First drive: v12 van­tage s road­ster

The v12 van­tage s road­ster isn't just the fastest con­vert­ibl Le as­ton ever; it's one of the great­est as­tons of all

VANTAGE - - Contents - WORDS richard Meaden PHOTOGRAPHY as­ton par­rott

The ‘S’ ver­sion of the V12V Road­ster isn’t just 200mph-quick. It’s bril­liant

When it comes to great au­to­mo­tive rit­u­als, slid­ing an As­ton Martin’s smooth lozenge­shaped ‘key’ into the dash­board and hold­ing un­til the 5.9-litre V12 bursts into life is about as good as it gets. Never more so than when you’re sit­ting in the driver’s seat of the new V12 Van­tage S Road­ster.

As its name sug­gests, this is the soft-topped spin-off from the de­cid­edly hard­core V12 Van­tage S coupé. Pow­ered by the same 565bhp 5.9-litre V12, it’s a gen­uine 200mph ma­chine (As­ton Martin’s of­fi­cial claim is 201), which makes it one of the fastest open-top cars money can buy and the fastest al fresco As­ton ever. As with the coupé, it fea­tures the seven-speed Sportshift III trans­mis­sion and the same mul­ti­mode damp­ing, driver aids and huge car­bon­ce­ramic brake discs, while the car­bon­fi­bre split­ter and hun­gry car­bon-and-mesh ra­di­a­tor in­take send a men­ac­ing mes­sage to the rear view mir­rors of those in front.

Over­all, the V12VSR looks fab­u­lous, de­spite its age and fa­mil­iar­ity. In­deed, when fit­ted with the op­tional thin-spoke light­weight al­loys, the Van­tage Road­ster has never looked bet­ter. The story is much the same in­side, where firm bucket seats set an un­mis­tak­ably sport­ing tone. The in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is re­ally be­gin­ning to show its age, but the B&O hi-fi sounds great. If you’re ex­pect­ing Audi-style er­gonomics, up-to-the- minute sat­nav and in­tu­itive con­trols, you’ll be sorely dis­ap­pointed. It’s the down­side to the Van­tage’s ad­vanc­ing years. But if you can cut it some slack it more than com­pen­sates in other, ar­guably more im­por­tant ar­eas (at least for a sports car), as I dis­cover on a mem­o­rable daytrip to North Wales.

To pro­vide a lit­tle con­text, the rea­son for head­ing to Snow­do­nia was an as­sign­ment for Van­tage’s sis­ter mag­a­zine, evo, in which I was given the oner­ous task of com­par­ing a Fer­rari Enzo with its suc­ces­sor, the ex­tra­or­di­nary Lafer­rari hy­brid hy­per­car. That’s a good 500mile round-trip from Meaden Tow­ers, en­com­pass­ing pretty much ev­ery kind of road, from con­fined coun­try lanes to mo­tor­ways and epic roller­coast­ers set against a ma­jes­tic moun­tain back­drop. Af­ter a day like that, you might think the drive home in the As­ton was some­thing of an anti-cli­max, yet hand on heart noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

What’s par­tic­u­larly spe­cial about this V12 S Road­ster, and what has al­ways been cen­tral to the V12 Van­tage con­cept from the be­gin­ning, is the com­bi­na­tion of small-car agility and bar­relch­ested power. The magic of that po­tent cock­tail is never more wel­come than when you’ve spent a day thread­ing two road-fill­ing, fe­ro­ciously valu­able car­bon­fi­bre hy­per­cars along roads lined with jagged stone walls. By con­trast the V12VSR is a dod­dle to drive; nar­row enough for there to be plenty of room to scribe smooth, lan­guid lines through tricky tan­gles of tar­mac, yet foursquare and sure-footed enough to im­part a re­as­sur­ing sense of poise and ex­ploitabil­ity. To have so much per­for­mance on tap, and know you can read­ily deploy it where sense and visibility al­low, is lib­er­at­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing in equal mea­sure.

The en­gine is an ab­so­lute fire­brand. Much sharper and more ur­gent than the ear­lier-spec unit in the orig­i­nal V12 Van­tage and Van­tage Road­ster, it re­ally does have for­mi­da­ble bite and a fe­ro­cious bark to match! The V12 S Road­ster is some 80kg heav­ier than the coupé, but when driven in iso­la­tion you’d be hard-pressed to no­tice the dif­fer­ence. The closely stacked ra­tios of the seven-speed trans­mis­sion al­ways have you in the meat of the power and torque bands, so while there’s much to rel­ish in whip­ping the tacho nee­dle round to the lim­iter, such is the low-down and mid-range per­for­mance (376lb ft from just 1000rpm!) that wring­ing it out much be­yond 5500rpm is an in­dul­gence rather than a re­quire­ment. At what­ever revs and seem­ingly in

what­ever gear, this car feels se­ri­ously quick.

