Outside the car, you feel the low frequency pulses that can only come from a large displacement V12. At full song, it fulfils our wishes for how an unrestrained Aston Martin engine should sound, embodying pure, unbridled aggression.
Whether we like it or not, the manual, six-speed gearbox has been replaced by a decidedly improved Sportshift III seven-speed automated manual.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 (including the Porsche 911 GT3), it’s no surprise Aston Martin took this direction.
The Sportshift III is the latest development of the company’s automated manual that we’ve seen on the likes of the Aston Martin 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 kilogrammes over the old manual transmission.
Compared to Porsche’s PDK and Audi’s S tronic twin-clutch auto 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 its dual-clutch auto stablemates.
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 becomes 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. Get on the right road 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 Aston Martin Vanquish and Aston Martin Rapide S models, the V12 Vantage S is also fitted standard with a three-mode Adaptive Damping System from Bilstein, while the rear is fitted with dual-rate coil springs. 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.
Sport is 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.