MANUAL Aston Martin Vantage AMR: Road Review | Carfection 4K

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Henry Catchpole took the NEW manual version of the Aston Martin Vantage AMR out for a spin on the roads near the Nurburgring to give it a Carfection road review.
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In the same broad price bracket as the Aston Martin Vantage, there are currently rather a lot (relatively speaking) of sports cars vying for customers’ (be they actual or just daydreaming) attention. You could have a well-specced version of the latest Porsche 911, for example. Fancy something with the engine a little further forward? How about an Audi R8 or a McLaren Sports Series car? If front-mid engined is your thing then the AMG GT is an appealing choice and BMW has also just released the M8. I think Maserati will still sell you a GranTurismo if you fancy something Italian.
Since its launch last year, the Vantage has arguably struggled to stand out in this somewhat crowded marketplace. Granted, the looks are wonderful and if you’re a sucker for the badge then nothing else will do. There is also nothing wrong with the dynamics, but they aren’t class-leading. The 4-litre, twin-turbo V8 engine is good too, but it’s not exactly bespoke (even if the AMG badges have been taken off).
Now, however, with the launch of the Vantage AMR, it feels like Aston Martin has carved its own distinct niche in the market. And it’s a rather appealing niche. The thing that principally differentiates the AMR is the fitment of a manual gearbox. It’s the same Graziano, dog-leg, seven- speed that we saw in the last V12 Vantage, so it’s not the easiest or, at times, slickest shift. Neither is the gear knob something to feast your eyes upon. But the pedals are placed absolutely perfectly, so heel and toe down-changes are a joy to perform (although the new AMR Shift programme will do it for you if you want). There is also real satisfaction to getting your head around the slightly peculiar shift pattern and the unusual weightings across the gate.
Like the manual ‘box, the chassis also requires concentration but delivers a real sense of interaction and enjoyment. It has the feeling of a car with a very short wheelbase and the quick steering is matched by the response of the front tyres so you need calm hands to pilot it smoothly. Add in the fact that traction (certainly on the wet roads I drove it on) can feel decidedly limited and initially slides are not the most progressive, and you have a car that definitely makes you think.
Try listening to a podcast as you head quickly down a sodden country road and by the end you will probably find that you have missed the salient points of whatever the chosen pod happens to be. This is a car that demands you pay attention to it. And I like that.
Aston Martin intends to build 141 Vantage AMRs, which might seem like a curious number. However, when you add to those 141 another 59 Vantage 59 Editions (essentially AMRs with some extra carbon and a celebratory, motorsport-aping paint job) you get a nice round 200. What’s more, after those 200 have been sold Aston Martin will be offering the manual gearbox as an option on a standard Vantage.
It is, of course, not as rudimentary as simply bolting a manual ‘box on in place of the eight-speed auto. There are a host of other changes, including a mechanical limited-slip differential (also made by Graziano) in place of the e-diff fitted to the auto-Vantage. This in turn has required a 20 per cent stiffening of the rear anti-roll bar, while the rear suspension and the EPAS have also been retuned to take account of the drop in weight. The AMR weighs in at 100kg less than a standard Vantage, but 70kg of that weight saving is as a direct result of the manual ‘box, so will be passed on.
The only downside is that torque has had to be reduced slightly compared to the auto ‘box Vantage. Power remains at 503bhp, but the torque figure is down by 44lb ft to 461lb ft and it is limited to just 258lb ft in first and second gears. The reason for this is that to make the gearbox cope with the full 505lb ft would have required extra strengthening and that would have added an extra 100kg, meaning an undesirable net gain of 30kg for a manual compared to an auto. I can’t say I ever felt a need for more torque…
So, it’s lighter, more engaging and if you like to be able to brag in your local bar then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Vantage is now also faster, as the claimed top speed of the AMR is 200mph. Of course the price has gone up too, with the AMR starting at $184,995 (£149,995), but the manual ‘box will be a no-cost option when it is offered on the standard Vantage next year. It’s an option I would definitely choose, because while it might not instantly turn the Vantage into a class-leader it does make it feel very distinctive among its rivals and pleasingly interesting.