Whether we like it or not, the manual, six-speed gearbox has been replaced by a decidedly improved Sportshift III seven-speed automated manual. Given that fewer enthusiast cars are available with true manual boxes, it’s no surprise Aston Martin took this direction.
The Sportshift III is latest development of the company’s automated manual that we’ve seen on the likes of the V8 Vantage S, for example. On the positive side, downshifts are impeccable and audibly rewarding, with the right kick of the throttle and perfect timing for clutch release.
After a downshift, the pops and burbles from the exhaust on overrun are simply delightful. In addition, you’ll never be able to make the expensive, potentially tearful, fifth-to-second downshift. Furthermore, this Graziano-sourced box saves 25 kilograms over the old manual transmission.
Compared to Porsche’s PDK and Audi’s S tronic twin clutch gearboxes, the Vantage’s gearbox feels antiquated, but as long as you treat it for what it is – an automated manual – it can be especially rewarding. Upshifts are accomplished faster than a human-operated shift, just not as quick as the latest transmissions.
Remember to lift your foot off the throttle, as you would with a manual box, and upshifts are smooth. On the other hand, keep your foot pinned to the floor on upshifts and the transmission become recalcitrant, lengthening shift time and noticeably impeding your forward progress. The gearbox is, however, more satisfying and effective than any previous Sportshift II we’ve driven and the paddle shifters undoubtedly broaden the appeal of the V12 Vantage S.
Climbing the winding mountain roads near Palm Springs, California in this Vantage and you immediately forget about the gearbox. The same great hydraulically-assisted steering is here, slightly quicker than before and still delightfully unburdened by the weight of the additional four cylinders over the front axle. The revised steering system is enhanced by two levels of power assist, which is tied into the new electronically controlled dampers.
As with the new Vanquish and Rapide S, the V12 Vantage S is also fitted standard with a three-mode Adaptive Damping System from Bilstein. The driver can choose from Normal, Sport and Track modes, but note that Sport mode isn’t simply limited to damping. It also quickens throttle response and speed of gearchanges, and opens further the already sonorous exhaust.
While this may seem like a bit of unnecessary tech, on the ultra smooth asphalt of southern California, Sport seemed to be the perfect all around setting, for the damping, throttle, steering assist, and gear change optimisations serve to enhance the driving experience. These subtle changes make it possible to attack the road with a slightly higher level of confidence than before. That’s what we want from our sports cars, isn’t it?
The excellent carbon ceramic braking system is retained and confirms that Aston Martin still delivers some of the best carbon brakes available today. Lighter weight, ten-spoke alloys, still fitted with Pirelli’s P Zero Corsa tyres, help unsprung weight and, when painted black, look entirely the business.
Some could argue that with 565 bhp on tap, the front 255- and rear 295-section tyres aren’t wide enough, but we’d suggest that this Vantage still retains its exemplary balance. While understeer is rarely present, the degree of oversteer can be dictated by the amount of throttle you wish to use. With the confidence you feel behind the wheel and the chassis’ superb balance, you don’t need to be Darren Turner to exploit its full range of performance.
Changes to the beautiful exterior lines are reserved for a new carbon fibre grille opening and when paired with the signature yellow paint, the effect is striking. Visually, it’s more like art than it is automotive styling.
The American test car was fitted with the standard Sport seat, but the more hard core character of this Vantage demands the available Lightweight buckets. The perfectly positioned, correctly sized, and Alcantara-covered steering wheel carries over.
The interior is unchanged from its refresh in 2009 and while the instrument panel still accomplishes everything that’s expected of a modern car, its styling hasn’t kept pace with the competition. An interior refresh akin to that of the Vanquish would be a welcome update.