pancake-flat facility in south Florida, to probe – if not find – the car’s awesome limits.

On a 32C (90F) day, the S ran lap after lap round the two-mile road course, its air conditioner blowing crisply even as the tachometer needle routinely swept past 7,500rpm on the 145mph back straightaway. A word about that speed: it is achievable in fifth gear, meaning two forward ratios remain to push the S on to its manufacturer-estimated top speed of 205mph.

Aston specified a single-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission for the S, and a blunt instrument it is, going about its work with all the finesse of a wooden mallet. A driver lunges forward in the seat (which adjusts only fore and aft, with a pitch adjustment for the back rest) with each up- or downshift. This can be an addicting sensation on a track, where drivers prize visceral feedback. On an arterial road adjacent to the circuit, the lunging lost its novelty. There’s no denying the ’box’s suitability to track-day abuse, though, and Aston is quick to note that the unit weighs considerably less than more complex dual-clutch systems.

The transmission ultimately was an ancillary player in this south Florida drama. Gobbling the palm-fringed scenery was the 6-litre counterweight up front, the same V12 engine found in Aston Martin’s range-topping, $300,000 Vanquish grand tourer. It felt remarkably at home in the company’s smallest coupe, never overwhelming the chassis when the car carried excessive speed into a tight corner. So perfectly calibrated is this gargantuan powertrain that it begs wonder at Aston signing a rather one-sided agreement with Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division, whereby Gaydon will adopt AMG’s incrementally less thirsty turbocharged V8s in coming years. So much ado over what may yield just nominal efficiency gains.

Standard carbon-ceramic brakes provide fade-free operation in the Aston, and help to bolster the V12 Vantage S’s improbable value case. Yes, value in an Aston.

Setting aside questions concerning the wisdom of $185,000 automotive purchases, the S stretches a buyer’s currency farther than other cars in this rarified segment. A $172,000 Audi R8 V10 Plus can be configured rather effortlessly above $200,000, though it keeps company with $40,000 A4 sedans in showrooms. The Vantage, already a seldom-spoted machine of rare beauty before adding the Vanquish's V12 powertrain, offers extras such as cigarette lighters and embossed door sills – not exactly $6,000 multimedia packages. It is difficult to improve on the S’s stock recipe, and there’s refreshing honesty in that.

Granted, honesty buys little in the way of passive safety systems, adaptive LED headlamps, cylinder deactivation and other features now common on sub-$75,000 cars. Aston Martins have also fallen behind the Porsches, McLarens and Ferraris of the world in terms of “intelligence” – their ability to process and translate millions of inputs into optimal performance for the moment, for the millisecond. But one car’s perceived deficiencies are another car’s ringing triumphs. The V12 Vantage S might be best understood as an Alcantara-lined time capsule, a place where the driver remains unambiguously in the driver’s seat. And if it can be helped, on a track.

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