Aston Martin Vantage GTS Coupe - the last manual-gear sports car

REAL driving skill is increasingly difficult to flex in a sports car.

Aston Martin Vantage GTS Coupe - the last manual-gear sports car

Sure, there are many good coupes and amazing roadsters, but few come in the manual version that spells unadulterated, exhilarating engagement with the act of driving.

So, it was fun, the other week, to drive the 2017 Aston Martin Vantage GTS Coupe. It’s the only V8 manual vehicle you can buy from Aston.

And there are only 100 of them. McLaren, Mercedes, Audi, and Porsche all make excellent competitors to the Vantage. But each uses a paddle-shifting transmission. Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s chief executive officer, says he wants the company to be the last manufacturer still offering manual sports cars. As the first journalist to test-drive the Vantage, I can safely say it is strong evidence that Palmer means what he says.

If you are in need of a daily-driver sports car that will give you hours of stick-shift delight, call Aston and buy this one. I’d get on that right away, too. Fewer than 10 are unsold.

The dawn of the Aston Martin DB11, coming later this summer, has overshadowed this new V8. That’s a shame, because the Vantage GTS is the most aggressively playful thing I’ve driven all year. It has the same, 430-horsepower, mid-mounted engine, set on a six-speed, rear-wheel drive. It’ll take you to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds. That’s not the fastest sprint time ever, but this is a clear case of qualitative excellence versus on-paper specs. (The 361 pound-feet of torque does help.) Top speed is 190mph.

Driving this Vantage felt like a holiday from my problems. Aston has given us a thick sport wheel and tight rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering; the turning radius is something to love. The gear box is comfortable to shift through, and the clutch is easy. (Hill-start assist comes standard.) The steel, disc brakes respond well, when you need them.

It’s also welcome that the Vantage is just over 172 inches long, a full 10 inches shorter than, say, the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta, and five inches shorter than even a base Porsche 911. You feel the difference: The Vantage gathers itself closer and tighter than they do, and its steering radius puts all others to shame.

I’m not going to make the tired, cliché James Bond comparison, which unfailingly accompanies every Aston Martin review. I’ll just say that driving this car puts pep in your step when you alight from it.

As expected, the 2017 Vantage GTS Sport Edition I drove got plenty of attention from the police. (Not to issue a ticket, luckily.) They liked to come over, ask about the engine, and snap a few selfies on the hood. They also wanted to hear the stainless-steel sports exhaust system roar awake a few times. I was happy to oblige.

They’re not wrong. Similar to those of the Porsche 911 and Jaguar E-Type, the classic Aston Martin body looks so good because of its proportions. The ratio between the length of the hood, angle of the roofline, stacked rear haunches, and tight back-end unlocks the pleasure centre of the brain.

There is such a thing as absolute beauty — a topic for a different column — so, suffice it to say, that, with its sleek body, halogen projector headlamps, and five-spoke alloy wheels, the Vantage GTS is an objectively beautiful machine.

The cobalt-blue paint and 19-inch rims come as standard; you can personalise other wheel options for a price. There are also plenty of carbon-fibre options for the mirrors, handles, and headlamps to match the standard front splitter and diffusers. Do it. You might as well go all-in. Inside the Vantage GTS, the differences between this edition and the regular models are mostly cosmetic. Aston gives us special, GTS badging on the doorsills, cool, indented detailing on the cockpit seats, and suede-like Alcantara on the steering wheel and roof. The gearshift is surrounded by carbon fibre.

The slight blind spots, right at the tip of each shoulder, are to be expected. And you’ll find yourself stopping for petrol a lot: Combined mileage on this thing is only 15 miles per gallon. But the generous ledge for stashing a valise behind you, and the ample seating area, make you forget the inconvenience. The Vantage has plenty of headroom, shoulder-room, and legroom, for tall folks like us.

I like that there isn’t too much else on offer, here, to clutter up the interior. You will be focused on the driving, anyway.

The V8 Vantage GTS Sport Edition I drove cost $139,000 (prices not available for Ireland). That’s a little less than a Porsche 911 Turbo and a lot less than a McLaren 570S.

Those are great cars. And, yes, you might get some side-eyes from idiots who wonder why you didn’t choose the Vantage V12. I’m willing to bet that most people who do that haven’t driven this. If you want a real, manual driving experience in a high-end daily driver, buy the 2017 Vantage GTS Coupe. After all, you worked at those skills. Don’t let them go to waste.

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