It’s the Battle of the Brits. In one corner, Aston Martin’s V12 Vantage coupe, weighing in at $177,000. In the other, the $286,000 Bentley Supersports Convertible.
If you yearn for a new automobile which delivers the fury of a Spitfire fighter plane coupled with quintessential British heritage, these are your players.
The ingredients: Aston Martin took its smallest car and stuffed in its biggest engine. The Vantage, which was previously powered by a 420-horsepower V-8, suddenly sports the insane howl of a V-12 with 510 horses.
Meanwhile, Bentley calls the Supersports its most extreme car ever. Its resemblance to the stately $201,000 Continental GTC convertible is hard to imagine, even while squinting. It has been transformed from its usual 552-hp into a 621-hp attack dog with a top speed of 202 mph.
Extreme British sports cars don’t come around often. Ford Motor Co.’s ownership of Aston Martin and Jaguar hobbled both companies until they were sold in 2007 and 2008, and Rolls-Royce and Bentley have always favored luxurious land yachts over speed machines.
The Vantage and Supersports certainly satisfy “I-can’t- drive-55” cravings, yet their provenance is muddled. Crewe, England-based Bentley is now part of Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen AG. (Bet that would’ve irked Churchill.)
And while Aston Martin’s headquarters are in Gaydon, northwest of London, it is owned by a consortium of Brits and Kuwaiti investors and its motors are made in Cologne, Germany.
Still, British luxury cars have a different feel than their Italian or German counterparts. Mostly it’s the sublime, hand- worked interiors, which wear all that wood and leather like a birthright.
The Supersports’ interior has a twist, replacing wood with carbon-fiber accents and overstuffed seats for ones backed in the same lightweight material. And -- stiff upper lip! -- they operate manually. They’re nonetheless beautiful to look at and you do get plush quilting. Weight savings like these cut about 200 pounds overall.
Four adults will fit in the Bentley even with the soft-top down. (The Supersports Coupe, priced at around $270,000, has no back seats.)
The Aston’s interior is cushy soft and tactile, though befitting a serious coupe it accommodates only two. The Bentley’s inner details are more special in the end, edging out the Aston in that regard.
In either vehicle, expect lots of appreciative comments from other motorists. My Bentley was outfitted in a pearlescent red, which complimented the enormous black grill and mean, blacked-out, 20-inch wheels.
The Vantage, like all Astons, is dazzling. My test vehicle was all white and offset by black carbon-fiber air intakes in the overstuffed hood. A beauty disguising the beast inside.
If you had to name the single most pleasurable element, it would be the symphonically rich sound emitted when you downshift and vaporize a big dose of premium gas. You can get as much power and torque out of a V-8 motor, yet nothing equals the roar of 12 cylinders.
While the Aston is naturally aspirated, the Bentley’s W-12 has two turbos. Either way, the mileage is crushingly poor: in the city, the Aston gets 11 miles per gallon, the Bentley 13.
Too bad the Aston only offers an additional 90 horses over the V8 Vantage’s smaller engine, as it adds a bunch of weight to the front end.
On the open road, it is a joy to let the Aston burst into unchained melodies as you surge from 50 to 80. The V12 is only available with a six-speed manual, which I kind of love. Time in the Vantage is a constant endorphin high.
Yet on the racetrack you have to be cautious, making sure the weight on the nose doesn’t lead you into compromising positions -- like a tire wall while exiting a corner.
Still, at least the Vantage looks at home on the racetrack. The Supersports convertible would just be silly there. It may be the most agile Bentley on the market, but it still weighs nearly as much as a moving truck.
Its raison d’etre is to rule the highways, blasting the roadways.
It’s also got carbon-ceramic brakes the size of Texas, which means you could screech to a stop when jackrabbits run into your path. The Supersports isn’t available with a manual transmission -- just a six-speed automatic which you can operate with Bentley’s signature, oddly oversized behind-the-wheel paddles.
A word about those supersized prices. As driven, the Bentley came to $308,870, including goodies like the $7,180 Naim audio system.
The Aston’s added amenities brought it up to $194,110.
But then, you shouldn’t be talking about the price, should you? It’s just not British.
The 2011 V12 Vantage and 2011 Bentley Continental
Supersports Convertible at a Glance
Engines: 5.9-liter V-12 with 510 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque; twin-turbo W-12 with 621 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds; 3.9.
Gas mileage per gallon: 11 city, 17 highway; 13, 24.
Prices as tested: $194,110; $308,870.
Best features: Aston elegance; Bentley interior.
Worst features: Underpowered V-12; still pretty portly.
Target buyers: Kings and queens.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at email@example.com.