Aston Martin V12 Vantage S review: Best of 2013

The new Aston Martin Vantage S fights Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes as a 205mph supercar. And it's a cracker

Evo rating
Price
from £138,000
  • A harder, faster V12 Vantage
  • Gearbox far from perfect

What is it?

The Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, a replacement for the V12 Vantage that’s been on sale since 2009, but as its name suggests, there’s a sportier edge to it second time around. 

On the right day and on the right road, this remains one of the most entertaining cars on the planet. Because although its basic design might be nearing the end of its first decade, the V12 S stands as glorious proof that Aston’s evolutionary approach really does let the company punch well above the weight its modest development budgets should earn it.

And don’t forget that the standard V12 Vantage has always been pretty much our favourite contemporary Aston: lighter and more lithe than the Vanquish while sharing the same sublime engine. The fact the V12 came only with a manual gearbox merely heightened its appeal.

Which is where the new ‘S’ is different, of course: more power, a sharper dynamic focus when you really up the pace, and the sole transmission option of Aston’s single-clutch ‘Speedtronic’ automated shifter, now re-engineered to deal with the V12’s output. Despite the more expensive gearbox, the price rises little, at £138,000. See it compete in our 2013 Car of the Year contest here.

Technical highlights?

A quick glance at the spec sheet, or indeed in the cabin, reveals that the biggest change over the (now discontinued) non-S is the switch from a manual to Aston’s seven-speed single-clutch paddle-shift gearbox. This is the first time that Aston has managed to hook the Sportshift ’box up to its 5.9-litre V12 and it has required a switch from a single- to a twin-plate clutch robust enough to handle all the V12’s torque. Talking of which, the torque figure for the S has improved 37lb ft on the regular V12 Vantage to 457lb ft at 5750rpm, while power is up 55bhp to 565bhp at 6750rpm.

Perhaps just as impressively, low-revs torque (measured at 1000rpm) has risen by 52lb ft from an already hearty 324lb ft to a thumping 376. However, there’s an argument that this increase in basement shove could be counterproductive. One of the reasons why the standard V12 Vantage’s claimed 0-60 time was a slightly disappointing 4.1 seconds (and why we could only manage 4.4sec when we tested it) was that it was simply too tricky to translate the torque to the tarmac without a lot of wasteful wheelspin. But the chaps at Aston must have managed to significantly improve rear grip because the claimed 0-60mph time has dropped by more than you’d expect from the power gains and gearbox change alone. The V12 Vantage S will apparently hit 60 from a standstill in 3.7sec (and complete 0-62mph in 3.9), and it will go on to reach a 205mph top speed. The only Aston road car that bests these figures is the mighty Aston Martin One-77.

What’s it like to drive?

We are big fans of the original, but the S is much more nailed down in the corners and revs more freely whilst still retaining that big-hearted character of the earlier car. The ZF Servotronic steering has a quicker rack (15:1 down from 17:1) but also has variable assistance. Thankfully you don’t notice the variable assistance and there’s always a pleasing weight to it.

The seven-speed Oerlikon Graziano gearbox is trickier to get used to. We obviously miss having three pedals and the added interaction that gave in the old V12 – we’d happily forfeit the 25kg weight saving the paddle-shift transmission provides to have it back. The paddle-shift is not the swiftest or most modern-feeling system, either. Curiously, the downshifts are brilliant – the ’box never once refused a request and always delivered smoothly with a pleasingly dramatic flare of revs. It’s the upshifts that are the problem. When you’re going for it and changing up at high revs, the shifts bang through quickly, but if you short-shift or want to drive at less than nine-tenths, the response is awkward and the torque interruption too long compared to most current systems. Having said that, we got used to it over one day, and you doubtless would too if you owned one. If you don’t want to drive flat-out, you can work with it by lifting off the throttle as you pull the right-hand paddle, or better still just not changing gear as much and instead leaning more heavily on the huge well of torque provided by the engine.

There’s no doubt that the V12 Vantage S is the best car Aston currently makes. In spite of the gearbox, or ironically perhaps partly because of it, the S has quite an old-school analogue flavour, certainly more so than something like a Ferrari F12. And despite tech like adaptive dampers, a Sport mode and Servotronic steering, there’s an unfussy mechanical honesty that shines through in the way the short-wheelbase, front-engined (big-engined), rear-wheel-drive layout engages and encourages you to attack the road. The plate-type limited-slip differential isn’t particularly fancy, but it is predictable and trustworthy, which is what you want when the DSC is all the way off. It locks and stays locked to let you happily steer the car on the throttle and tattoo a pair of black lines onto the tar in your wake.

How does it compare?

With 565bhp the Aston V12 Vantage S rivals the Ferrari 458 Italia and Mercedes SLS AMG GT, though its £138,000 price tag is something of a minor bargain compared to them, sitting closer to the new £140k Porsche 911 Turbo S. The V12 Vantage S’s technology isn’t as slick as any of them, but it is perhaps the most charismatic of the bunch and we’d argue the prettiest.

Anything else I need to know?

It’s the combination of pace and grace that makes the Aston feel so special: a devastating full-attack mode (accompanied by what remains one of the best soundtracks in the business) combined with ultra-comfortable cruising. It’s old, but it’s definitely still game.

And can you think of another car that manages to still look this good, and this fresh, after nearly a decade of exposure?

Specifications

EngineV12, 5935cc
Max power565bhp @ 6750rpm
Max torque457lb ft @ 5750rpm
0-603.7sec (claimed)
Top speed205mph (claimed)

Most Popular

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched
2021 Maserati GranTurismo spy – track
Maserati

2021 Maserati GranTurismo to go EV-only – IC option ditched

GranTurismo coupe and its soft-top GranCabrio sibling to be reborn later this year, but controversially without the proposed combustion alternative...…
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals 11 June 21
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
11 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Cheap fast cars 2021 – the best budget performance cars on the market
Cheap fast cars 2021
used cars

Cheap fast cars 2021 – the best budget performance cars on the market

If you buy right and do your research, the cheap fast car is a wonderful thing. Here are our top picks between £1000 and £10,000
25 May 2021
Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?
Ferrari F171 spy 2021 – front
Ferrari

Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement mule spied – will it emulate the McLaren Artura?

Ferrari’s going hybrid and V6 for its next mid-engined supercar
9 Jun 2021
HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86
HKS Toyota GR 86
Toyota

HKS in development of a supercharger kit for new 2021 Toyota GR 86

Japanese tuner HKS is in development of a supercharger upgrade package for the new GR 86
9 Jun 2021
Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated
Best small cars 2021
Best cars

Best small cars 2021 – pocket rockets reviewed and rated

You don’t need 200bhp or more in a small hatchback to have fun – these ‘warm’ small cars are the proof
7 Jun 2021
2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV
Alpina XD3 and XD4 2021 – header
Alpina XD3

2021 Alpina XD3 and XD4 update revealed – extra torque from Alpine’s quad-turbo diesel SUV

The updates to the Alpina XD3 and XD4 are largely of the aesthetic kind, but more torque and new chassis calibrations are also part of the package
10 Jun 2021
2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competition pricing announced
2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competitions
BMW

2022 BMW X3 and X4 M Competition pricing announced

Engine upgrades, a chassis recalibration and some striking new visuals for BMW’s hot midsize SUVs
11 Jun 2021
Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?
Jethro opinion header
Opinion

Can the Renault Clio Trophy beat a modern supersaloon for daily transport?

The boot struts have gone saggy and the hatch slams onto my head three times a week, but the Clio Trophy is hard to resist
8 Jun 2021