First DriveAston Martin's swansong for its venerable Vantage sports car allows it to bow out with its head held high, yet the performance AMR sub-brand's first o
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What is it?
The Vantage Sportshift is a V8 Vantage with a clutchless manual gearbox. It's a development of Magneti Marelli’s ubiquitous clutchless manual, which also features in the Vanquish and the Ferrari F430, among others.
But Aston’s engineers have tweaked it to suit the character of the Vantage’s 4.3-litre V8. Gears are selected using steering wheel-mounted paddles, and there are three shift options. Sport offers a maximum shift speed of 240 milliseconds, which sounds fast until you consider that an F430 swaps cogs in 150 milliseconds.
Comfort is designed to offer slower, smoother shifts and there’s also a fully automatic mode.
What's it like?
Aston has designed some creep into the transmission in a bid to make the Vantage easier to manoeuvre at low speeds.
In first gear, the car will creep forwards at up to 4mph, even if no throttle pressure is applied. This system works well, but other aspects of the gearbox’s behaviour still need work. In automatic mode, the shift from first to second and from second to third is accompanied by an awkward jolt.
Automated downshifts – such as when the car approaches a junction – are also accompanied by an uncomfortable shunting motion. Aston’s engineers promise improvements to the system’s calibration before the Sportshift goes on sale in March.
They are also considering altering the software to prevent the gearbox automatically changing up at 7000rpm, which could prove an irritation to track day enthusiasts. Sadly the transmission also does nothing to alleviate this car’s biggest problem – poor low to mid-range torque.
A couple of detail improvements have also been introduced across the Vantage range. New Recaro seats are designed to accommodate those of a wider girth (Americans) and there’s a natty mobile phone holder, but that’s about it. The Vantage’s aesthetics have sensibly been left well alone.
Should I buy one?
There will be a £2995 premium for Sportshift, raising the Vantage’s price to £86,930.
Pricey, yes, but not for an Aston – especially one as gorgeous as this. If Aston can solve the gearbox's early problems, it will be a welcome addition to the range – especially as there's no other auto option.