What’s this then?
This is Aston Martin at its raw, analogue best. Until now the V12 Vantage S was only offered with a sluggish seven-speed automated manual, although even that couldn’t spoil our enjoyment of this bonkers, over-powered and under-sized Vantage.
Now though, Aston has deconstructed the robotised gearbox into a seven-speed manual, but kept the price at at £138,000. McCoys and Yorkies at the ready: this is a proper, hairy-chested Aston. Only the brave and burly need apply.
Tell me about that gearbox.
There are seven gears to choose from, but you really only need one. With 6.0-litres of V12 and 457lb ft of torque under your right foot, it’s quite happy to pull away in second – a ratio that takes you to precisely 70mph if you keep it pinned. Problem is, you’ll probably want to change gear at some point – for reasons of fuel consumption, noise and the longevity of your engine – and that’s when things start to go south.
That’s because this new manual ‘box is designed with a dog-leg first gear; something that sounds ridiculously cool in theory (and with legendary status in the world of cars), but proves mildly infuriating in the real world.
Aston claims it “ensures the gears used most frequently are located in a double ‘H’ pattern like that of a conventional six-speed manual”, but that’s simply not true. I guarantee, unless you live on a motorway and never encounter traffic, you’ll use first more than sixth or seventh.
It can’t take long to get used to, surely?
The issue isn’t remembering that the odd numbers are now at the bottom, and the evens at the top (you do get used to that eventually). Rather, it’s that the lever requires a lot of muscle, and is heavily sprung to return to its central point between fourth and fifth.
You can’t flick it around, like Porsche’s seven-speed equivalent, it needs to be placed firmly. And with the slots so tightly aligned, it’s a recipe for not always finding the ratio you need. For example, changing from fourth to third is a buttock-clenching experience, in case you get first instead. That would be very expensive to fix.
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In my opinion, Aston would have done better to take a leaf out of the mk1 Audi R8’s book, and fit an open-gate manual in a regular layout. Just imagine the click-clack of the lever as you try to keep that big V12 on the boil...
Let’s assume you’ve found the right gear, what then?
Get it right and the 565bhp V12 Vantage S is as intoxicating as ever. The bark from the exhausts on start-up is deeper and richer than any turbo car can muster – as is the baleful howl as you pile on the revs. Balance the power delivery with available grip perfectly and you’ll see off 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds. Take your brave pills and it’ll hit a 205mph top speed.
Then there’s the way the hydraulic steering details what’s going on at the front wheels, and reacts just as you’d expect – no corrupting variable ratio here. The dampers somehow feel connected to the steering, so down a B-road it flows like one complete instrument, rather than a collection of components.
That’s more like it. And the looks?
We’ll leave you to decide whether yellow lipstick and wing mirrors are your thing (don’t worry – they’re a no-cost option), but it’s still a remarkably beautiful shape. Proper stop-and-stare stuff. Even the interior (now updated with switchgear from a Vanquish and Aston’s new AMi III infotainment) actually works.
A missed opportunity, then?
Perhaps, but this is still a hugely desireable thing, despite its imperfections, and a testament to just how capable Aston is at wringing every last drop from an ageing line-up. The Vantage launched 11 years ago, don’t forget, but next year there will be a new one.
It will be faster, more high tech, and with fewer foibles, but chances are it won’t have the same raw appeal. This is one of the world’s last truly analogue supercars and it deserves to be celebrated.