Unlike the outgoing V12 Vantage Roadster, this new S model boasts a more powerful engine, a new transmission, new adaptive suspension and more luxurious appointments along with freshened styling. While last year’s beloved six-speed manual gearbox is gone – a thought that continues to bring tears to our eyes – everything else about the updated roadster piques our interest. We recently spent a full day in the mountains and deserts surrounding Palm Springs with a China Grey (with red carbon fiber accents) version of the British automaker’s latest.
Mirroring its coupe sibling, the Vantage S Roadster features an all-aluminum monocoque platform with lightweight aluminum body panels. To replace stiffness lost when the roof was removed, a rigid cross member has been added to the open platform. The Roadster’s power-operated soft top is fully automatic in operation, opening and closing in about 20 seconds at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour with the touch of a switch. When tucked away, the entire assembly is hidden cleanly beneath an integrated hard tonneau cover.
So as not to be mistaken for its predecessor, Aston Martin has upgraded the model’s signature grille from aluminum to carbon fiber with black or titanium silver mesh, with or without body-color accents. The lightweight, forged aluminum, 10-spoke alloys are also new, as is the obvious scripted red "S" on the trunklid. Inside, occupants will find additional grippy Alcantara on the seats and new patterns in the stitching. There are also a slew of upscale options and access to Aston Martin’s bespoke Q treatment available.
Aston’s famed, naturally aspirated, 6.0-liter V12 has been upgraded with a larger throttle body, dual variable valve timing, a revised intake manifold, an improved fuel pump and fully machined combustion chambers. Combined, the improvements are enough to warrant a new AM28 engine designation. On a dyno, the engine cranks out 565 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque. The previous version of the 6.0-liter, with 510 horsepower, was spectacular, but this year’s enhanced powerplant has been elevated to the level of being jaw-droppingly magical. The engine is silky smooth, and in practice it feels every bit as strong as it looks on paper, but the Roadster’s 3,847-pound curb weight means it has to be in its higher powerband (above 4,000 rpm) to feel especially quick. The free-flowing exhaust note is phenomenal, especially in Sport mode.
The new standard gearbox, mid-mounted in the chassis and connected to the engine via a rigid torque tube, is Aston Martin’s Sportshift III AMT (Automated Manual Transmission) – marketing-speak for a seven-speed single-clutch automatic gearbox. While it sounds inspiring by name, in practice it is clumsy and slow. To avoid jerky shifts, the driver must lift off the accelerator slightly as each gear is engaged. Only during heavy flogging, which the race-bred gearbox seems to enjoy, does it earn an average passing grade.
Fixed dampers were standard fitment on the outgoing model, but the Vantage S arrives with a three-stage Adaptive Damping System (ADS) that is driver-selectable (Normal, Sport and Track) via console switch. While many automakers offer adaptive damping, the range of adjustment is often hard to notice. Not so with Aston Martin. The Normal setting is sporty, the Sport setting is very firm and the Track setting is so stiff that it should be reserved for only when driving across plates of smooth glass. Gumball Pirelli PZero Corsa tires (255/35-19 and 295/30-19) stick tenaciously, but do make a bit of racket on rough surfaces. Enormous carbon-ceramic brakes make effortless work of stopping.
The 2015 V12 Vantage S Roadster is an old-school European muscle car that reeks of tradition, a reality credited to the company’s near-century of history, frustrating age-old English ergonomics and the fact that the Vantage has been in production since 2005. Yet there are very few late-model cars that are as satisfying visually and emotionally to drive. In 30 years, when our grandchildren ask us to reminisce about our favorites from this era, rarities like the V12 Vantage S Roadster will come to mind.