There are quite a lot of people in this world with bank accounts fatter than Texas that believe that their entire wardrobe is a sea of high quality and exquisite taste simply because they've bought everything from Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada. I could easily show them a bespoke tailored sports coat from an unknown Italian tailor in Turin and they'd immediately turn a blind eye on it simply because it didn't read Dolce & Gabbana. Classy.
"I do believe that for pure health reasons, everyone needs to have a V12 engine in their garage."
Naturally, I could present a Mazda MX-5 to them and speak of the sensational experience they'd have behind the wheel. I'd tell them that the folding soft top roof is brilliant simplicity and that the handling is simply sublime. I'd go on and explain to them that on paper the figures don't impress, but from the driver's seat it's all irrelevant. I'd also share to them that it's design is magnificent and that the compact size is perfect for carving the twistiest of mountain roads. All to which they'd reply, "Yes, but it's a Mazda". And they'd never speak to me again, which in this world or another would have never been my loss.
Unfortunately, as liberated was we are today, we are also enslaved by the culture of haute couture or brand-consciousness. And for the most part, passion and taste are absent. Many have absolutely no clue what they are buying into. I could run over a stray cat on the road, slap a Ferrari badge on it and they'd buy it. Just because.
For as long as its got a Ferrari, a Maserati, a Lamborghini, or a Porsche badge on it, consider it sold regardless of what it is. The cars from these brands have become marketing tools to sell pencils, shirts, jackets, bags, and shoes.
Is there still a brand that has been immune to the polarizing reputation brought about by the new kind of supercar and ultra luxury car clientele? Perhaps a car for those that had taste long before God spoke to Moses on the mountain? The answer is yes, and they are called Aston Martin.
Untarnished and ultimately the classiest exotic car maker in the world, Aston Martin has finally made landfall in the Philippines. There is a problem though. You'll find car club people say that an Aston Martin isn't exotic as a lime green Lamborghini or that it doesn't turn heads the same way a scarlet Ferrari would. They'd also be quick to say that it will lap a circuit two seconds slower than a track-bred Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and that the Porsche comes with go-faster racing stripes. Oh dear.
"A sense of occasion, and isn't that what really matters?"
In as much as I would love to engage in an intelligent argument, they probably are right. They are so right in fact that they've got it all wrong. You see, supercar carmakers have been so hellbent on 0-100 km/h sprint times and shaving off milliseconds from their track times that they've forgotten about us, the drivers. What about passion, romance, panache, and the sense of occasion? Besides, at the end of the day, who could ever look at you with judging eyes for driving an Aston Martin? Unless she's a lady that expects the likes of James Bond to step out of the car, then you'd be in a little bit of trouble, but before you let your insecurity swallow you whole and spit you back out, remember that she's no Bond girl either. Let's get on with it, shall we?
Aston Martin Manila recently made landfall in the Philippine archipelago. Their President and Chairman, Marc Tagle has been so magnanimous with his time and his brand that he booked Clark International Speedway for us and has given us a full day to play with the fastest production series Aston Martin that there's ever been, the V12 Vantage S.
Ultimately, this car is a story of how David actually is Goliath. The British company have managed to pick up their tiniest car from the assembly line that's usually fitted with a V8 and have managed to smash in their most potent production engine yet, a 6-liter behemoth with twelve cylinders. Depressingly, this kind of car is as endangered a species as the Amur Leopard is. For the company to survive, compliance with the EU law's strict implementation of emission tests and rally for more fuel efficient cars is imperative.
Automotive manufacturers have had to ditch naturally-aspirated big displacement engines in exchange for smaller power plants that are far more tender to Mother Earth. Now to compensate for the loss of displacement, they've all turned to forced induction. The result is that the once face-melting performance exclusive to gargantuan engines only, can now be extracted from smaller ones at the expense of soul, character, and life-affirming noise. Miraculously, we still have this beautiful machine that's heart beats through an atmospheric V12. So what's it like?
Pushing the door handle to reveal a lever to pull the door open is an event in itself. The doors swing open conventionally but with an upward incline, which means that you won't be scraping it on the sidewalk anytime soon. Being inside the cabin of an Aston Martin, even in this sporty specification, feels absolutely special. You can tell by the asymmetrical stitching that no robots are to be thanked for it. Even with the limited use of leather, the scent of the highest grade of cow hide permeates in the cabin. The steering wheel in its Alcantara goodness is just the most lovely thing to hold. I always swore by leather steering wheels, and Stefano would always tell me that an Alcantara wheel is the way to go - and he couldn't have said truer words.
"I was rewarded with what seems to have washed away in many cars today: Soul."
