Aston Martin’s new Vantage AMR puts the driver centre stage

Slower, thirstier and more work for the human behind the wheel.

On paper, the latest addition to the Aston Martin lineup doesn't add up. But that's overlooking one key attribute of the Vantage AMR: character.

Pressing more buttons

As makers of fast cars know, going fast is not the sole goal.

Making the driver an integral part of the driving experience is a key attribute for cars that are a step above the norm.

Enter the Aston Martin Vantage AMR. 

Exclusivity guaranteed

To Aston Martin, the AMR (Aston Martin Racing) sub-brand is a way to spice things up by reducing weight and improving the dynamic equation.

The Vantage AMR gets various styling tweaks to differentiate from the regular model. They include unique alloy wheels and colours.

The limited run of 141 "hero" models ($369,950) also includes lime stitching for the leather inside as part of the unique trim combinations.

The Vantage 59 (of which 59 will be built, each at $409,950) celebrates the 1959 Le Mans win and steps up the lime colouring, splashing it over the brake calipers and down a prominent stripe down the centre of the car.

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Taking control

But as a welcome to this model the Vantage AMR also welcomes the return of the manual gearbox to the Aston Martin lineup, something that will continue in the regular (non-AMR Vantage) from mid-2020.

In a world where computers are increasingly doing the gear changes – in Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens a two-pedal setup is all you can get – Aston Martin sees a niche in catering to those who like more involvement and control.

"The way you get a true level of driver engagement is with three pedals and a stick," explains Aston Martin product planner Adam Constable. "As the world moves into more advanced and clever automated gearboxes I think it creates a stronger niche for the manual derivative."

Take it easy

For rival Porsche – another brands that persists with a manual - the self-shifting versions of the GT3 and regular 911s accelerate slower than their auto equivalents, losing fractions of a second due to the time it takes a human to go through the gear shifting motions.

It's no different with the Vantage AMR, which takes 4.0 seconds to top 100km/h, a full four tenths slower than the eight-speed auto.

Race track pedigree

The Vantage manual is no normal manual gearbox, either.

The seven-speed unit has a dogleg layout, which places first gear down and across to the left. That leaves the other six gears in a more familiar H pattern, second gear residing where first would in a traditional layout.

It takes a bit of reprogramming, especially in stop-start scenarios where you're regularly slotting between first and second. But once on the move it works fine, albeit with some associated weight between shifts to clink into each ratio.

There's the occasional rattle and whine, which purists may put down to that all-important character.

Full thrust

Under the bonnet is the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 used in the regular Vantage.

Sourced from Mercedes-AMG, it's the only application of this engine with a manual in any car.

It's good for 375kW, which is plenty of a spirited thrash and the AMR is lacking little in excitement.

Sure, it's slower than the auto, but the scarcity of competition means it's one of the fastest manuals on the planet.

Pulling back

Due to the load limits of the gearbox torque is reduced to 625Nm (65Nm less than the auto).

Not that it's noticeable on the road.

The V8 is a beautiful thing with a wonderful snarl through its quad exhausts and loads of pull across the rev range as well as a free-revving nature that encourages you to push on.

Lifting off in Sport+ or Track mode elicits some great burbles and cracks.

The manual also makes it easier to explore what torque is on offer, the ability to hold third or fourth gear at lower speeds a nice point of differentiation over the auto.

Slimming down

It's not just the gearbox that separates the Vantage AMR.

Lighter wheels and lighter, more powerful carbon ceramic brakes contribute to a 95kg weight reduction.

There's also the same mechanical limited slip differential from the DBS Superleggera, further shedding kilos and helping boost traction out of corners.

Suspension tweaks include softer rear springs coupled to a stiffer stabiliser bar, something that subtly helps with cornering turn-in to sharpen things.

It's lively and exciting, the sort of car that encourages you to push on.

Details, details…

Other than the unique finishes, the only difference in the cabin between manual and auto is the shifter stick poking up where the PRNDL buttons reside in the auto.

Unfortunately, it's a none-too-sexy shifter.

Engineers talk of hours spent shaving millimetres off the sides of the gearknob for a more tactile feel.

But there's no hiding the bland stubbiness of the knob on top.

Fortunately Aston Martin is planning some optional gearknobs – including one carved out of solid metal - that will ramp up the aesthetics.

All of which should make the old school thrill of shifting gears and depressing a clutch that bit more enticing.