The V8 Vantage's Achilles Heel

Astons seem to be notorious for their transmissions. The transmission in the previous-generation Vanquish, for example, was widely panned by by critics. Famously so by Jeremy Clarkson, who not only seriously disliked the transmission, but also broke it trying to do a Power Lap. It was a shame, because that's the car that made me fall in love with Aston. I know, I know, most of you will say James Bond's DB5, but I'm a young fella so it was Golden Eye that got me hooked.

The V8 Vantage gave Aston Martin a chance to redeem itself. The car came with a choice of two transmissions. One was a paddle-shifted robotic manual, Aston's "ASM" (AKA "Sport Shift") transmission. That transmission has three versions, ASM1 in the standard V8 Vantage, ASM2 in the V8 Vantage S, and ASM3 in the V12 Vantage and V12 Vantage S. I've driven a V8 Vantage S and found the ASM2 transmission to be perfectly fine but didn't use it in stop-and-go city traffic, which is when most people complain about the ASM transmission. The other transmission in the V8 Vantage is a proper manual. The transmission has a tendency to fight you when shifting from first to second gear when cold. Aside from that, it's absolutely wonderful.

It's also the V8 Vantage's Achilles heel.

This is the maintenance you fear

Many owners have to replace the clutch after as few as 15,000 miles, and replacing the clutch is silly expensive - in the neighborhood of $5,000 for an OEM replacement. The parts are expensive and labor isn't cheap. There are a few options to either cut down cost or to get a stronger clutch. Regardless, it'll still cost you $3-6,000 to get your car back in shape once the clutch goes.

The short lifespan of the clutch and the high cost of replacement is commonly cited as a dealbreaker when people talk to me about potential Aston ownership, and sometimes leads existing owners to leave the brand. But here's the thing, and I'm sure at least a few people are going to be upset with me saying this..

It might be their own fault.

Here it is in a nutshell: drivers are riding the clutch. I've seen it time and time again while riding in other people's Astons and when I let someone drive mine. The clutch in Aston's 6-speed manual transmission has a disengagement point that is deep in the pedal stroke, but an engagement point is rather high in the stroke. Drivers tend to get on the gas too early, before the clutch has fully engaged. That leads to premature wear and an expensive replacement.

How a clutch works

To make sense of this, let's go over how a clutch works. The clutch is what connects the engine to the transmission so power can get to the wheels of the car. It disconnects so that power is not sent to the wheels when it shouldn't be. That happens at two times: 1) when stopped, and 2) when changing gears. If the clutch doesn't disengage when stopped, your engine will stall. If it isn't disengaged when shifting, you'll grind gears.

The clutch has a friction surface that grabs onto the friction surface of the flywheel. When the friction surfaces wear out, components have to be replaced. The more power the car makes, the more aggressive the friction surfaces have to be to hold that power.

How the clutch gets ruined

The easiest way to explain how a clutch wears out prematurely is to go back to our childhoods. Well, for some of us this is still relevant. Remember back when you had your bicycle, and you'd turn it over so it rested on the seat and handlebars with the tires facing up. You'd spin the wheel nice and fast and then try to stop it with your hand.

Your hand is the clutch, the tire is the flywheel. If you grazed the tire with your hand, the tire tread would rub your hand at a high speed and possibly even hurt or burn your skin. If you grab the tire rather than graze it, the tire would come to a quick stop and you'd barely feel a thing.

This is [metaphorically] exactly how a clutch is when engaging.

Getting on the gas before the clutch is fully engaged is like grazing the tire with your hand. Waiting until the clutch is fully engaged is like grabbing it - the clutch has grabbed the flywheel. Clutches do wear out eventually as there's still a small amount of wear on the clutch when done right, but it's minimal compared to burning the clutch.

Astons have an engagement point that is high in the pedal stroke compared to its release point. This results in a lot of drivers giving the car gas too early, before the clutch has fully engaged, and prematurely wearing out the clutch.

What I see people do is they let off the gas pedal, press in the clutch pedal, shift, then get on the gas as they let off the clutch.

What they need to do is let off the gas, press in the clutch, shift, let off the clutch pedal, then get on the gas.

Knock it off

Don't get worried about having to change your driving style. Once you learn to work the clutch in your Aston, it's incredibly rewarding. It's one of the best manual transmissions I've ever driven. Learning the clutch isn't hard, it just takes a little practice. Here's what I suggest.

Go to a flat, empty area, like a parking lot. From a stop, put the car in first, let off the brake, and then without using the gas, very very slowly release the clutch. You'll feel the car roll forward as the clutch engages.

Yes, it's exactly like learning to drive a manual for the very first time.

It isn't that people don't know how to drive stick. Rather, it's that they drive this stick like they would any other. Add in the V8's love for being rev'd to over 7,000 RPM (especially the 4.3L), and you've got drivers romping on the gas as quickly as they can - very often too quickly. The trick is to slow down and pay very close attention while shifting. You've got to train your feet - build that muscle memory so your right foot works the gas after the left foot has crossed the engagement point for the clutch. As you get used to it, you'll get much faster. Again, it's practice.

I can actually drive my car from a dead stop into first then second gear without ever touching the gas pedal at all. It's just a matter of learning to work the clutch.

Remember: Slow is smooth, smooth is fast!