V12 embraces manual gear shift

There’s something pure and eponymous about an Aston Martin … any Aston Martin.

In its most natural state, like that of the new V12 Vantage, the Aston Martin lives and breathes sports car. Besides its handsome stance and purposeful styling, another hint things are going to be different with the V12 Vantage is the six-speed, manual gear shift lever that’s located right where it’s supposed to be on the center console and, yes — yes! — a clutch pedal where it’s supposed to be to the left of the brake pedal.

No sequential, up- and down-shift Formula 1-inspired paddles straddling the steering wheel this time, or so was the edict from Dr. Ulrich Bez, Aston Martin’s chief executive officer. The V12 Vantage, based on the hugely successful V8 Vantage, was designed as “the most potent production sports car in the marque’s 96-year history” to appeal to what Aston Martin describes as the “focused driver,” according to the manufacturer’s model-range brochure.

“This is the ultimate performance interpretation of the Vantage range, combining our most agile model with our most powerful engine,” said Bez on www.astonmartin.com. “It represents the definitive Aston Martin driving experience; providing spectacular performance to ensure a dynamically thrilling drive in a highly exclusive package.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But, driving one might really seal the deal. Remember, I’ve had the privilege of getting behind the wheel of a 2010 Aston Martin DBS Volante and that was a marvelous experience. Getting into the swing of the DBS’ clutchless, paddle-driven transmission took a little coaxing to be smooth, but the rhythm of clutch/shift/gas is something you never forget.

For this test drive, I was invited to preview the V12 Vantage by Paul Jarrett, Gaudin’s Aston Martin manager. Touring dealerships across the U.S., this particular model was the highly desirable and strictly limited “Carbon Black” special edition that featured metallic paint with a subtle metallic twist to create a deep rich patina; painstakingly created through a hand-painting process that takes nearly 50 man hours to complete.

The iconic Aston Martin profile is accented with carbon fiber backed by black mesh and complemented with gloss black 10-spoke diamond-turned alloy wheels that house impressive ventilated front and rear carbon ceramic disc brakes. A polished front grille and front parking sensors (normally an option) sharpen the striking exterior details.

So, in response to unprecedented customer demand, the V12 Vantage features a 6.0-liter V-12 engine that produces 510 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque with a top speed of 190 mph. Proving ground results clocked zero to 62 mph in a time of 4.2 seconds. But, I wasn’t going to register these kinds of numbers in the vicinity of Sahara Avenue and Rainbow Boulevard without attracting the wrong kind of attention. Instead, I gently coaxed the V12 Vantage up to speed, worked the clutch/brake/accelerator in just the right unison and had almost as much unfettered fun.

“There’s nothing subdued about this car,” said Jarrett, who put the V12 Vantage to the test before inviting us over to the driver’s seat. “It’s meant to be a GT car, a true sports car.”

And, remember that Aston Martin rumble from its unique exhaust? Well, it’s as gnarly as ever, and even more enhanced by a “bypass” engine air intake port that opens up at 5500 rpm, a revised induction system and reprofiled air inlet ports that further improve airflow into the combustion chamber to improve performance. Also unique to the V12 Vantage is a “sport” button that allows the driver to choose between two powertrain modes.

The default “normal” mode provides a more progressive throttle response, suited to more everyday situations, such as driving in urban areas, heavy traffic or in challenging weather conditions. Selecting sport mode delivers a sharper throttle response together with a sportier exhaust note. This mode is designed for use in more dynamic driving situations where sharper responses are required, extracting the maximum performance from the car.

Thankfully, the V12 Vantage’s handling is superb because in second gear, it wants to go, regardless if it’s pointing in a straight line or not. But, it’s trustworthy on 19-inch wheels and a special Pirelli dry-conditions-only tire, thanks to Aston Martin’s Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system that allows the driver to manage how the car handles in different situations. In its default mode, DSC is switched on. Depressing the DCS button for two seconds selects “track” mode, while holding it for four seconds turns DSC off completely.

Inside, this particular V12 Vantage was wrapped in Obsidian Black leather highlighted with a contrast silver coarse stitch all hand stitched by the craftspeople at Gaydon, Aston Martin’s global headquarters in England. It also featured a piano black fascia trim, a simple retro center stack and center console gauges, anodized black tread plates and unique sill plaques built on the carbon theme. The normally optional Aston Martin 700w premium audio system is delivered as standard equipment, but this V12 Vantage boasted the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound audio system.

At Gaudin’s V12 Vantage reception, held last week at its Gaudin Jaguar Porsche Aston Martin dealership on West Sahara Avenue, loyal Aston Martin customers were excited to offer their compliments to Garrett Bailey, Aston Martin North America operations manager Western region.

“It was a bit of a squeeze getting the V-12 motor in there,” Bailey admitted. “But, to take the V-12 and put in the lightweight Vantage platform creates the ultimate pure sports car.”

Gary Allen, who owns a local insurance company, thinks the V12 Vantage is “absolutely electric.” The admitted car nut already owns a Porsche Cayenne and a 2000 Jaguar XK8, but is taken by the V12 Vantage.

“I’ve always loved the way it looks and sounds,” Allen said. “Every time you get in it, you feel alive. Sorry, but I have to say this: It’s like sex on wheels.”

Not sure Aston Martin will use that last comment in its British-proper V12 Vantage brochure, but Nicholas Vilardell and Risë Ragan, who design and build holograms and digital graffiti for corporate clients, think the V12 Vantage is a beautiful car. “I’m most impressed by the attention to detail,” Vilardell said. Ragan, on the other hand, wondered if she could order one in pink. Jarrett, who wasn’t far away, overheard Ragan’s request and confirmed one could be ordered in any color she liked.

The V12 Vantage (just 200 are slated to be built, according to Bailey) is available by special order only, according to Jarrett, and will take about three to four months to deliver. The base price is $180,000. The model I drove included upgrades that brought the sales price to $195,000.

“This is a driver’s car,” Bailey said. “It’s the ultimate GT (grand touring) race car made for the street.”

For more information about the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, stop by Gaudin Jaguar Porsche Aston Martin at 7200 W. Sahara Ave., call 284-7000 or access www.jplv.net.e

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