There are plenty of engine configurations capable of generating huge amounts of power. Just look at what Volvo, for example, has been able to do with its tiny 2.0-liter four, or what Ford has been able to do with its EcoBoost engines. But few offer the kind of silky smooth power deliver as a twelve-cylinder.
Long considered the pinnacle of the internal-combustion engine, the V12 has powered supercars, luxury GTs, glamorous convertibles, stately sedans… even a handful of SUVs. But with turbochargers and hybrids picking up momentum, the V12 – particularly in its naturally aspirated form – remains a rarity, and may soon go the way of the dodo.
There’s still a handful of automakers offering twelve-cylinder engines, though, and many of them are keen to stick with the format for as long as they can. Scroll down as we explore the few carmakers still offering V12s.
The automaker that arguably most readily comes to mind when we think of V12s is Ferrari. Its first model (the 125 S of 1947) packed a V12 displacing just 1.5 liters, and even though Formula One has long since abandoned the twelve-cylinder engine, the factory in Maranello still makes them for use on the road. Though it has made V6 engines in the past, today all of its models are powered by either a V8 or a V12. As pressure rises to improve its environmental credentials, Ferrari has already switched its eight-cylinder models to turbochargers, and is slated to add hybrid assist to its twelve-cylinder supercars, just as it did with its flagship LaFerrari. But for now, the F12 and GTC4Lusso remain naturally aspirated with all their dozen cylinders firing unencumbered.
Another steadfast proponent of the V12 is Lamborghini, which has produced such legendary twelve-cylinder supercars as the Miura, Countach, Diablo and Murcielago. The Aventador keeps that spirit alive today, sitting atop the V10-powered Huracan in the company’s lineup. It even made a V12 sport-ute back in the day in the form of the LM002, though the forthcoming Urus crossover is slated to go with a twin-turbo V8 instead.
Pagani makes supercars with V12 engines, but doesn’t make the engines itself. Instead it sources them from Mercedes-AMG, which furnished the Italian company with a naturally aspirated V12 ranging in displacement from 6.0 liters to 7.3 for the Zonda, and a twin-turbo unit for the Huayra that replaced it. Its adherence to the twelve-cylinder engine differentiates Pagani from rivals like Koenigsegg (which uses a V8) and Bugatti (which pioneered the W16).
Back in the late 1990s, when it was still owned by Ford, the engineers at Aston Martin got a hold of a pair of V6s from the Mondeo and made a 6.0-liter V12 out of them. The engine launched in 1999 powering the DB7, and has since gone on to power just about everything that Aston makes. Like Pagani, Aston has since contracted Mercedes-AMG to design it a twin-turbo V12 to power its new DB11 and models to follow, but Aston Martin produces the engines at its own facility in Cologne. Sources indicate that the British automaker could keep the old atmospheric V12 around for the occasional special project as well, so don’t count it out of the picture just yet.
Bentley & Audi
The world’s largest producer of twelve-cylinder engines doesn’t make V12s at all. At least, not technically speaking, because Bentley‘s are actually arranged in a W form with four banks of three cylinders each. Twin-turbocharged and displacing 6.0 liters, they power versions of the Continental GT and GTC, the Flying Spur sedan and the new Bentayga crossover as well. Bentley also used to supply the engines to parent company Volkswagen, and still does for the Audi A8, which is available with a 500 horsepower 6.3-liter W12.
BMW & Rolls-Royce
BMW makes its fair share of twelve-cylinder engines as well, as does its subsidiary Rolls-Royce. The Bavarian automaker introduced its first V12 in the 7 Series nearly 30 years ago, and still offers one. The 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 in the M760Li xDrive is the same as the one that powers the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Wraith and Dawn. Meanwhile Rolls also produces the larger 6.75-liter atmospheric V12 for the Phantom, but with that model on the way out, who’s to say how much longer the bigger engine will stick around.
Aside from designing V12 engines for Pagani and Aston Martin, Mercedes also offers twelve-cylinder models of its own. The S-Class and its Maybach derivative can be had in S600 spec with a 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12, but the real gem comes from the workshop in Affalterbach where AMG models are made. The S65, SL65 and G65 pack an even more potent, hand-made version of the same, producing 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque – so much that most of the company’s transmissions and all-wheel drive systems can’t take it all.
Hold on a second, Toyota makes a V12? Yes, indeed it does. But it’s only for one model, it’s rather obscure, and it’s only sold in the Japanese Domestic Market. That would be the Toyota Century, a sedate luxury sedan powered by a 5.0-liter V12 tuned more for smoothness than performance. The engine only produces around 300 horsepower and about as much torque, making it a rather inefficient but comfortable way to get around Tokyo or down the highway. A special version called the Century Royal was even furnished with the same engine to the Japanese Imperial household for use by the Emperor and his family. Chinese President Xi Jinping similarly travels in a Hongqi L5, also powered by twelve cylinders but with more retro styling.
The Ghosts of V12s Past
For every automaker producing or offering a twelve-cylinder engine, there’s that many more that no longer do. Most notable among them is Jaguar, which abandoned its V12 (also used by Lister and Panther) when it shifted to its current V8 engine. The Maserati MC12 was based on (and powered by) the twelve-cylinder Ferrari Enzo. The Bugatti EB110 packed a small-displacement, 3.5-liter quad-turbo V12. The McLaren F1 used a V12 furnished by BMW. Vector used Lamborghini’s engine in the M12. Lincoln also produced a V12 back in the day. Audi had a diesel V12 it used in the Q7, and Volkswagen used the Bentley W12 for a time in both the Phaeton and Touareg.
We wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Toyota or Hongqi discontinue the V12s they produce for their domestic luxury sedans. But we rest assured knowing that Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, BMW and Mercedes will continue producing twelve-cylinder engines for as long as it remains feasible.
The question, then, very well might not be whether the V12 carries on for the foreseeable future, but in what form it will. With Mercedes, Aston Martin, Pagani, BMW, Rolls-Royce and Bentley all turbocharging their twelves, and Ferrari implementing hybrid systems, Lamborghini may remain the last automaker fully committed to delivering the unadulterated V12 experience. Here’s hoping the torch stays lit in Sant’Agata.