2014 Aston Martin Vantage V12 S and Vanquish Volante: Motoramic Drives

November 27, 2013

Let’s set the record straight on a couple of old saws about Aston Martin, the storied British marque that has been rather explosively blowing out the candles on its 100th birthday cake this year with a wholesale refresh of its entire array of sultry coupes, convertibles, and sedans.


First, we would like to dig a grave for the irksome canard that claims that the Ford Fusion looks just like an Aston. This statement could only be considered true by someone who also claims that a Ford Econoline van with the album art from Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” airbrushed on its flank resembles precisely Charon’s ferry, or someone has never seen an Aston Martin in the glistering flesh. Even Helen Keller, prior to the working of all of her miracles, could judge the preposterousness of this bootleg off-knocking.

Second, and more pertinent to our enterprise here, is the complaint that “all Aston Martins are the same.” This one has its basis in perceived similarities in styling, powertrain, and nomenclature amongst the brand’s vehicles. But one has only to drive any two of the cars equipped with Aston’s delightful, mellifluous, and newly enhanced 6-liter V-12 (now sporting 565 hp and 457 lb.-ft. of torque) — as we just did with the Vanquish Volante and Vantage V-12 — to recognize their very evident distinctions in mission and character.

Also, when all the cars from a brand look this freaking good, who in their right mind cares if they resemble each other? No rational person makes this complaint about the Hemsworth brothers or the Mara sisters.

We’ll start with the new Vanquish Volante, a name that, in Aston’s oft-confounding V-centric dialect, signifies that it is their top-tier, carbon-skinned, grand tourer, albeit with its pate removed and replaced with retractable fabric. You can pull this roof back at any speed—so long as it’s below 30 m.p.h. But you are better off just slathering your exposed dermal bits in sunscreen, as we did, and leaving it collapsed, taking in the constant rush of effortless, but never overbearing, power, and an exhaust note that is as profundo as it is basso. Sixty mph arrives in just over four seconds, which is a downright sprint. But in the Vanquish, it never feels rushed. Its spirit animal is a peregrine falcon, soaring, diving, and hunting in sleekly rapturous (and ravenous) grace.

The $297,995 drop-top comes complete with everything you need, like buttery perforated Luxmil leather in hues that mimic those found in the chocolate family; ventilated carbon-ceramic brakes that resemble the pupil of the Eye of Sauron, and stop you in your tracks with similar alacrity; enough aluminum and magnesium to keep the weight just below a husky 4,100 lbs; and a capacitive glass center stack that still features the organizational logic of a paper bag full of crickets, but finally drags Aston’s HVAC and infotainment interface out of the 20th century.

This topless range-topper also has a few things you don’t need, like a pair of back seats useful solely for humans shaped like a briefcase, an exterior color palette that tends dangerously toward the Versace, and a discordant $59 Garmin Nuvi in place of a brand-appropriate nav. Also, an Aston Martin automatic transmission. The one in the Vanquish is a traditional torque converted six-speed, but it still contains what has become a contemporary A-M peccadillo: bogginess — taking the kind of panting rest between shifts that is less suited to a boldly handsome and capable six-figure GT, and more to a hung-over postal worker midway through pulling a weekend double.

Endowed with the same exact engine and output — but granted a less hip-flaunting (and 400-pound lighter) endowment, a tighter two-seat package, and a single-clutch seven-speed automated manual — the $184,995 Vantage V12 S shows the acute impact in character that can be made by a few tweaks to one’s architecture. This is no GT. It is a bit-champing muscle missile: the fastest car the folks at Gaydon have ever produced (outside the imited One-77 hypercar.) The chunky graphite-black wheels spin to 60 in 3.7 seconds, en route to a top velocity of 205. This Vantage saws and slices where the Vanquish spreads and smears. Its spirit animal is a tactical neutron bomb.

This speed is all the more impressive when you consider the means by which it is put to the tarmac. Though its perfectly balanced rear houses a very different transmission, the Vantage V12 S features a similarly asthmatic hesitation between ratio swaps, even if you’re pulling them yourself with the paddles, even if you’ve pressed the big glass S button which places the car in “Sport” mode and hastens their arrival. But where such leisureliness can almost be forgiven in an elegant tourer, these gulping lurches feel as out of place here as a silencer on a firecracker. Thank goodness Aston didn’t endow its exhaust with such muting, providing both cars with a consistent and deliciously bombastic soundtrack that goes to 11 in “Normal” mode, and up to around 111 in “Sport.” (That “Normal” figure is just a guesstimate; we saw no reason to try that mode.)

Astons remain a sybaritic and exclusive pleasure for all five senses (yes, we licked both cars), enough so to nearly mask their transgressions. But at this price point — and with all these other compelling factors aligned, and with the deep-pocketed competition in Italy and Germany making no errors — we expect perfection, or damn near it.

Fortunately, Aston Martin has recently attempted to remedy its minor challenges by flying its signature wings toward the world’s brightest star—the three-pointed masspirational one hung in the sky by Mercedes-Benz and AMG. Right now, the brands simply have a letter of agreement for future cooperation, but we’ve heard rumors that the specifics of their collaboration will include areas such as engines, and electronic and infotainment systems.

We hope the engineers get to work immediately. Visceral and analog, we’re willing to let Aston snarl by on its good looks (and smells, and sounds, and touches…and tastes) for a bit longer, but only with the anxious anticipation of its next, even more seductive incarnations.

Full disclosure: The manufacturer provided meals, air transportation and lodging for this review