Subtle change benefits ancient warrior
Three pedals rather than two and the same seven gears selected by hand rather than finger might not seem that dramatic an update, particularly in the autumn of a car’s life. And normally it would be and never earn much more than a mention on the news pages of a magazine like this. But for this new manual V12 Vantage S, the significance is not only what, but why.
Originally there was no plan for a manual V12 Vantage S. You may remember that the original V12 Vantage had a great six-speed gearbox, but with the extra power of the S came its robotised seven-speed paddle shift transmission. Most hacks loved it, but few missed the chance to lament the passing of the manual which, we were assured, was gone for good.
But then a change of management: arch enthusiast Andy Palmer replacing Dr Ulrich Bez and, with his arrival, a change of heart. This is Aston Martin’s most sporting production car and such a model should be available with manual gears. And so it is. I understand also that at least one manual Aston Martin will be in the line-up for the foreseeable future, so I’m guessing it will be in the next Vantage too, scheduled to go on sale in 2018. In that move, Aston has joined Porsche and Jaguar in returning to the three-pedal way of thinking for its most extreme sports cars.
Happily for Aston, they didn’t even need to find a transmission, merely remove the electronic operation from the one it already had. The result is a seven-speed manual with, get this, a dog-leg first: not even Porsche has that.
The Vantage is so old it is not a difficult car to pull to pieces. Whether you focus on its ride, refinement, interior space or ergonomics, it’s now far from the pace and it’s not only Audis and Porsches that compete with and beat it in these regards, but also McLarens. But I can confirm that if you get up at 3am to ensure you’re in the mountains by dawn and then drive until the tank is as dry as you dare, you’ll still be thinking and smiling about it many weeks later, as I do today.
The gearbox is good, better than Porsche’s seven-speed manual but still confusing for the sheer number of ratios in use, and too weak in its cross-gate springing from sixth to fifth. But its simple presence in the car as another means of connecting man to the machine provides a new dimension in what was already one of the most enjoyable supercars on sale. Allied to that wondrous engine, superb chassis balance and steering bettered in the class only by the aforementioned McLaren, to me it epitomises what an Aston Martin should really be. I’ll go further: this car offers the most satisfying and involving driving experience of any Aston Martin, probably since the DB4GT. In this most critical regard if no other, it will be a fiendishly hard act for the next hot, manual Vantage to follow.
Engine – 6.0 litres, 12 cylinders
Power – 573bhp@6750rpm
Torque – 457lb ft@5750rpm
Transmission – seven-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight
344bhp per tonne
Top speed 205mph