Head vs heart: Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage S Roadster isn’t the most advanced cabriolet ever, but it’s a perfect British sports car
Sean Carson | November 2014
Put Aston’s biggest engine in a heavily tweaked version of its smallest chassis, lose the roof and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of V12-powered personality. This is the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster, and from the off we have to make an assertion: this is a flawed car – an aged one, even – but by god is it good.
Aston Martin’s clever, lightweight aluminium chassis first made its debut more than 10 years ago in the Vanquish and the same technology underpins this most potent open-top Aston. But don’t think it’s stood still.
Over time the ‘VH’ architecture has evolved and been developed by Aston’s engineers, with this, the V12 Vantage S Roadster, the latest incarnation of the breed.
Part of that evolution is that the S is now 20kg lighter than the regular V12 Vantage Roadster it replaced thanks to a ‘new’ seven-speed paddleshift gearbox (take that lightly – we’ll explain later) instead of the old regular V12 Vantage soft top’s six-speed manual.
On top of that, the S gets the same three-stage adaptive suspension dampers (Normal, Sport and Track) as its fixed-roof sibling, as well as three-stage stability control and two-stage ABS. Of course, it also gets the coupe’s engine upgrade, meaning this is an Aston that’s packing beauty, brains and brawn.
What’s the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster like to drive?
It’s the motor that dominates the experience, too. It’s a 6.0-litre V12 that produces a snarling 573hp at 6750rpm and, by its nature with that displacement, 457lb ft of torque – a massive 376lb ft available from just 1000rpm.
The motor is so smooth and so tractable it’ll seemingly pull any gear at any revs, and the noise is stunning. The beauty of having the retractable soft top is you can amplify the exhaust note even further.
In Normal mode the lightweight pipe is reserved, perfect for drawing as little attention as possible. In Sport mode the valves in the exhaust open up and make the V12 sound like Pavarotti with a megaphone. It’s loud.
The sound builds from a deep resonant burble to a glorious metallic blare before the rushing crescendo at the top end as the motor snarls its chorus. The analogue feel from the engine is most welcome in a world of digital, downsized and turbocharged modern motors. Of course, this doesn’t exactly make it efficient…
It’s a shame then that this raucous unit is let down by an old-school gearbox. It’s a seven-speed robotised manual and, next to modern twin-clutch transmissions, it’s outclassed.
It’s still good enough for 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds but the changes are a touch jerky – you can get around this by modulating the throttle on the way up, but compared to a Ferrari 458 or Porsche 911 Turbo, it’s conference engineering in a world of premier league tech.
Still, the character of the Aston means you’ll gloss over this minor flaw. The chassis is supple, helped by the optional lightweight alloys on our car, but the dampers are best left in Normal to help the rear tyres claim maximum purchase on the road (it’ll spin the wheels in third).
The hydraulically assisted steering is perfectly weighted, and gives a great dollop of feedback, but the column does kick back, shimmy and shake over the worst bumps. That said, grip is prodigious and the chassis’ capability to carry speed and put you at the centre of the experience is a neat trick. It makes you feel like a hero.
What’s the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster like to live with? Scary…?
In part, yes, but most of the time no. It’s only scary when you want it to be, which is good.
Disable the traction control and explore the V12’s range and you’ll rapidly realise the Aston’s rear axle is mobile, slithering off up the road. Leave the systems on and the ECU manages everything for you perfectly, dialling back the menace to levels that won’t put you into cardiac arrest or the back of a police car.
For when you’re not hooning around the V12 Vantage S Roadster is a beautiful cruiser, and it’s this dual personality that makes it so appealing. The electric hood can be operated at up to 30mph, and with the roof up the cabin is quiet.
The materials inside are lovely and the sporty bucket seats comfortable and supportive, but the dash is still festooned with tiny buttons and the Emotional Control Unit lozenge style key still cringeworthy in name.
Boot space isn’t great due to the tray that houses the roof when it’s stowed, but there’s enough room for a few overnight bags at least.
Forget about the minor practicality issues though and bask in the noise from what’s under the bonnet – and when you eventually get out and walk away, the beauty.
The carbonfibre bonnet vents, big splitter, and lightweight wheels, add to the now familiar basic shape giving the V12 Venice Beach muscularity. It is still achingly attractive and you will sigh when you look at it.
But it’s pricey – the basic car costs £147,000, With lightweight seats (£495), the paint (£995), carbonfibre interior trim (facia at £995 and gear shift paddles at £1995), a £5495 Bang & Olufsen stereo and the £3745 optional alloy wheels among other extras, at £172,070 as tested, it makes its rivals look competitively priced given the tech on offer.
MR verdict: 2014 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster
There are chinks in the Aston’s carbonfibre armour, but they’re not large enough to unravel the whole package. The V12 Vantage S Roadster does lose its composure at times, but it’s exciting and accessible; it’s not as anodyne as a 911 Turbo, it gives you something back.
Besides, with that engine and those looks, it’s a difficult car to hate and a very easy one to gel with.
Rivals: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster
- Audi R8 V10 Spyder
- Ferrari 458 Spider
- Jaguar F-Type V8 R Convertible
- McLaren 650S Spider
- Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet
Looking at the Aston compared to its five closest rivals, the area where it’s clearly outclassed is that gearbox. All of its competitors have dual-clutch or sophisticated autos that work better in both manual and automatic mode. The Aston has a character of its own, however. The Audi and Porsche are arguably a touch clinical – the McLaren, too. You can’t deny the 458 is pure theatre and thrilling with it, but it doesn’t have the same level of every-day ability the Aston does. Plus it’s mid-engined. That leaves the Jaguar – another big brute of a British sports car with incredible performance. It’s more modern and much, much cheaper but with similar pace, so objectively it might be the better car. However, those looks and that engine in the V12 Vantage S Roadster make it hard to ignore.
Specification: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster
Engine: 6.0-litre V12
Gearbox: seven-speed robotised manual with paddleshifters
Price from (as tested for UK review): £172,070
Torque: 457lb ft
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Top speed: 201mph
MPG: 19.2 (combined)