Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual first drive, CAR+ June 2016 | CAR Magazine

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual first drive, CAR+ June 2016

Published: 27 May 2016

► Aston’s new V12 Vantage S manual driven
► Seven-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive
► Naturally aspirated, too…

I could kiss Andy Palmer, I really could. And Ian Minards too. Seriously, the Aston boss and his product guru sidekick had better watch out next time I’m in Gaydon, or it’ll be portly hugs all round. This embarrassing outpouring is down to what they’ve done with the Vantage S and, by extension, to my faith in the future of driving.

Not content with squeezing a V12 into a V8’s shoes and thus making the under-bonnet area more overcrowded than the Central Line, these guys have dropped another improbable doozie: a manual gearbox. A seven-speed manual gearbox. With a dogleg first.

Didn’t they get the memo about manuals being yesterday’s news? Yes, they got it alright – it’s in the bin over there. It’s hard to figure which sound is louder – the head scratching coming from Stuttgart or the sniggering from Gaydon.

‘We’re all enthusiasts here,’ says Minards. ‘Technology drives us forward, but we understand the importance of tradition.’ Palmer adds: ‘The manual remains an integral part of our plan, and will do for many years to come.’ And there I go puckering up again.

The ’box could, of course, have been a right clunker, but it isn’t – it’s sublime. The short stick snicks like a milled toggle in the roof panel of a 737 cockpit – designed to slot home with haptic certainty. Mistakes not an option on the flight deck are also not an option when monstering B-roads in this Aston, because everything happens very fast.

The V12, though not the most vocal engine, is armed with 563bhp, most of which you can get down in the mid-range, so you don’t want to fluff a shift. But once you’ve attuned to the even cogs being up top neither you nor the car will miss a beat, and 3.7sec to 60mph begins to sound modest.

They’ve given the ’box another trick, too, called AMSHIFT, which is really juvenile and thus appeals to me greatly. It’s basically about making you sound like a god, even if you’re rather mortal. It uses the engine management and propshaft sensors to suss out gear and clutch positions, and then gives the throttle a virtual blip to mimic a heel-and-toe masterclass. In Sport mode – which you need to select to get the exhaust sounding fruity and the throttle remapped – it’s totally addictive. Heroin has nothing on it.

The Vantage was always a good car, but like most Astons has had a tendency to fall fractionally short of the heavily bankrolled, over-developed 911. The genius of the manual S is that it seizes on Porsche’s turbocharged, digitalised fumbling of the ball and, fascinatingly, seems to nullify the Vantage’s modest flaws at the same time.

It no longer matters, for example, that the interior lacks pizzazz, that the centre screen (now with upgraded nav and Apple CarPlay) is further away than Saturn (and smaller to the naked eye), or that the handling balance is still marginally too rear-centric, giving the sense that the notional pivot point is located behind you rather than at the wheel, snipping off an inch of confidence. It doesn’t even matter that the optional snazzy N24-alike battleship paintjob is louder than the actual engine.

No, what you notice are the fantastic sports seats, the astoundingly well connected, hard-yet-pliable ride quality, the delicious alcantara wheel and its chatty nature. Today has been a terrific day, for two reasons: Aston and Martin. And pure driving is alive and well.

The specs: Aston Martin V12 Vantage S manual

Price: £145,000 (est)
Engine: 5935cc 48v V12, 563bhp @ 6750rpm, 457lb ft @ 5750rpm
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 3.7sec 0-60mph, 205mph, 19.2mpg, 343g/km CO2
Weight: 1665kg  
On sale: Now

Love – Gearbox, gearbox and gearbox
Hate – This is no time for hating 
Verdict – Aston comes down on the driver’s side
Rating – *****

Read more from the June 2016 issue of CAR magazine

By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies