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2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S 7-Speed: Dogleg Manual Gearbox Makes It Enchanting

Aston Martin DB11 Launch. 
Siena, Italy.  
July 2016.
Photo: Drew Gibson

Dogleg gearboxes send chills up the spines of automobile enthusiasts — this is precisely why Aston Martin has fitted its 2017 V12 Vantage S with one. The unique transmission layout, which puts the first gear on the bottom left of the pattern and requires sliding the shift mechanism up and over to engage the second gear (the movement has a “dogleg” shape), is used in motorsports because the second to third shift is more effortless with the pattern. Still confused? Don’t fret — it’s an emotional sports car thing.

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Channeling its motorsports history, which goes back more than 70 years, is a big deal to the British automaker — most recently, the company competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours race with its Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GTE. It was only natural, and an impressive nod to enthusiasts, that Aston Martin would fit its smallest and most powerful offering with such an engaging transmission.

Manual gearbox offerings are on the decline, says the Automotive Insights team at Kelley Blue Book, and no automaker has offered a dogleg transmission in many years — yet Aston Martin isn’t your typical automaker. “We’re all enthusiasts here at Aston Martin. Building cars that offer something exceptional is what we do. Technology drives us forward, but we understand the importance of tradition. The true purist will always hanker for the tactility and connection offered by a manual transmission, so it has been a real pleasure to offer just that in our fastest and most focused model. At a time when manual transmissions have almost entirely disappeared in high-performance cars, this makes the manual V12 Vantage S a very special car indeed,” remarks Ian Minards, Director of Product Development at Aston Martin.

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I first came face-to-face with a V12 Vantage with a manual gearbox five years ago — it was a 2011 model. The “artful amalgamate of aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber, leather, rubber, and glass represents pure sensory overload,” I remarked in my review. “The low-volume exotic is a treat for the physiological senses of touch, smell, hearing, sight and balance. More succinctly, it is an intoxicating machine masterfully engineered to gratify every emotion in a car enthusiast’s soul.” As is evident, the powerful sports car understandably spoke to me, unlike any other vehicle that I had ever driven.

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There are countless improvements to today’s V12 Vantage S that help raise the bar over its predecessor. Most visible to passers-by is the optional Sport-Plus Pack that adds five body colors that may be combined with contrasting accent colors for the side sills, mirror caps, rear diffuser blades and lipstick — the front grille surround (see accompanying images). Lightweight 10-spoke alloy wheels finished in graphite, complete exterior package.

The two-passenger cabin with the Sport-Plus Pack, already swathed in leather and Alcantera, is upholstered in black or gray with contrasting stitching. Occupants of all 2017 Vantage models, not just the V12, will note the new AMi III infotainment system, which arrives with an updated navigation system with better graphics, a simplified interface, and a much quicker processor. In addition, the Ami III incorporates Apple CarPlay for those with an iPhone.

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Less visible to everyone are the enhancements beneath the aluminum alloy body panels. The Vantage platform is an all-alloy aluminum monocoque (Aston Martin’s familiar “VH architecture”) that is riveted and bonded just like a modern aircraft. Bolted to the four corners of the stiff architecture is an independent double wishbone suspension. Mounted in the nose is a naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V12 (5,935 cc), rated at 563 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque — that’s 53 horsepower more than the 2011 model. Further back in the chassis is the transaxle gearbox, which is connected to the engine via a rigid torque tube. Customers are offered a choice between Aston’s Sportshift III, which is a 7-speed automatic, or the aforementioned 7-speed manual dog-leg gearbox, at no additional cost.

The clutch is heavy — a less-than-subtle hint of the power on the other side of the firewall — and dogleg gears require a bit of acclimation, especially to someone like myself who spends a ton of time rowing manual gearboxes with a traditional pattern. Launching from a standstill is effortless, but pulling up to a stop sign or stoplight requires a quick mental re-adjustment as my brain wants to continuously put the vehicle into reverse (thankfully, it requires a nice tug on the shifter so it won’t happen inadvertently). Instead, there’s a momentary pause each time before I drop it down into first gear.

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Once underway, the shift into second takes marginally longer with the dog-leg, but that is where the fun begins. Snapping between second and third is a breeze, and popping up to fourth and fifth is a subliminal action. Kudos to Aston Martin for not making seventh gear a fuel-sipping overdrive — unlike that gear in a Porsche 911 or Chevrolet Corvette, it is completely usable on the highway without any need to downshift when overtaking slower traffic.

Aston Martin mates the manual gearbox with AMSHIFT, which is more commonly called “rev matching” by the rest of the industry — it matches engine RPM to the vehicle speed during downshifts and it allows full-throttle upshifts. Press the SPORT button on the dashboard, which adds a shot of adrenaline to the throttle response and exhaust note, and AMSHIFT is engaged. Nail the shifts during an acceleration run and Aston says the V12 Vantage S will break the 60 mph benchmark in less than four seconds flat and hit 205 mph — handily leaving nearly every other premium sports car, including its predecessor, eating its dust. The accompanying soundtrack, blaring out of the twin gunmetal pipes on its tail end, is deliciously angry.

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The V12 Vantage S 7-Speed manual will be celebrated for its gearbox, but there’s a whole lot more to its story. It’s a driver’s car, meaning the hydraulically assisted steering (in contrast to today’s popular electronically assisted units) is heavy and tactile — there’s feedback through the three-spoke Alcantera steering wheel. Handling is also excellent, with the staggered size, and insanely sticky, Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tires holding each corner tenaciously. Braking doesn’t cause a sweaty brow either, as heat-resistant carbon-ceramic brakes are standard equipment.

Despite its aluminum-intensive construction, the V12 Vantage S isn’t a lightweight. The curb weight is slightly more than 3,600 pounds, which limits how tossable it is on the tightest of canyons, but the additional mass is dismissed by the powerful V12 when the driver’s foot is flat to the floor. On a positive note, highway stability — a combination of aerodynamics, steering tuning, suspension tuning, and mass, is exemplary — one must keep a close eye on the speedometer to keep the Aston out of the ticket zone as it prefers three-digit velocities.

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This unique dogleg sports coupe is one of the most enjoyable sports cars I have ever driven — sorry 2011 model, as you are now a distant memory — but getting my hands on one, or anyone else’s hands for that matter, will be next to impossible as Aston Martin is limiting U.S. volume to just 100 units. Rumor has it that every single one of them, each starting with a base price of $188,795, have already been spoken for.

As an automotive enthusiast, I often dream about someday owning a spectacularly engaging and powerful sports car like the 2017 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S with a 7-Speed dogleg gearbox. Yet wistfully, based on its highly exclusive low production volume, a dream is as close as anyone — myself included — will ever get.