- Image: Daimler Global Media.

Let's Be Honest: some V12s weren't that brilliant

In a lot of cases, they were fairly pointless

2w ago

As a disclaimer, I'm not implying that the V12 engine was rubbish. That'd be like saying Buckingham Palace looked a bit tacky in front of the entire Royal Family - or perhaps telling John Coleman that pants are more useless than a function-less button.

If anything, V12 engines in general are some of the most magnificent pieces of engineering ever applied to a car. A glance at the past will tell you that some manufacturers and models couldn't have lived without them; from the majestic Rolls Royces, Cadillacs and Lincolns of the pre-war years to the striking Ferraris and Lamborghinis post-war. There were and still are times when they are essential to the identity of a brand.

But this article aims to tackle something different: I've noticed that over recent months that people are sobbing because some manufacturers don't want to produce V12 engines anymore, blaming emissions regulations and efficiency as factors.

But people seem to forget that in a lot of recent instances, big V12s weren't really worth it anyway. Allow me to explain.

Cases where they just didn't make sense

Image: Daimler Global Media.

Image: Daimler Global Media.

So, the notable manufacturers who are discontinuing V12s are the big German three: Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi (W12, albeit).

This is noted in the 'Final Edition' of Mercedes' S65 AMG which was powered by a huge, 621bhp 6.0 litre twin-turbocharged V12. A heck of a machine, granted. But who in their right mind would've bought an S65 in the first place?

For starters, it was an extra Β£50,000 over the V8-powered S63, and for that extortionate amount of money, you didn't get any more performance. And if the V8 car was equipped with AWD, the S65 was actually slower!

Some of you out there will argue that the V12 was effortlessly powerful and could overtake lorries like nobody's business. But the capabilities of the V12 car were nothing that the V8 couldn't already manage - so you have to ask yourself: why spend the extra money? And judging from just how little V12 cars were sold, buyers clearly thought the same.

Image: Daimler Global Media.

Image: Daimler Global Media.

The same goes for the convertible SL65: it costed a ridiculous premium over the V8 car which had the same capabilities and hardly worth it over Mercedes' bespoke supercar: the AMG GT or even the top spec GT-R.

In reality, the V12 models in Merc's line-up were there for show. But if you really wanted 'show' at circa Β£180,000+, then a proper supercar like a Ferrari or Aston Martin would've suited that criteria far more neatly.

Image: Audi Media Centre.

Image: Audi Media Centre.

The same applies to Audi: I don't understand how the W12 version of the A8 is worth it. The V8-powered S8 is far more capable and in recent iterations, more powerful. I'm hardly surprised that the W12 car is a rare sight because the only type of person to buy one would be someone who REALLY wanted to brag about having 12 thirsty cylinders.

And that customer base has proven to be unequivocally small.

Okay, but perhaps they make more sense with Audi's more prestige sibling, Bentley? Well, there is certainly still a strong customer base out there who will spend the extra for the W12 cars over the V8s. But that's because they are generally more capable than the V8 cars and have subsequently been engineered and marketed correctly to sit in a justifiable pecking order - akin to the V8 and V12 versions of models from Ferrari and Aston Martin.

Image: BMW Group Press.

Image: BMW Group Press.

The same goes with BMW yet again, the V12 M760iL started from well-over Β£130,000 when it was available (it's now discontinued in the UK) whereas an more sensible and better-value M5 was around Β£94,000. Even the V8 750iL made more sense than none if you wanted that extra air of luxury.

Again, the fact the V12 car is discontinued goes to show how much people cared about it in the first place. It just didn't make all that much sense when other models offered more for your money.

Cases where V12s make lots of sense

Image: Lamborghini Media.

Image: Lamborghini Media.

As mentioned earlier, if a brand can justify and market the V12 cars over the lower-tier models, then that's how they ultimately survive.

Bentley are a good example as well as Aston Martin whose character lies in the 5.2 litre V12s offered in the DB11 and DBS. As a brand that emphasises power, beauty and soul, a V12 makes undeniable sense to their brand identity and has done since the old 6.0 litre unit first appeared in the DB7 Vantage.

In the case of Rolls Royces, V12s obviously make a lot of sense because they're smooth, majestic and effortless units that correlate to their brand identity. And to play the devil's advocate to Mercedes, it's the same story with the Maybach.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari and Lamborghini have obviously stood by the V12 since the dawn of their beginnings. If anything, those two brands would be diluted if they decided to discontinue making them. It may sound contradictory that the V10 Huracan is just as, if not more capable than the V12 Aventador. But the fact is that the Aventador is more spectacular as a machine and its silliness is what has made it so successful throughout its ten-year lifespan - even to this day when smaller-engined supercars can potentially outrun it.

The same applies to Ferrari: sure, the V8 488 Pista is quicker around a track than an 812 Superfast, but the sound and character of the V12 car is what keeps customers coming in. Supercar brands can justify keeping a V12 around because they represent their own identity rather than simply having a heavy, pointless engine.


Image: Aston Martin Media.

Image: Aston Martin Media.

Manufacturers who know how to keep a V12 engine relevant in their model line-up will ultimately keep it around. But for those units which were hardly as, if not less capable than the more-than-adequate V8 models, I find it unsurprising that the V12 cars have been discontinued.

And I don't know about you, but I thought some of those modern V12s in Mercs and the like sounded rather dull and windy - especially compared to the throaty, characterful AMG V8s. This can even date back to the 1990s when the V12 models first appeared.

To those who are angry at manufacturers who are discontinuing V12 engines for some of their models: the proof of the pudding was in the interest and sales and clearly, not a lot of people were interested in them anyway.

If there's an engine to care about in the modern world: it's your old friend, the V8.

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Comments (62)

  • Aaron is calling the V12 pointless and we need back-up, stat @tribe

      16 days ago
  • This is all true, but there's no denying that the V12 is like the 747. It needs to go, but it's still king.

    V12 BITURBO on the side of an SL65 AMG is the most impressive thing you will ever read, and like a Leonard Cohen lyric, no one needed it to make real world sense.

      16 days ago
  • If you play the word association game for a second and throw out the words V8 and V12, the first thing you think of with the former is muscle and grunt and with the latter class and style. The whole point of having a V12 in an executive saloon is to have something to brag about. Plus when you think about its purpose, which is to cruise across huge amounts of land in the best, most refined way possible, the V12 makes a lot of sense. Yes the V8 does the job, but the V12 fills the role better. Speed isn't everything in these luxury saloons.

      16 days ago
    • I see what you mean, but in the modern day, I'd still say the V12s fill the role better, but only by the tiniest margin. Too tiny to justify in my opinion!

        16 days ago
    • I'd say these days, the margin is small, but only because engine tech has developed so much. It's the same reason why people don't really make 5 cylinders any more (despite them being one of the best in my opinion). They were always a...

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        16 days ago
  • I will get heavily pantsed for that, but even some V8s are pointless at this day and age. A heavily turbocharged V6 is still smoother than a V8, produces the same amount of power and maybe is a touch less thirsty when not pushed. And that's before we bring that small 2 litre AMG engine, which is pushing the envelope.

      15 days ago
  • This is a case of nobody needs one, but you want one. I’ve driven a V12 and it’s gloriously smooth, I however yearn for a V8.

    In the case of the S65, this power plant is capable of much more and as such I’d give it to Brabus to do their thing and give it 800 bhp+ and its got more torque than you could ever need for that autobhan blast.

    I do want a V12 but only if someone else is paying the fuel bills.

      16 days ago