It’s grey. Not the car, in Diavolo Red it’s anything but, yet the sky is an ominous dark mass as I pull up at Aston Martin’s HQ up in Gaydon. It’s in stark contrast to the bright sun that Palm Springs delivered last time I experienced an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, though that time it was a coupé. And costly, the thought of the $400 fine still makes me wince, though not as much as I might had I spent a night in the cells.
Today’s V12 Vantage S is the Roadster, which given that those dark clouds have decided to off-load their content isn’t great. Not because of the roof, that’s fine up, but the Pirelli P Zero Corsas, which do a rough approximation of a cut slick, with all the water-clearing ability to match.
Still, it’s best to ease into the V12 Vantage S Roadster. It’s simply not a car that you’ll jump in. Thank the Vantage’s age for that, but also those tyres and, most obviously, the Sportshift III AMT gearbox. In the coupé it dominated, as it does here, but the yawning gaps in shifts, and need to concentrate on what’s actually happening somehow don’t grate so much today.
Perhaps it’s the loss of the roof, or the quickly drying roads, but the need to drive the gearbox, lifting slightly to ease the shift, timing your paddle pulls perfectly actually becomes rather enjoyable. It’s pretty far from perfect when compared to any of the more modern transmissions with dual clutches – or even torque convertors – but then the sound of the V12 engine, and the performance it brings does go some way to compensate. The noise emanating from under the heavily vented bonnet and out of the exhausts is a guttural, boisterous and, in Sport mode, sometimes obnoxious multi-faceted sound that’s utterly beguiling. It sounds fast, even when you’re merely trickling along, which means in leafy Warwickshire lots of turned heads in villages even when you’re significantly under the 30mph limit. Which is, I guess, part of the V12 Vantage S Roadster’s appeal. Nobody buys an Aston Martin, let alone an open-topped one that’s as noisy, both visually and aurally, as this without expecting some attention.
Out of the villages, away from all those looks the V12 Vantage S is a monster. The 573hp V12 is unchanged from its coupé relation (which has already faced up to its fiercest rivals in our Hillclimb Roadtest video series), but even roof up the proximity to the sound it creates adds another level to the overall experience. It’s not as hardcore feeling in its set-up either, the numbers highlighting that the addition of a fabric roof above your head beings with it a 0.2 second penalty on the 0-62mph sprint, 4mph off the top speed and around £10k to the list price. You’ll not notice the drop in performance then, with 4.1sec not exactly slovenly, while the 201mph potential is probably best achieved with the roof up if you want to keep your hair on.
Those tyres, requiring of attention in the wet come into their own in the dry, their grip immense, the V12 Vantage S Roadster’s tenacity to turn in one of the many joys it brings, along with the ability to get the rear to help with the steering if you’re feeling brave and have the space. To do so you’ll need to fiddle with the traction and stability system, Normal being just that, bringing a decent amount of restraint at a level that’s not overly intrusive, Track heightening the thresholds and Off best saved for the track. Likewise, the adaptive suspension does little but add more firmness, all of which only highlight that the Roadster’s not quite as stiff as its coupé relation (read our coupé review here for comparison). Leave it alone and the V12 Vantage S rides with real composure.
At £147,000, it’s up against some hugely capable competition, not least Porsche’s 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, which is a technical four-wheel driven rapier to the Vantage V12 S’s hammer, though for all the Porsche’s pace, greater limits and agility the Aston Martin delivers far more outright appeal. So much so you’ll forgive it the dated cabin with its typically Aston Martin ergonomic quirks, the woeful sat nav and infotainment controls and… the weather. Indeed, you’ll forgive it everything once you run the V12 up to its redline, even that gearbox, such is the charm of the thing. Usually it’d be the coupé that’d have my vote, but the V12 Vantage S Roadster seems to transcend the faults that stifle its hard-topped relation and add up to a more appealing overall package. That’s some trick, in something so old, but the Roadster really seduces, more than you’d ever expect, making it not just the pick of the Vantage range, but of anything wearing an Aston Martin badge.