Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, motoring review: Does the car feel as good as it sounds?

 

Price: £138,000
Engine: 5,935c, V12 cylinders, 48 valves, 565bhp
Transmission: seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 205mph, 0-62 in 3.9sec, 19.2mpg, CO2 343g/km

The vision in Volcano Red you see here is the fastest, most-accelerative roadgoing Aston Martin there has ever been. (Apart, inconveniently, from the massively expensive One-77, of which just 77 examples were built.) This V12 Vantage S marries the company's most compact body with its most powerful engine to create a mad missile able to pass 60mph in just 3.7 seconds en route to 205mph.

Just gazing at the thing fills you with a sense of longing you hadn't quite expected to feel. There is no brightwork; everything not in body colour is black, including the roof, the ample louvres on the bonnet to let hot air out of the jam-packed engine bay, the wheels and the front grille, made in mesh like a racing car's. Two angled strakes call to mind the visage of a 1950s Aston Martin racing car, and you can optionally have a "lipstick" surround to the aperture, as here in black.

Perhaps unexpectedly, other road users don't react with aggression to this car. They mostly love it, at least in the Southern California mountains where I drove it. Perhaps this is because the shape and configuration are old-school normal for a very fast sports coupé, not that of some outlandish, mid-engined, ludicrously impractical supercar. The shape suggests a skin tightly drawn on to a mound of mechanical muscle, the mound's core being a 5.9-litre V12 engine delivering an almost excessive-sounding 565bhp.

This is the same engine as used in the Vanquish, the car that is supposed to be the ultimate Aston but which this one upstages. Two crucial differences are that this Vantage has a cleverer engine-management system, reacting more accurately to every influence, and also a seven-speed gearbox with internals like a conventional manual's but operated via paddle-shifters on the steering column. This gearbox is lighter and stronger than either a conventional automatic or a double-clutch unit, and is much like a racing car's.

Within half a mile of getting in, you're in love. You need to ignore the gearbox's automatic mode, which surges and pauses annoyingly, and drive the Vantage with those paddles. Would I prefer a normal manual, as fitted to this car's non-S-suffixed predecessor? In this case I would not, because I never quite got on with the old car's unfocused interface of clutch, gearbox and accelerator pedal despite its tempting credentials. Here, though, it all comes together with perfect co-ordination.

It sounds magnificent, an effusive tenor bellow rising to a goose-pimpling howl. It's extremely rapid, obviously. Better than all that, though, is the way you can scythe through fast bends with quick, dead-accurate and empoweringly transparent steering telling you all you need to know about how much of the immense grip you have left. I can't recall another extremely fast car which inspired as much confidence or felt as friendly, as if sharing the thrills rather than testing your skill or making you feel a passenger.

It rides over bumps with nonchalant matter-of-factness, letting you know they are there but not making you suffer. It clamps you in an ideal driving position, surrounded by engineering-standard quality. You want to drive it forever. The best Aston Martin there has ever been? I do believe it is.

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