Posted at: Motortrend.com
Written By: Paul Horrell
Written By: Paul Horrell
Tetris is 25 years old this week. Aston Martin's packaging engineers must have grown up doing little else. Where else would they have gotten the skills to fit the company's snarling 5.9-liter V-12 under the pert little hood of their smallest car, the Vantage?
But despite devising a new crash structure, slimming down the sump and induction system, repositioning the radiator and several smaller measures, they didn't quite manage to get the final car through North American crash regulations. So the 1000 examples they're planning to build will all go elsewhere. Maybe those engineers never quite got themselves to the very top of the Tetris leader board.
Which is a shame, because this is one special Aston. Yes, they're all special, but this is really special. It's a compact, nuggety little missile, endowed with performance of casual violence and face-bending cornering ability. Sure, it's actually a decently refined suburbanite too, and comes with almost all of Aston's expected luxury appointments and the gloriously crafted cabin. But you always know it's ready to snort.
M/T tested a DBS with auto trans at 4.2 sec for 0-60 mph, and 12.6 sec/112.3 mph for the quarter. Using the same engine but a manual box, the V12 Vantage is likely to be quicker. It's smaller than the DBS, but little lighter, as the DBS has many carbon fiber panels. The V12 Vantage is substantially skinned in aluminum except where the carbon is visible, such as front and rear aero aids.
On the road, you needn't be too fussy about which gear you're in. They are relatively close, and the torque curve is generous. In third gear, a 60 mph corner turns into a 100 mph straight in a sneeze. The V12's intake and exhaust music is as aristocratic as you'd hope, though by no means taxingly loud.
The car adores curves. It feels more biddable than the DBS, and the feedback through the very direct steering greatly improved the confidence of this driver to push hard through gnarly back-road corners. There's an adorably analog feel to the car: the adaptive-damped DBS feels digital, sharp-edged and lacking in feedback by comparison.
But you need to be alert to keep it on course even in a straight line: the stiff setup means it constantly dances and weaves over bumps. Given the way the V12 will bungee itself towards the horizon, deploy its full attack only with due care.
New ground-effect bodywork all around the car cuts lift at both ends. The brakes are carbon-ceramic, the suspension substantially stiffened and lowered, and the tires specially commissioned Pirelli P Zero Corsas at 255/35 front and 295/30 rear, both on 19-inch rims.
Aston claims 1.3 g in transient maneuvers. We didn't have the facility to verify that, but on the road the grip was simply awesome. We never once defeated the front tires. But the Pirellis are a special dry-optimized compound and pattern, so if it's damp, drive as if a truck has just shed a cargo of ball-bearings ahead of you.
This car has a simple purpose, and so you're not strapped into some multiconfigurable menu-driven flight deck. The dampers are non-adaptive, the steering non-active (albeit highly reactive). You shift the gears yourself, working a rear-mounted transaxle. There are only two significant choices. One is a sport button for the engine, which brings a more eager throttle pedal map and an earlier opening of a power valve in the exhaust. It doesn't bring more ultimate power, and just makes the pedal more nervous. We didn't use it. The other is the DSC: choose between fully on, a more slip-tolerant track mode, and fully off.
The mighty engine, borrowed from the DBS, weighs 220 pounds more than the V-8 it has cuckolded. But by weight-saving measures such as the composite brakes, lighter hood, lighter wheels and slightly pared interior, the car is overall just 110 pounds heavier than the V8. And the front:rear weight distribution alters only from 49:51 to 51:49.
In their native UK, the V12 Vantage costs 85 percent of the price of a DBS. Applying that logic to the U.S. market, it would be notionally a $230,000 car. Or about 2.5 times the price of that other 500-hp, manual-trans, two-seat, hatchback, no-nonsense compact driver's sports car, an optioned-up Corvette Z06.
Want to know why it's so expensive? Run your eyes around the perfectly finished aluminum and carbon fiber body. Everything fits perfectly -- cut-lines are tight, paint is glassy, the carbon weave is immaculately aligned, the whole confection poured intimately down over the oversize tires.
Climb in and check out the cabin. Every trimmed surface is beautifully stitched leather or Alcantara. Untrimmed surfaces are authentic: aluminum for the dash and console knobs, carbonfiber and Kevlar for the seats and door pulls. Wool carpet (a special lightweight weave, natch). A glass key...no, really. Instruments and switchgear like a Vertu phone.
For quite this combination of urbane aesthetics with brutal physicality, there isn't anywhere else to go. Not even elsewhere in the Aston range. North America is the loser here.
2009 ASTON MARTIN V12 VANTAGE SPECS
Price As Tested
- Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door, coupe
- 5.9L/510-hp/420-lb-ft DOHC 48-valve V-12
Curb Weight (dist f/r)
- 6-speed manual
- 3750 lb (51/49%) (mfr)
Length x Width x Height
- 107.9 in
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy
- 172.5 x 73.5 x 49 in
- N/A mpg
On Sale In U.S.