It is a simple, old-school charming thing the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, so why not put a simple, old school transmission in it? That's exactly what Aston Martin has done. A third pedal and a proper manual gearbox create the most appealing Vantage yet.
In the metal
Nothing really new to see here, though the Aston Martin Vantage's ancient shape is still a favourite, especially when it gains the added menace that the V12 under the bonnet necessitates. Those vents in particular, allowing the heat from the massive 6.0-litre V12 to escape. There are flared wheelarches too, more aerodynamic updates and a grille inspired by the Aston CC100 concept car. The V12 Vantage S is something of a gentlemanly thug in its looks - chiselled and handsome, but wearing the marks of a recent, physical altercation.
The cabin wears its age with less distinction and charm. Plenty of leather covers the interior, but there's no hiding from some fundamental flaws. They've been around since the Vantage arrived and include the barely readable instruments and the hopeless infotainment - we're promised it'll be better with a new system that debuts in the Aston DB11. In that list of foibles you previously would have included the paddle-shifted transmission. The robotised manual's yawning, sometimes clumsy shifts felt decades behind the best paddle-shifted gearboxes, though Aston has now seen the light and added a third pedal and a stick, which is a very good thing indeed.
This is Aston Martin's fastest car, which must be annoying if you're buying one of the firm's more recent models. Thing is, if you drive the V12 Vantage S you'll not want any of those. The Vantage has always been a car that's had masses of appeal, pegged back by some shortcomings. The manual transmission addresses the biggest of them, that cumbersome paddle-shifted seven-speeder. The gearbox itself remains the same; only the robotised bits have been binned, leaving the shifting entirely down to you. There's also the 'AMSHIFT' system, which will blip the throttle on downshifts and allow full-throttle upshifts. There's an off switch for it, which you're likely to use, as, while it works, having it turned on partially misses the point of buying the manual in the first place (the Sportshift III auto remains on sale, but you'd have to be mad).
It would be wrong to say that the V12 Vantage S's shift is one of the best out there. In truth the shift is average, and sometimes awkward if you're not concentrating. Blame the springing across the gate, as it's easy to find the wrong slot when downshifting and it's not a gearbox that particularly likes to be hurried. It's a dogleg layout too, thanks to those seven ratios, meaning that first is back and down, while the rest of the gears are stacked in a conventional double H. First might as well be redundant if you're feeling lazy, given second gear will comfortably exceed 100km/h from standstill. That you need to drive it is a core part of this car's allure. In this paddle-shifted, digital driving world the V12 Vantage S feels gloriously analogue. Every element of its driving make up is dictated by you. Other cars will be faster as a result, but the sheer physicality and pleasure that's derived from the V12 Vantage S is difficult to beat. The chassis has always impressed, thanks to its supple and composed ride, high traction, breath-taking brakes and the direct (and, crucially, communicative and well weighted) steering. The V12 Vantage S might have a pugilist's make-up, but it's not without a great degree of culture, agility and finesse too.
The engine, unsurprisingly, is central to that, dominating with its huge charm and mighty performance. There's no gear it won't pull from, with eye-widening force. The engine's flexibility could have you short-shifting, but the joy of those 12 cylinders at high revs is one that's difficult, if not impossible, to ignore. It sounds sensational, with the cultured V12 note, with just enough assertive bark from the exhaust, especially when you give it its full voice by pushing the Sport button. With all that power it'll be the hooligan if you want it to, but you'll need to switch off the electronic aids, though Sport mode does give some freedom, with the assurance of some backup if you run out of talent. You'd have to be fairly ham-fisted to do so, as the Aston's limits are so beautifully communicated; it's never a spiky or difficult car to drive. Intimidating by virtue of the numbers associated with it, yes, physical, unquestionably, but it's so damned rewarding that it's impossible to not completely fall for it, even if, in many, many ways it's bettered by rivals.
What you get for your money
You're buying Aston Martin's fastest car, and its most enjoyable to drive, with a V12 engine under its punctured bonnet and three pedals. And you want more? It comes well specified, but like all cars at this level there's an extensive and expensive options list to cater for your every whim, and Aston Martin's Q division for the stuff that's not on the list.
Ancient tech in an old car, with modern performance, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage S is enticingly analogue in its appeal. There's nothing quite like it, and, encouragingly, Aston Martin has committed to a future with manual transmissions. If they're all as entertaining as this, then the future's very bright indeed, even if it's looking back to create it.