The oldest trick in the automotive book is to stuff the most powerful engine you can get your hands on into the smallest car you’ve got. Just ask Carroll Shelby. So we weren’t too surprised when Aston Martin crammed its most powerful engine—the 510-hp, 5.9-liter V-12 from its alpha-dog DBS—into the wee Aston, the Vantage.
Nestling a V-12 into a space usually reserved for a V-8 necessitated a few tweaks to the front structure, a new hood with large vents that help to lower underhood temperatures, and stiffer front springs to support the heavier V-12. How much heavier? Although the V-12 weighs 220 pounds more than the V-8, Aston saves weight elsewhere (carbon-ceramic brakes and forged aluminum wheels, for example), so that the overall increase is a claimed 154 pounds. Fifty-one percent of the big-engined car’s 3750 pounds is over the front wheels; with a V-8 Vantage, 49 percent of its weight is over the fronts.
Nearly balanced weight distribution, extreme Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires developed specifically for the V-12 Vantage, and a lower and firmer chassis, similar in concept to the “Sports Pack” available on the V-8 version: All together, it makes the V-12 Vantage as comfortable lapping a track as it is lapping up attention from restaurant and hotel valets.
Although the 5.9-liter V-12 lacks the latest tricks—there’s no direct fuel injection or even variable valve timing—those deficiencies won’t be on your mind when you shift out of fifth gear at the 6800-rpm redline and find the V-12 still pulling with an alarming surge past 170 mph in sixth gear, toward a top speed of 190 mph. That you’re operating a manual shift with a real clutch pedal is a bit unusual in the current world of roboticized supercars, but it’s a very welcome throwback; the shifter has well-weighted action and a satisfying mechanical feel.
We expect a 0-to-60 time of 4.2 seconds, a number that may seem slow to the figures-obsessed. Those same folks may balk at a torque peak of 420 pound-feet that comes in at a high 5750 rpm, but the 5.9-liter’s rev-happy nature and omnipresent large-displacement whack will turn doubters into believers.
A “sport” button on the dash livens up the throttle and opens the exhaust bypass sooner, which leads to big, “wall-of-sound” noises from the V-12. Deep staccato woofs and snarls come through the dual exhaust. Release the throttle, and the car spits and barks like an angry Ike Turner. Should you want to turn up the volume further, the V-12 Vantage’s chief engineer, Paul Barritt, suggests removing the parcel-shelf cover that separates the cargo compartment from the cabin. From behind the wheel, the effect is a welcome increase in exhaust noise—Porsche would call it a “Sound package” and then charge thousands for removing the cover.
Aston asks $181,345 for this V-12, $59,245 more than the V-8. But the bigger car’s performance elevates it into the supercar realm and makes Aston’s own $270,350 DBS seem redundant.