2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S First Drive

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Florida's the home of the bucket lists, for obvious reasons, our national Last Chance Saloon. So this week, I took "driving, Florida-style" off mine.

Here's how: First, I drilled an Aston Martin V-12 Vantage S up to 143 mph in a straight line andthenIhitFULLPANICBRAKE, yanking it and me into a floaty G-force denouement that the space jockeys up in Cape Canaveral might have enjoyed.

The convenient excuse/cover story: I'm driving the Vantage at Palm Beach International Raceway, where the egrets have no regrets and the alligators have adverse possession on their tiny, walnut-sized brains. Not using this side of the track's runoff? "I'll just lay.....right here."

That's also how the V12 Vantage lays in wait. You expect an Aston to be 10 times as lovely, but only 9/10ths or even 8/10ths as quick as its exotically priced brethren--911 Turbos, mostly. This one ups its numbers game by sending in a reinforcement in the form of the brawny, burbly, 565-horsepower V-12 from the Aston Martin Vanquish, a car with audio so compelling it should be on a gold disc floating in space, on endless repeat, so the alien races know we're at least half-sentient.

It's still not the Nurburgring master, but the V12 Vantage S now is in the hunt: 0-60 mph times of 3.7 seconds are in AMG territory, and the V12 Vantage S's top speed of 205 mph is a neat fit in near-supercar territory. It's quicker than any Aston other than the all but unattainable One-77.

For the record, I saw 143 mph on its digital dial before a huge wall of sawdust and netting went from postage-stamp-sized, a half-mile down the track, to completely filling the windscreen. That's British for windshield.

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New and vintage Vantage

The V12 Vantage S's hardware is a blend of new and on-loan. The heart's still a 6.0-liter V-12, but the wonders of hollow camshafts and machined combustion chambers and newly adopted Bosch engine management have lifted output from 510 horsepower to current levels, and cranked up torque to 457 pound-feet--376 pound-feet of it available from 1,000 rpm.

It's still rear-drive, of course, but that power's force-fed to the back wheels through the SportShift III automated-manual transmission--a seven-speed, dual-clutch-plate design that's stouter than the single-plate version in the V8 Vantage, but fitted with the same paddles for shifting. Aston says it's 55 pounds lighter than its six-speed manual.

New adaptive dampers show up for the first time on the Vantage, and they're programmed with three modes--the usual Normal, Sport, and Track. Each flick of the button alters throttle response, shift points and speeds, steering weight, even the exhaust note--and you can still change ride quality by switching the Vantage's adaptive dampers from a cushier mode to a tauter one.

Light up all the right buttons, press the crystal keyfob home in its slot, and the V12 Vantage S snarls at your impudent little wake-up call.

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