Aston Martin is charging into the future. Its Vantage, DB11, and DBS models were redesigned in just the last few years, and the DBX SUV's unveiling is imminent. But the 106-year-old company also is glancing back at the past with the Vantage AMR, the central feature of which is a manual transmission.
The Graziano seven-speed manual is the same unit that Aston Martin fitted to the V12 Vantage S in 2017, even packing the same ratios and the dogleg first gear in the lower-left corner of the shift pattern directly below reverse, making the one-two shift an over-and-up affair. To further advance the analog feel of the $183,081 Vantage AMR, Aston also swaps out the electronic limited-slip differential for the mechanical unit from the DBS. That and the transmission account for a claimed 154-pound weight savings. Forged 20-inch wheels, carbon-ceramic brake rotors, and various interior and trim pieces included with the AMR package cut another 66 pounds.
It's such a significant change, in fact, that Aston had to drop the rear spring rate to maintain vertical wheel speeds in the manual car. And with the additional drag of the mechanical diff on the rear axle, they also stiffened the rear anti-roll bar for greater attack on turn-in. Having already called the Vantage "King Hooligan" and "a four-wheeled Labrador puppy," we don't really think that was necessary, but we appreciate Aston's thoroughness.
In the interest of the manual's longevity, Aston restricts the torque output of its AMG-supplied twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, reducing it from 505 lb-ft in the automatic car to 461 here (the AMR still is rated at the same 503 horsepower as other Vantage models.) Further, torque is limited in first and second gears to prevent excess wheelspin. AP Racing developed a new dual-piston master brake cylinder to get maximum line pressure in a short pedal stroke, and Aston revised its brake booster to better match the slow pedal's travel with the clutch, to ease heel-and-toe downshifts. You can also let the car handle that duty, with Aston's automatic-rev-matching AMShift system.
A Shifting Compromise
Aston benchmarked the Porsche Cayman for the Vantage manual's control relationships, and the seven-speed shifter falls readily to hand. But its topped by a big, blocky knob that looks like a cheap aftermarket part, and its throws are clunky. With reverse placed above first, Aston wisely fitted a lockout to prevent catastrophic misshifts, but the gates are so tightly spaced that a one-two shift takes focus, lest it become a one-four oopsie.
We found it harder than we'd expected to adapt to the seven-speed layout, even though the shifter progresses through the pattern the same way no matter how the gears are numbered. It helped to imagine the gearbox as a six-speed with a zero gear to get over thinking about which ratio we were in and just react to the shifter's position when going for up- or downshifts. There's little clutch feel to speak of, but decent weighting and progressive takeup make for easy, smooth engagement anyway.
And the engine is happier with lower revs than the transmission is, with frequent rattles emanating from the gearbox at low rpm. Normally, downshifting through town is something we look forward to—what with the burbles and pops from the exhaust and the looks of what we can only assume is admiration from pedestrians—and it is here, too. But downshifting into the gate normally reserved for first gear is something that takes getting used to.
Next year, the manual will make the leap from special-edition showpiece (only 200 AMRs will be built) to regular option on the Vantage. It pains us to say this, but the manual conversion doesn't feel as fully realized as the rest of the car. This is an exceptionally engaging and fun vehicle, and in its mediocrity, the transmission calls negative attention to itself. It's a distraction in an otherwise positive experience.
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