Aston Martin Vantage

Aston Martin release the V8 Vantage Sportshift due to demand for a two-pedal sequential transmission

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Aston Martin had to make the V8 Vantage Sportshift because many buyers expect a two-pedal sequential transmission to be available as an option. And when it’s fully developed, it should be just as good as Ferrari’s latest F1 shift systems. But will it be fully de-bugged by the time it reaches showrooms? At this stage, it’s hard to tell.

Manual, auto, sequential, CVT... it’s a measure of how complicated the world of cars has become when there are almost as many words to describe a gearbox as there are models available.

Ferrari has its F1 shift, Maserati its Cambiocorsa, Porsche uses Tiptronic S, while Audi has Tiptronic R. And from March, there will be another name to add to the list. Coming courtesy of Aston Martin, we have Sportshift.

Fitted to the V8 Vantage, the new transmission is important because it’s a return to the automatic manual system which debuted with the Vanquish.

Although the firm already has a good fully automatic gearbox (found in the DB9), engineers have given the sportier Vantage a two-pedal version of its existing six-speed manual, because they felt it better suited the character of the car. Based around a gearbox from Turin company Graziano and software from fellow Italian firm Magneti Marelli, the transmission is virtually identical to the one used by Ferrari and Maserati.

The V8’s paddleshifters are attached to the steering column rather than the wheel, and gearchanges are preset to run in rapid Sport mode, unless you press a button on the dashboard to select the slower Comfort setting. More buttons on the dash select Drive, which is fully automatic, and reverse.

We drove a pre-production car and discovered the system needs some final tweaking before sales start in March. The faster you go and harder you drive, the better it gets, but a slight lift of the throttle is needed for smooth upchanges. An automatic throttle blip makes downshifts easier.

On track, the Sportshift works well, but real world roads show two snags. The change from first to second is hard to execute smoothly, and there’s some jerking as the Vantage comes to a stop, because the clutch disengages late. Both will be fixed before sales start.

What about the fully automatic mode? Surely this needs to be smooth and easy to use if the system is to attract buyers used to two-pedal driving?

At the moment, it’s hard to make relaxed progress. The Vantage surges forward too much on the upshifts as power is cut suddenly then reinstated, and oddly it’s worse in the slower-shifting Comfort mode, because acceleration pauses for longer. You have to be very deft with your throttle foot to smooth the shifts, which means predicting when they will happen – and that’s hardly the point of an automatic.

Reverse is annoyingly slow to engage, too, but the ‘creep’ function, which engages at low speeds, is good for parking and crawling in traffic. But does the system improve the car? It certainly gives the Vantage appeal beyond the standard manual, particularly with drivers who want an F1-style feel and sound to the car’s acceleration.

However, as the technology doesn’t appear to improve the Aston’s perform- ance or fuel economy, taking your pick between the manual and semi-auto systems will be a matter of preference.

And there’s one final point to consider. The new system isn’t going to be cheap, adding £3,000 to the standard Vantage’s £82,800 price tag.

Of course, that extra cost will be reflected in the Aston’s residual value when it’s time to sell. However, it’s a lot of money to spend on something that has no effect on the car’s pace.

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