Un­for­tu­nately the Sportshift trans­mis­sion isn’t the best part­ner. Ad­mit­tedly its short­com­ings are more no­tice­able at lower speeds, when it stammers and feels gen­er­ally slow-wit­ted. At speed, with Sport mode en­gaged and your foot hard down, it comes to life, feel­ing ac­cept­ably sharp, if not ex­cep­tion­ally so. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame that As­ton seems to have a blind-spot when it comes to gear­boxes, for the speed and man­ner in which a sports car changes gear are cor­ner­stones of the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The chas­sis is much more con­vinc­ing, thanks to the three-stage switch­able dampers, which of­fer Nor­mal, Sport and Track set­tings. The V12VSR is an in­her­ently firm-rid­ing ma­chine. Around town, Nor­mal is the most pli­ant at low speeds, but once free from the 30mph speed lim­its you’re most likely to se­lect Sport, for it con­tains the V12VSR’S mass more tightly with­out hurt­ing the ride too much. True to its word, Track mode is too com­bat­ive for all but the smoothest sec­tions of tar­mac. The sta­bil­ity con­trol sys­tem can be com­pletely dis­abled, but in truth you’re un­likely to want – or need – to go any fur­ther than Track mode, which is more than re­laxed enough to al­low some sideslip and wheel­spin. Cer­tainly enough to re­quire you to make cor­rec­tive steer­ing in­puts – which is where the fun is, af­ter all – but with the re­as­sur­ance that there’s some­thing to catch you should your tal­ent desert you mid-cor­ner.

The brakes are mighty, and mighty feel­some (un­usu­ally so for ce­ram­ics), the power steer­ing sweetly weighted and beau­ti­fully judged for rate of re­sponse and sense of con­nec­tion, the me­chan­i­cal limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial con­sis­tent in its re­ac­tions, and the han­dling bal­ance nicely neu­tral with smooth throt­tle in­puts but more than will­ing to be led by the tail if you have the con­fi­dence to play it on the throt­tle. Mod­ern elec­tron­ics or not, this is a pure and sim­ple driver’s car and all the bet­ter for it.

With an ask­ing price of £147,000 the V12 Van­tage S Road­ster is a small car with a big ticket, but in the way it looks, feels and per­forms it’s worth ev­ery penny, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that to go any quicker you’d need to spend half as much again to buy a Fer­rai 458 Spi­der or Mclaren 650S Spy­der.

It’s not of­ten the sight of a test car de­part­ing down my drive­way leaves me feel­ing gen­uinely bereft, but when the V12 S Road­ster was col­lected I felt sad for days. You don’t need to be a ra­bid fan of the marque to ap­pre­ci­ate that all As­tons have some­thing spe­cial about them, but this car is The Real Deal. Hand­some, charis­matic, blis­ter­ingly quick and hugely ca­pa­ble, it ex­cels at de­liv­er­ing the con­sum­mate sports car ex­pe­ri­ence. The fact the soft-top adds so much, yet with such mi­nus­cule dy­namic com­pro­mise over the coupé, is the ic­ing on the cake.

Yes, you can pick holes in the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and gearshift. Both should be bet­ter. The un­com­pro­mis­ingly firm sus­pen­sion set-up isn’t for ev­ery­one, but few new cars and cer­tainly no other cur­rent As­ton bring such a com­plete sense of plea­sure or stim­u­late such a pow­er­ful de­sire to just get in, drop the roof and drive. Right now it’s the best car As­ton Martin builds. To have one of th­ese in your garage would be ut­ter bliss.

‘Few cars bring such a com­plete sense of plea­sure or stim­u­late such a pow­er­ful de­sire to

just get in, drop the roof and drive’

V12 Van­tage S Road­ster EN­GINE V12, 5935cc MAX power 565bhp @ 6750rpm

MAX Torque 457lb ft @ 5750rpm TRANS­MIS­SION Seven-speed au­to­mated man­ual, rear-wheel drive, lsd

sus­pen­sion Dou­ble wish­bones, coil springs, adap­tive dampers and anti-roll bar front and rear BRAKES Vented car­bon-ce­ramic discs, 398mm front, 360mm rear, ABS

wheels 9 x 19in front, 11 x 19in rear TYRES 255/35 x 19 fr, 335/30 x 19 rear, Pirelli P Zero Corsa WEIGHT 1745kg power To WEIGHT 329bhp/ton 0-60Mph 3.9sec (claimed) Top SPEED 201mph (claimed) PRICE £147,000

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