Former F1 champ tells TG about his car history, and why he’ll never own a McLaren F1
You are here
Don’t tell me. Aston Martin GT12, right?
The very one. A quarter of a million quids-worth of limited edition Gaydon goodness.
Certainly looks the part…
Doesn’t it just. Must be all the carbon. Plus those orange highlights. Oh, and the massive rear wing.
All this racetrack paraphernalia sits surprisingly well on the classic Vantage shape. It has attitude to spare, the GT12.
I can’t say it’s a total triumph – the badges have been rendered in carbon fibre, but they look more like the chrome lacquer has peeled off. They’re a £1,295 option that I’m not sure I’d bother with.
Likewise the £1,995 carbon fibre paddles – they’re no improvement on the standard ones and you can barely tell they’re carbon.
Still, sounds like a pretty thorough effort from Aston?
It is, and they’ve been busy with the composites, too: carbon fibre front wings, bonnet, door casings, sports seats, centre console. Weird then, that a carbon fibre roof is on the options list. As is a polycarbonate rear window.
Yep, inspiration taken from Porsche, that’s not quite taken to the same degree. Still, an all-up kerb weight of 1565kg ain’t bad, and let’s face it, it’s not like the GT12 is lacking the necessary grunt to punt itself up the road.
The standard 6.0-litre has been full upgraded: magnesium inlet manifold, magnesium torque tube, titanium exhaust (we’ll come back to that later). That’s mated to the familiar seven-speed sequential manual gearbox. It’s been recalibrated for the GT12, but…
Let’s come back to that one. First I want to talk aerodynamics, because the GT12 produces an amazing seven times as much downforce as the standard Vantage V12S.
That’s amazing. How much downforce does the standard car have?
Aston won’t say. Nor will they say how much this one has. Which means it won’t have that much, basically. The new GT3 RS, with its nifty front wheel slats, delivers 345kg at 125mph. I doubt this is in the same ballpark. But it’s not that sort of car.
You saying Aston has built a GT3 RS rival that isn’t a GT3 RS rival?
That’s about the size of it, yes. It’s not as snappy, it doesn’t have the same intricate alliance between chassis and engine that allows the Porsche to find and use every last available scrap of traction and grip, to convert every ounce of internally combusted energy into forward motion. If you absolutely need to get round a circuit as fast as possible, the Porsche would be faster. And probably by some margin.
But don’t for a moment think that makes the Aston irrelevant. This is a very special car, the kind of car you go out and drive and just completely revel in. It has real depth, the GT12, it’s one of the most immersive cars I’ve driven. Not that you have much say in the matter.
Firstly because it’s so rich and textured to drive that it carries you along with it. But mainly because it’s chuffing loud. I mean REALLY chuffing loud. Off the scale, three counties away loud.
The GT12 has a £5,495 B&O stereo and, no matter how loud you have the volume, you can drown it out in an instant by twitching your right toe.
And the noise is glorious, a proper soaring, cackling, last-night-of-the-proms V12 that makes an F-Type sound like a damp fart in the Albert Hall. Other V12 Aston’s feel mellow and lazy, but this is angry, fast-reacting and challenging, noise projected and magnified by the titanium exhaust into something much more than just the clash and flare of cylinder explosions.
It doesn’t sing quite as melodiously as a Ferrari F12, but if you had to put one engine forward for a ‘this is how good a V12 can be’ prize, you wouldn’t go far wrong with this one.
On the strength of the noise alone?
No, for its response, muscle, pick-up and potency, too. The way that when you accelerate the engine seems to be operating within itself, not over-reaching, but giving you everything effortlessly.
You only appreciate just how much torque is being directed at the back axle by the near-constant flashing of the traction control light. You’ll be needing to loosen its shackles. And while you’re at it, also press the Sport button (sharper throttle, exhaust baffles open from the word go, rather than only above 4,000rpm), and harden up the dampers.
Really? That’s not your normal advice…
It isn’t, but the only real difference between the damper settings is that the softer setting just seems to permit more vertical movement and introduce a hint of loose movement.
In terms of comfort there’s not much in it – for a car of this ilk, ride is really pretty good (and so’s refinement if you back off the throttle and just cruise). Okay, it’s not so impressive if you clout expansion joints, but the firmer setting simply suits the car better.
And the handling?
The steering is lovely, hydraulically assisted, smooth and accurate. And the GT12 easily the most dynamically competent road-going Aston Martin of the last decade. And yes, that includes the One-77.
The GT12 has a sweet, sweet chassis, and moves very well indeed. OK, it won’t switch direction like the Porsche, nor stay locked on line as determinedly, nor is it as immediately responsive to inputs, which means it takes a while to build trust and learn exactly what the car is up to. But once you’ve done those first few tentative miles you begin to relish this car.
Use the fabulous carbon ceramic brakes to dive into corners, let the steering sweep the front end in and then get back on the power immediately. Feed it in, feel the back tyres try to stay honest, but gradually smear wide as they fail to contain the massive torque being inflicted on them. It might not be ultra-precise and edgy, but this chassis has the mother of all sweet spots.
I went and did some skids (private test track, kids…) and the GT12 felt so friendly, so magnanimous, so relaxed. Skids aren’t quick, but they are fun, and this Aston understands that.
How’s the gearbox?
Not good. Not good at all. Shunty and slow. It’s the same sequential Graziano as fitted to the standard V12 Vantage, but recalibrated for this car.
It’s odd to drive a new car these days that still makes you do the mosh-pit head-bang every time you pull a paddle, but there you are. You learn to smooth it out with a little throttle lift, but it still intrudes, still niggles and frustrates. Especially at low speed.
The answer is not to bother changing gear. Just use fourth and have done with it.
What about the cabin?
It’s got too much kit to be a stripped out lightweight, but I guess that’s what Aston owners demand. Although they would probably demand a better infotainment package if they could. It’s improved, but not perfect.
Rest of the cabin is a delight. The shaping and finishing of all the carbon is so good you find yourself running fingers along the creases and curves, the one-piece seats are great, and of course you’ve still got a useful boot. Just not much in the way of useful rear visibility thanks to that wing.
Is it good value?
Irrelevant question. Only 100 will be built, and all sold out - at £250,000 a pop - before the car was first shown in public. Deliveries start in a month or two’s time and I suspect on the used market these things will become instant collector’s items. Which makes them the best value investments out there.
So that it’s twice the price of a GT3 RS, and on a par with the vastly more advanced McLaren 675LT, facts that stuck in my craw when I first found out what the GT12 cost, just doesn’t matter.
The GT12 is a special car, it really is. Deeply rewarding, massively potent, unlike anything else. It’s an indomitable machine, a proper big beast of the plains. If Aston is undergoing the tech renaissance we sincerely hope it is at the moment, this is how the Vantage should be remembered.