“It’s about adding the enjoyment of the manual interaction,” enthuses my driver as the car suddenly powers forward like a pouncing tiger and we eat up the road ahead of us. “The additional involvement you have with the car, through the manual gear lever, is something that the true purist will always hanker for and value.”
I’m sitting next to Matt Becker, Aston Martin’s chief engineer for vehicle dynamics, as he takes me for a ride in the new manual V12 Vantage S around the Warwickshire countryside surrounding the marque’s Gaydon headquarters. What better way to experience first-hand the power and performance of the most aggressive model in the current Aston Martin line-up? “Modern automatic transmissions are very accurate in their upshifts and downshifts,” he explains, “but the nice thing about this is that it obviously brings back the element of driver skill.”
At a time when manual transmissions have almost entirely disappeared in high performance sports cars, adding a seven-speed manual gearbox option to the V12 Vantage S offers a distinctive dimension. To enhance the driving experience, this features a classic dog-leg first gear position – an echo of past classic models – so that second to seventh gears fill the positions normally used for first to sixth. This configuration also ensures that the gears used most frequently are located in a double “H” pattern like that of a conventional six-speed manual.
“We think the manual transmission will appeal to sports car enthusiasts who want that really hands-on driving experience,” says Becker. “One nice thing we’ve done with the gear-shift is that it’s very symmetrical and it doesn’t feel narrow, which also makes it more user-friendly.”
The new manual transmission also features AMSHIFT. The system, which is driver selectable, uses clutch, gear position and propshaft sensors, together with finely tuned programming of the engine management, to mimic the technique of heel-and-toe downshifts; the act of blipping the throttle while braking and changing gear. AMSHIFT also offers the capability of full-throttle upshifts for maximum smoothness and minimal interruption in acceleration.
The nice thing about this car is that it brings back the element of driver skill
AMSHIFT can be used in all driving modes, but is especially effective in Sport, with the sharper throttle response and louder exhaust note really emphasising the downshift throttle blip for maximum excitement. “There are different levels,” explains Becker. “You can have AM Shift on or AM shift in a format that gives more dramatic downshifts and adds a touch of drama.”
What makes the car special is not only the manual transmission, but also the powershift function: “What that will do is rev-matching on downchanges,” says Becker as he proceeds to demonstrate. “You can also flat shift on it, leaving your foot down on the throttle as you move up gear. This matches the torque and revs so you can shift gear seamlessly.” He admits that it does take a bit of getting used to: “It’s contrary to what you were taught when learning to drive and not everybody can ‘heel and toe’, so if you haven’t got the skills or the inclination to do rev-matching on downshifts, then the system will do it for you, but if you want to switch everything off, then you can.”
As we sweep around a fast corner on a quiet section of the road, the car hints at the kind of performance we could expect if we weren’t adhering to national speed limits on a quiet midweek afternoon. “It’s a bloody quick car,” says Becker with a laugh. “And this gives you that extra involvement, which is great from a driving point of view with the manual shift.”
As he says this, he flicks the switch and presses his right foot down, the V12 engine responding with that unique roar, and powers forwards. Though its style of delivery is different, the manual V12 Vantage S has the same potent performance as the Sportshift™ III transmission, accelerating from a standstill to 62mph in 3.9 seconds and reaching 205mph while the power from the six-litre V12 engine is undiminished.
“The car is a great drive – it’s really engaging, the chassis is superb and the sound quality of the engine is fantastic. Everybody who drives it loves it,” Becker says as he moves swiftly through the gears and the engine starts to fill the cabin with its distinctive throaty sound.
You can also flat shift on it, leaving your foot down as you move up gear
The V12 Vantage S is indeed a fabulous drive. Its combination of raw power and sublime handling is clearly evident, even on our relatively sedate passage through the rolling fields of Shakespeare’s county. But as Becker reminds me, like all Aston Martin models, it takes hours and hours of relentless testing from the marque’s highly experienced team to produce such automotive luminaries. “In tribute to its racing heritage, the car has been to the Nürburgring on several occasions,” he says, “and also undergone a number of different durability tests at Nardò, as well as being continually evaluated throughout each stage of the gearshift development.”
Becker doesn’t see the manual V12 Vantage S as simply aimed at track enthusiasts: “It will attract people who want the renowned power and performance of the V12S, but with that added involvement. It might be for weekend driving, but not necessarily so – there’s something very pure about the manual transmission and some people crave having that interaction.”
As we pull back into the factory after our spin, Becker reminds me of Aston Martin’s famous brand values – Power, Beauty and Soul: “In many ways, this manual transmission is an example of that Soul and how it lives on in the marque.”