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Aston Martin doesn't make it hard to like its cars. They're beautifully designed and handle wonderfully. They're comfortable and come with a variety of noisy and powerful engines. While Aston's cars aren't as fast on paper as some of Italy's finest, they're up there when it comes to elegance. Whereas a Ferrari is in your face, Gaydon's child will only speak when spoken to. Well, more bark than speak. A V-12 can only make certain noises.
The V12 Vantage S is a fantastic car. Its 565 brake horsepower, 6.0-liter V12 is the right kind of stupid in a normally proportioned vehicle, let alone one the size of a small shoe. It'll take you from 0-62 mph in 3.9 seconds and up to 205 mph if you have a small runway or don't mind spending some time in prison.
Torque isn't an issue, either, as there's 457 pound-feet to play with, and that means there's plenty of punch in gear. Gearing, however, used to be a huge problem. You see, Aston only offered the V12 Vantage S with a "SportShift" gearbox. It's an automated manual and, frankly, it's awful.
It works very well when you're giving the V12 a good thrashing, but in town or when the 'box is cold you have to work around it to get the best out of the car. When you think it's going to change up, for example, you're best off lifting off the gas, letting it shift and then carrying on. If you keep your foot down, even slightly, the car feels like it's driving over a patch of glue. Not ideal in any situation.
It was that one thing that made the V12 Vantage S fall short of being utterlysupermegabrilliantawesomeface. Now, just as Aston Martin is preparing to send the 11-year-old Vantage out to pasture, it's done the best thing possible: given the car a good gearbox, a proper stick shift.
Not any old shifter, though -- a seven-speed dogleg. But wait...there's more. It comes with something called AMShift, which promises to blip the throttle on downshifts and let you change up without having to take your foot off the gas. This, Aston says, means the stick can match the auto's 0-62 mph time.
Putting a stick where there wasn't one before means the cabin's been slightly remodeled, as well. There's no cup holder, for one, and the center console looks oddly empty without the push button gear selector. The rest is standard Vantage: pretty, covered in leather and not in the slightest bit unpleasant.
Aston's V12 is nothing short of stunning. It's filled with 565 horses that not only want to play, but also sing. Trust me -- let them sing the song of their people. It's glorious and unholy loud. The car's turn of pace is beyond ridiculous, as well. It's linear, smooth and punishing.
Where the likes of a Porsche 911 Turbo S will kick you in the kidneys with a massive dollop of turbo torque, the Aston will urgently, but smoothly, force you down the road. It's wonderful, and it's probably going to become a rarity as technology thrusts forced induction upon us.
Turn-in is sweet. The Vantage's steering isn't too heavy or too light. There's no numbness here, just feedback and joy. Yeah, a 911's got a sweeter setup, but not by much.
Brave people with plenty of access to race tracks will be pleased to hear you can turn everything off and let the V12 Vantage S' backside hang out as wide as it wants, but that's not advisable on public roads for obvious reasons. Thankfully, Aston has seen fit to put a "make everything loud and make you feel like a hero even at 30 mph" Sport button within easy reach.
It ups the noise and sets everything to angry, making the car feel a little more hairy-chested in the process. Deactivate it and the littlest Aston becomes more subservient. If you want to go for full "all the gear, no idea but I want to look and sound like a badass," I'd stick AMShift and Sport mode on and watch as people think you're a combination of awesome for owning an Aston and an ass because your V-12 is deafening dogs for miles around.
Now's about the right time to talk bout the car's party piece: the seven-speed stick. As much as I want it to be perfect and beyond reproach...it isn't.
That many ratios is a lot to put into as narrow a hole as Aston has. This is confusing. Going from first to second can often end up at fourth; sixth to seventh landing in fifth. You get the idea. A gated setup would have made things easier, but it's not so. Reverse can be a pain to find on occasion, or sometimes too easy to find if you're looking for second. With time, though, that all goes away. Like Bambi learning to walk, you're a horrible mess with it for a while, but then it all just clicks.
The lever action is pretty notchy, just the right side of pleasingly mechanical, though you do have to put some effort into it. This is a good thing. Whereas automatic cars are easy for all, this requires the driver to, er, drive the thing. Once you do, the sensation is nothing short of spectacular. The V12 Vantage S becomes nothing short of spectacular. AMShift adds all the "benefits" of an auto if you want it, but if you want an analog sports coupe...you got it.
Noise, speed, poise, handling prowess and an actually engaging drive serve to make the manual V12 Vantage S a truly special car. Possibly one of the best Aston Martins ever made. Only 100 are coming to the US. If you're in a position to sign on the dotted line: do. And let me have another go.