► Aston Martin V12 Speedster review
► Alfresco celebration of DBS's V12
► Jaw-slackening style, but does it work in UK?
It can be hard to comprehend the point of a car like the Aston Martin V12 Speedster. Can one vehicle ever justify a price tag of £765,000? Even one as glamorous and glitzy as this? Market reaction suggests it can, as more than 70 of the 88 limited run have already been snapped up by Gaydon’s nearest and dearest customers. So much for a pandemic-driven economic slowdown.
If anything, this market is speeding up, with the McLaren Elva and Ferrari Monza SP2 also vying for rich collectors’ attention. Aston’s speedster appears conspicuously good value, at half the price of its British rival and you could buy three for the same price as one Ferrari. Funny how you lose sense of perspective once you slip into the hyper-luxury mindset.
Approach the Speedster for the first time and it looks fabulous: low-slung, sinuous and striking, ticking all the boxes of modern Aston design and, in this DBR1 spec, a passing nod to the brand’s famous 1959 Le Mans-winner. Your eye’s drawn inexorably to the body-coloured spine running from tip to tail, bisecting the passenger compartment like some kind of brutal Covid social distancing device (see below).
There’s no weatherproofing here at all – no roof, neither windscreen nor windows, not even a showerproof cover – so you tug the familiar pop-out handle, swing open the elegantly rising swan door and climb into a cabin that will be familiar to anyone who’s sat in a Vantage or DB11. It’s like the Aston Martin parts bin has been mixed in a party game and rearranged in novel layouts.
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Aston Martin V12 Speedster interior
The cockpit feels special, high on quality materials and big on immersive views, a couple of tiny blistered screens your only protection from the elements. It’s not perfect: that podgy airbagged steering wheel ain’t pretty, poor ergonomics mean tall drivers can’t see the top row of switchgear for air-con and seat heating controls, and the veteran Merc-sourced Comand infotainment is well off the pace nowadays.
These legacy platform issues are leavened by some wonderful detailing. There's polished carbonfibre everywhere, from the door cards to dashboard and across the huge spar betwixt front-seat passengers – and this space-age material is offset by some lovingly crafted old-school leather hand-picked by Aston Martin's Q branch.
Thick chunks of hide are used for door pulls, seat adjustment and even the glovebox, which becomes a removable handbag in front of the passenger seat (below). An unspeakably cool detail.
Fire up the DBS-sourced 5.2-litre V12, tap the large carbonfibre paddleshifter and the Speedster pulls away smoothly in a ZF auto-slushed blur, big 21-inch wheels riding with more comfort than their profile suggests is possible. It’s so civilised at low speeds, but then you pull on to a faster B-road and dip into the huge performance on tap, the horizon reeling in great gobbets of fresh air as the Speedster scampers past 60mph in 3.5 seconds. It’s unnerving at first, but the faster you go, the more you trust that the slipstream really will bounce over your bonce.
Fears over the lack of a central rear-view mirror quickly disperse, the decent-sized door mirrors doing the job just perfectly. Excellent visibility all-round helps here, especially considering that all V12 Speedsters will be left-hand-drive (which speaks volumes about where the Speedster will sell).
Driving impressions: V12 performance and the peculiar case of a missing sonic boom
That melodious V12 – all cackling thunder in the DBS – is quite muted by the rush of air. You genuinely can’t hear it over 30mph, even when you rinse it out past 6000rpm, by which time you’re deep into licence-losing territory and your eyes will be pleading for mercy. It’s one of the huge ironies of the Speedster that you gift its richest attribute to passers-by and other motorists.
You don't need to wear a helmet to drive the Speedster but you certainly need some kind of eyewear. We tried the vintage lid and goggles provided by Aston's endurance racing ace Darren Turner, and can report they fit perfectly and lend a certain period ambience, even if others thought we should be directing traffic in central Tokyo.
The double-bubble rear deck lifts on gas struts to reveal a modest boot, with two areas reserved for a pair of helmets.
For all the talk of a 198mph top speed and Sport+ settings for dampers and engine, the V12 Speedster feels a little out of sorts pedalled hard. Its performance is never in doubt and the chassis retains incredible poise, even when the pace is increased. The thing is, you never quite shake off the 1.8-tonne kerbweight and the steering never connects you to the action in the way the old V12 Vantage's did.
Drive at seven-tenths in the default GT mode’s softer damper setting, and the Speedster makes more sense. It’s comfortable and classy, rides serenely and connects you with nature better than any roadster I’ve driven. The V12 turns over at a lazy 1600rpm in eighth at the motorway limit, making this a relaxed cruiser (though articulated lorry wheels pose new threats when they tower above you on a dual carriageway). Better to stick to quieter rural roads where the Speedster shines.
You appreciate the sights, smells and sounds of a country lane intimately, occasionally passing shop windows where you see your reflection – and remember why you spent three-quarters of a mill on a slice of pure automotive art on wheels.
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