EXPLOREMY LIBRARY
BBC Top Gear Magazine

FULL OF SURPRISES

“THE RIDE IS MORE AGREEABLE THAN IN MOST SALOONS”

£149,995

FOR The most exciting, involving Vantage on sale

AGAINST Spiky in the wet, not the most intuitive of manuals

This Vantage AMR is so much more than some fancy paint and stickers. Sat in the middle of all 200 examples is – hurrah! – a manual gearbox. Y’know, like they used in the olden days. It debuts here but will soon be available on all Vantages, and Aston expects 10 to 20 per cent of buyers to choose it. Thus it hasn’t bothered developing a brand-new bespoke transmission, instead opting for the same 7spd Graziano as the old V12 Vantage S.

That means a dogleg first gear. So just like an old racing car, you move the stick left and down for first, with gears two to seven in an H-pattern like first to sixth are in other performance cars. There’s a garnish of tech in an attempt to sway the paddleshift devotees, too – press a button ahead of the knob and you’ll activate rev-matching on downshifts, to make you look like a heel-and-toe wizard, and flat upshifts if you want them. Turning it all off is as simple as pressing the switch again.

The Vantage AMR keeps its base car’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and, while power is identical, at 503bhp, torque suffers a little, down 44lb ft at 505lb ft. So its 200mph top speed is up 5mph on a paddleshifted Vantage but the 0–62mph time has swelled by 0.4sec. Compensation arrives in the form of a chunky 95kg saving over standard (down to 1,499kg dry); 70kg comes from the lighter gearbox and a mechanical limited-slip differential (as opposed to the auto’s electronic item) while the remainder is trimmed by the AMR’s standard carbon-ceramic brakes.

Finding first gear is blooming tricky, with Aston making the knob’s move left deliberately hefty to help avoid ham-fisted, engine-imploding mis-shifts when you’re driving hard. Torque is abundant enough to save your blushes should you get completely muddled and pull away in second, though. Buyers who shun autos are doing so because they like to get stuck in, mind, and a full-bore upshift from second to third feels utterly fantastic and warrants all the spent brain cells beforehand.

The auto rev-matching is very convincing but flat upshifting can’t help but feel gimmicky. The pedal positions were all benchmarked on Porsche, the master of such things, but the knob itself feels like it’s about 20 per cent too big. A slimmer option is available via Aston’s Q personalisation department. You’ll want it.

As for the rest of the AMR, anyone who thinks modern-day Astons are too svelte and sophisticated after the brutish Vantages of the Eighties and Nineties really needs a go. Preferably in the wet. The mechanical diff immediately feels less couth than its electronic counterpart, and there’s a spikier balance here at low speed. One person’s ‘spiky’ is another’s ‘involving’, of course.

“The people who’ll be buying this can really drive – or want to learn – so more movement at lower speeds is what they want,” says Aston dynamics boss Matt Becker. It’s certainly what they’re getting when the roads are damp. There’s much more grip and composure in the dry, mind, where the AMR’s weight loss – and the resulting extra dose of agility – is tangible and addictive. It’s a sportier, more athletic Vantage, a car made much more convincing by harder-cored components.

With the regular Vantage, it’s far too easy to think about how much more potent this engine feels in equivalent AMG GTs, but fitting the manual (no mean feat when this engine was never designed for one) removes any Merc from comparison and sets a different stall when it comes to choosing your £150k sports car. Here, you’re eschewing some speed and precision in order to feel like a more important part of the process. Job done.