Aston Martin has boldly stated that, contrary to market trends, it will always offer a car with a manual gearbox in its line-up. The Vantage sports car is the obvious candidate and, marking the arrival of a manual option to the range is the limited-edition Vantage AMR.
In the Metal:
The Aston Martin Vantage AMR, limited to 200 units, is offered in five different 'designer specifications': Sabiro Blue, Onyx Black, China Grey, White Stone and Vantage 59. The latter is the signature version with a Stirling Green and Lime exterior paint scheme and Dark Knight leather and Alcantara interior, finished with an AMR lime stripe and stitch. Only 59 of those will be produced though, and they're all sold out. And, if you're looking at our image gallery wondering which version is pictured, we'll tell you not to bother, as, to maintain exclusivity for buyers of the AMR, we were given test cars finished in colours from the main Vantage palette.
Otherwise, they were to AMR specification. Exterior cues include smoked rear LED lights, plenty of carbon fibre and matte black detailing, plus the forged AMR-style 20-inch alloys - and the massive carbon ceramic brake discs sitting within. They're standard-fit.
Inside, there's a bit of a restyle of the centre console to accommodate the manual gear lever and the AMShift button ahead of it. There are four interior finishes to choose from, all with a contrasting AMR lime stripe and stitch. The Sport Plus Collection is included, too, bringing with it Aston's chunky (if unusual looking) steering wheel and excellent Sports Plus seats. Like the regular Vantage, the AMR is wanting for nothing in terms of equipment. The centre console is quite button heavy, but that is preferable to having it all on a touchscreen. The infotainment is a Daimler-sourced item and operated via a rotary controller, while there are sharp-looking digitally rendered instruments in front of the driver. These are not customisable as such, but they do change appearance depending on which driving modes are chosen.
Central to the driving experience of the Vantage AMR is its seven-speed manual gearbox, made by Graziano. It's a modestly updated version of the unit we tested in the 2016 Vantage V12 S and, in truth, our conclusion is little different. Aston has tweaked the linkage, making it more difficult to accidentally slot into the left-most part of the gate (holding reverse and first gear, the latter in a 'dog-leg' position back and to the left), but it's not an easy gearchange to master, requiring concentration and practise to get the most from it. Still, at least the gear lever is properly positioned - the old Vantage's shifter was in an odd, too-far-to-the-back location that made using it more awkward than it should have been.
Aston includes a rev-matching system, called 'AMShift', to help smoothen out down-changes with an automatic throttle blip (and allow full throttle upshifts, though we couldn't get used to doing that in our day with the car), but it can be disabled easily with a prominent button in front of the lever, allowing you work on your own heel-and-toe skills. Aston has altered the brake booster, too, to give a firmer pedal and position better suited to such antics. I'd rather fluff a few gear shifts every now and then in this pursuit than have the car's computer do all the work. Isn't that the whole point of choosing the manual gearbox?
And there's huge enjoyment to be had in taking full control of that mighty twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. The AMR Vantage gets the same 510hp output as the regular car, though torque has been pegged back a tad to protect the gearbox. Saying that, the AMR model is about 95kg lighter, so that balances out quite well. Part of the weight reduction comes from the differential, as the regular car's electronically controlled unit is replaced by a simpler mechanical item. Chief Engineer - Vehicle Attribute Engineering at Aston Martin, Matt Becker, told CompleteCar.ie that it's in line with the 'analogue' feel of the AMR model.
We had very changeable weather conditions during our test of the Vantage in Germany, including torrential rain. At first, the car feels a little twitchy in the wet, especially on the exit of a T-junction or particularly tight corner. But that's just the differential at work and you soon learn to trust the rear end, which can be deliciously modulated using the throttle. The front end is incredibly faithful to input through a series of corners, yet never nervous at higher speeds on the motorway, which reveals the clever tuning of the electrically assisted power steering system.
Becker also told us about the various chassis tweaks enacted on the Vantage. The spring rates and damping were altered, for example, but only to allow for the lower mass of the car, though the rear anti-roll bar was stiffened up to make the chassis more agile and responsive. That was also partly because of the different characteristics of the differential. Apparently it's easier to slide around on a track than before, but we've not had a chance to try that as yet.
We did try the various driving modes and, though the Track setting isn't designed for streaming wet roads, it's the most exciting Vantage experience with a particularly boisterous exhaust and quicker responses.
What you get for your Money:
Limited-edition Astons tend to be good investments, though from that point of view, the lucky buyers that have already secured a 'Vantage 59' edition will be justifiably smug. Saying that, the AMR is about 20 per cent more expensive than the standard Vantage. Still, while the regular car is well-equipped by any measure, the AMR variant adds to that with a sprinkling of exclusivity. If you're more interested in the manual gearbox than you are the AMR specification, it might be prudent to hold fire on placing an order, as it appears that it will be offered as an option on the regular Vantage coupe and forthcoming Vantage Roadster in time.
There are plenty of polished and competent sports cars on the market. Each new generation is more powerful than the last, more capable and competent. In that drive for perfection, the simple interaction between human and machine, the engagement, the challenge, are often forgotten, leading to technically impressive, but ultimately clinical creations that purport to be for keen drivers. The manual-equipped Aston Martin Vantage AMR is refreshingly different. It's flawed, but that makes you work harder to get the most from it, reminding you perhaps what driving a sports car should be all about. We're very glad it exists.