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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Wants You to Pull Its Dogleg

2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
In the last decade there has increasingly been a divide between cars that chase ultimate performance and cars that keen drivers enjoy driving the most. Take Porsche's Motorsport division; as well as the hyperactive GT3 and GT3 RS road cars, they recently introduced the limited-run 911 R, which takes the recipe of the other two and makes something slower... yet somehow more desirable. While the paddleshift GT3 models gain a car length with every seamless shift, drivers of the manual-only R instead gain a certain amount of satisfaction in doing it themselves each time by using a lever and a clutch pedal. While Stig's Amateur Cousin in the RS is very seriously finding the exact turn-in point into the sweeping left-hander, Chris Harris's Amateur Cousin in the R is very mischievously taking much longer to round the same corner by doing it sideways in a cloud of tyre smoke... because it's more fun.

But you've heard far too much about Porsches recently, haven't you? Fair enough. Aston Martin have recently become worth another look. Their new CEO Andy Palmer joined the company in 2014 coming from Nissan, where he oversaw the Japanese company's return to Le Mans - initially with experiments like the DeltaWing and ZEOD RC before the sadly ill-fated full LMP1 effort - as well as concept cars like the IDx that made petrolheads swoon only to be let down later by it never reaching production. Having moved from the mainstream into something more niche, Palmer's here to make a point or two.

This is the newly updated V12 Vantage S. To whom is this aimed? The lead image of this article is an official press image taken by Aston Martin themselves. It tells you all you need to know about that.

If the target market of this car appreciates a shot of it powersliding around a race track, it's likely that they will be amongst the minority of performance car buyers who still prefer changing their own gears. Most people will be flocking around the all-new twin-turbo DB11, which is bigger, more luxurious, more up-to-date aesthetically and technically, and available only with ZF's highly acclaimed 8-speed automatic that's used in just about everything fast and comfortable these days. Meanwhile, the Vantage range soldiers on for another year, despite first appearing in 2005. The V12 version first appeared in 2009, a glorious instance of a company shoehorning its biggest engine into its smallest car to create something of a hot rod. It wasn't the lightest (the 6.0 engine from the DBS weighed around 90kg more than the original car's 4.3 V8), but it was pretty hardcore, packing semi-slick tyres and a manual gearbox. Then in 2013 they made it into an 'S' version with updates from the new Vanquish, so 510 horsepower became 565 with better low- and mid-range oomph. By this time paddle-shift gearboxes had become favoured for their added speed and convenience, so the V12 Vantage S was only available with the company's 7-speed "Sportshift" single-clutch robotised transmission. Perhaps they couldn't afford to offer both at that time...

Now, however, the old school is back in session for the 2017 model year... and beyond. By all accounts, CEO Palmer is a true petrolhead and not one to be conservative. Aston's very bold DBX crossover bound for production soon was his idea, previewed as an all-electric vehicle. The recent engine tie-up with Mercedes-AMG also plays into his hands as he dealt with them at Nissan-Renault (Mercedes supply some engines to Infiniti and co-developed the Twingo/Smart ForTwo with Renault). Now, as well as mold-breaking experiments and a tie-up with Red Bull Racing to create an extreme hypercar coming soon, he recently made clear his commitment to saving manual gearboxes in Aston Martins:

"Broadening the scope of the V12 Vantage S with a manual transmission option is an indication of our desire to offer the keenest drivers a more analogue and immersive machine to enjoy. I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate that the manual gearbox remains an integral part of our product plans and will do for many years to come. I've already gone on the record saying I want to be the last manufacturer in the world to offer a manual sports car." Cue riotous applause from the internet.