The seating position is perfect too and the seats offer firm support when G-forces decide to abuse your body. You could spend all day just touching the materials on this car, but then eventually curiosity will get the best of you and you'd have to start the car, so I did. "Holy Mary Mother of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth!", nothing on Earth sounds as good as a naturally aspirated V12 engine - a V12 from Aston Martin at that. The growl upon start up and the impatient rumbling of the engine on idle is not of this world. The ability to resist the temptation of tickling the throttle is as troublesome as going home one night and finding Olga Kurylenko completely naked on your bed. You know you're going to, and so I did.
I wanted the experience to last, so I took my sweet time and indulged all of my senses to this gentle foreplay. I was in such ecstasy that when I connected my iPhone to the USB port, I had completely forgotten about the Bang & Olufsen stereo system with tweeters that rise as they're switched on. As an audiophile, I was in another dimension so far away from this Earth. The on-board computer system of Aston Martin isn't the most intuitive, and while those buttons look as lovely as an 8890, you can't read a thing when the sun hits them.
"620 Newton Meters of brutal torque punching a hole in my chest and effectively pinning me to my seat."
And because it's so unorthodox, it adds to the sense of occasion, and isn't that what really matters? As soon as I played music through the speakers, I was in absolute awe. You cannot say that you've heard the best audio system in a car until you've listened to one of these. In one ear, I was listening to a live concert hall and in another a V12 bellow that was too apparent to ignore.
Finally, I decided to get moving. I killed the stereo, released the handbrake, pressed 'D', and slowly coasted through the pit lane. The first thing I noticed apart from the glorious V12 sound that I can't seem to stop talking about, was the transmission. Most cars today with paddle shifters come equipped with either a dual clutch transmission, a CVT (gross), or a regular torque converter. This car has a Sportshift system, which is an automated manual gearbox. That means that it has a full manual gearbox that simulates the clutch work for you. The result isn't very good. When you leave it on 'D', going through the gears feels a bit lethargic. There's a significant cut in power as it swaps cogs.
It's slow and confused. I can imagine that this would be horrible to drive in Manila traffic. Thankfully, we are not in the city and this V12 Vantage S wasn't designed for traffic either. And since we were at a race track, I pressed a little button that said 'Sport'. I then flicked the paddle to go on full manual mode and I was rewarded with what seems to have washed away in many cars today: Soul. Sure, there are many gearboxes out there that have dual clutch technology and they swap cogs faster than you can blink, but they've taken away some of the magic.
"I buried my foot on the brake pedal, which felt like I had crashed into a brick wall."
When I was done familiarizing myself with the car, I decided to stretch the legs of Aston Martin's most ferocious production series car. As soon as I put my foot down on the accelerator pedal, the response from the V12 engine was electric. The needle of the tachometer swung rapidly counter clockwise as the cabin resonated of an angry howling engine that just unleashed 563 horses. It wouldn't stop screaming until past the maximum output at 6,650 rpm.
It wouldn't take long until I'd have to repeat the process and endure all 620 Newton Meters of brutal torque punching a hole in my chest and effectively pinning me to my seat. It didn't take long before I'd hit shy of 248 km/h on the home straight before I'd have to bury my foot on the brake pedal, which felt like I had crashed into a brick wall. The carbon ceramic brake discs of Aston Martin offer such beautiful feel despite its hardcore stopping power that you can really modulate hard braking like a smooth operator.
"I am going to miss the atmospheric V12 bolted to a car with the coolest badge of them all."
Now as good as the brakes were, nothing felt as good as hearing the single clutch gearbox downshifting and blipping the throttle perfectly each time it swapped cogs. The handling and grip levels of the V12 Vantage S is something to be experienced and not be told about. The chassis is so well-sorted that you can feel how the car is reacting through your bum and through your finger tips. There's barely any understeer too. With all the driver aids off, this will happily get its tail out.
The steering feel is perfectly weighted and the quick steering rack allows you to dart through the tight corners to nail apex after apex. I barely felt the driver aids cutting off any power, and for as long as the computer felt I'd make it through the corner, it allowed me to put the power down. It wanted me to play. Occasionally, you'll hear the car break traction but that comes way past your human limit of what you've accepted as the laws of physics.
The V12 Vantage S is unlike anything else I've ever driven. The engine is sublime. It is smooth and linear, yet absolutely savage. It sings to a different rhythm and tune through every thousand revs or so. It goes baritone first before it belts out screaming like a soprano. It is an orchestra of the very best musicians in the world. It is USA for Africa. It is unapologetically orgasmic. I do believe that for pure health reasons, everyone needs to have a V12 engine in their garage.
Apart from all the performance in this car, you still get a full-blooded Aston Martin with gentleman manners, gorgeous looks, and a glorious noise in a package that's oozing with personality. It pains me to know that we are fast approaching the end of an era. I am going to miss this atmospheric V12 bolted to a car with the coolest badge of them all. A night with Kate Beckinsale in a suite at Monte Carlo's Hôtel de Paris or a day in a V12 Vantage S in the scorching heat of the Philippines?
V12 Vantage S in the Philippines, for me. No contest.