We’ve already declared the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S the best Aston in the line-up off the back of a drive on the twisty, sun-soaked tarmac of Palm Springs but its big test will be this first drive in the UK.
Our time behind the wheel begins on congested city streets where the Aston’s first gearshift reveals its only real flaw. You can never get used to the way the automated manual slowly shuffles the cogs, forcing your head to nod back and forth. It’s better to use the paddles mounted to steering column and lift off the accelerator each time you change up – that’ll smooth the shifts out.
As soon as the roads open up, the heavens open, too. The V12 Vantage was already a handful in the wet but this V12 S model has an extra 55bhp from its 6.0-litre engine, taking the total to 565bhp. Even on greasy roads the acceleration is ferocious and the sound from the engine is just as aggressive. Things get even better with the Sport button pressed, sharpening up throttle response and summoning extra crackles and a harder growl from the exhausts.
Through corners, the V12 S shines, with weighty, talkative steering and a really neutral balance to the chassis that leans towards oversteer. Without the rear-wheel-steering of the Porsche 911 GT3 or any fancy torque vectoring systems, it feels decidedly – and wonderfully – old-fashioned. It’s about as pure as modern performance cars get, and it’s hugely rewarding but quick to bite you if you turn the traction control off.
Despite its hard-edged nature the Aston tackled bumpy streets and 100-mile motorway journeys easily – there’s plenty of roar from the tyres and a definite firmness to the suspension but you wouldn’t be crazy to use this as your everyday car. The only things that might irritate are the woeful running costs – we got 12mpg – and the almost unusable infotainment system.
At £138,000 you’d be forgiven for expecting near-perfection from the V12 S, and in terms of driving purity it comes tantalizingly close – it’s just not the all-rounder it could have been.