Don't go thinking they've just stuck the old 6-speed 'box from 2009 back in, though. Look at this:


Keen eyes will spot that the gears are all in the wrong places... or if you own a Lancia Stratos, Ferrari Testarossa or Mercedes 190E Cosworth, the right places. This is what's known as a "dogleg" layout, where first is to the left and down, rather than left and up, and the rest are in a double-H pattern. The advantage of this is that on a track, when you don't really use first gear, shifting from second to third is much quicker and smoother. The disadvantage is that you might forget, having been used to first being up not down, and try jamming it into reverse by moving it too far to the left. As well as track day kudos, Aston say that because this is a 7-speed, the car will feel natural to use the rest of the time. You could almost consider it a normal 6-speed with a 'zerowth' gear, as it were, for traffic lights and parking, such will be the torque from that 6.0 V12, maxing out at 457lb/ft (620NM) @5750rpm as well as 565 horsepower (573PS) @6750rpm.

It gets better. "AMSHIFT," an accompanying software system, allows the car to automatically blip the throttle on down-shifts for those who can't (be bothered to) heel-and-toe for themselves, much like you'll find in manual Porsches or - fancy that! - the Nissan 370Z. Better still, the system also allows "full-throttle upshifts," which sounds like you can keep the loud pedal pinned and just kick the clutch pedal while moving the stick "for maximum smoothness and minimal interruption in acceleration." Take that, paddles! The press release recommends Sport mode for particularly responsive and sonorous down-shift barks from that glorious twelve-cylinder naturally aspirated engine.

For the same money, you can if you want still have the automated Sportshift gearbox, but given that it appears to be no faster - AM don't state a different 0-62 time for each version, suggesting they're the same - there seems little point unless you're missing a leg or can't use a clutch pedal for some other reason. While the ZF 8-speed in the DB11 and Vanquish will be smooth and refined, the company's in-house paddleshift gearboxes have never enjoyed a reputation for reaction times, smoothness or reliability, be it in isolation or compared to rivals (especially dual-clutch rivals). Might as well do it yourself...

0-62mph takes 3.9 seconds on your way to 205mph. Outside of the GT12 track monster, this is the most hardcore Aston you can buy. It's certainly the most analogue.


While it may be an eleven-year-old design (thirteen if you include the AMV8 concept), the Vantage remains a very pretty car, clean and simple in an age of growing over-complication, its nigh-on perfect proportions standing the test of time. While a V12 hot rod with so many manual gears is a pretty butch machine, customers who just love to accessorise will be thrilled to note the fabulous new customisation package. The Sport Plus pack introduces five exclusive colours with optional contrast graphics around the grille, side skirts and rear diffuser, with matching mirrors (see the yellow bits on the car pictured). You also get special 10-spoke graphite-finish lightweight alloy wheels, while inside you can have black or grey leather with bright contrast stitching - plus accents on the seats and door cards - to create "a suitably dramatic interior theme." Ooh.

Dramatic!
Suitably so!
The old infotainment software is also out, with a new "AMi III" system that includes navigation being introduced. The main improvements comprise "integrated graphics, quicker and easier address input, reduced loading times, updatable maps, graphical itinerary planning, advanced traffic information, enhanced map graphics and a greater range of voice guidance options. AMi III also incorporates Apple CarPlay to enable the integration of iPhone functions into the built-in display." Thank goodness the graphics are integrated and you don't have to attach them yourself...

The newly improved V12 Vantage S will be delivered to customers from late autumn this year, while at the same time the V8 versions are being consolidated down to a single coupĂ© and roadster version in 'S' specification with some of the updates from this car. While Europeans can have as many V12s as they want, the US market will only get 100 individually numbered cars. It costs around £140,000 in the UK before optional extras.

Mostly though, petrolheads just need to celebrate Aston Martin's newly found confidence to do it their own way. Everything from analogue sports cars to all-new luxury GTs and a coupé-crossover are appearing under the coolest brand in the world, thanks in no small part to a boldly enthusiastic boss. Long may this attitude continue to spice things up.


Now go out there and do the sexiest, best-sounding drifts you possibly can. For the drivers! Save the manuals!

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