Aston Martin delivers power and comfort

Shane O’Donoghue enjoys a day of total luxury courtesy of the stylish Austin Martin Vantage AMR

Aston Martin delivers power and comfort

Shane O’Donoghue enjoys a day of total luxury courtesy of the stylish Austin Martin Vantage AMR

Review: Aston Martin Vantage AMR

For thousands of years, riding a horse was a necessity.

It’s how humans, with sufficient income, got from A to B, when B was too far away to walk in good time.

The car changed all that, of course, offering more comfort, safety, and speed and effectively eclipsing the horse as a means of mainstream transport.

But widespread adoption of the car for personal mobility didn’t lead to extinction for the horse. Instead, people continue to ride for pleasure and sport.

For those that like to ride horses, it’s irrelevant that any given journey would be ‘better’ by car. And that, I hope, helps show why Aston Martin is adamant that it will always have a manual gearbox in its line-up, despite the fact that it makes any given car slower, less efficient, and more difficult to drive.

The newest Aston Martin to receive a manual gearbox is the Vantage AMR. If you know your Aston nomenclature, you’ll be aware that the ‘AMR’ epithet is applied to the company’s most sporting models (it mirrors the actual Aston Martin Racing motorsport division’s image) and so, this is the pinnacle of the Vantage model so far.

There will only be 200 of them made, finished in a choice of specifications. All get varying amounts of carbon trim, lots of broody dark detailing, 20-inch forged alloy wheels and the manual gearbox.

The AMR uses the same Mercedes-sourced engine as the regular Vantage, with a tweak to its calibration to suit the gearbox. It’s a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 unit putting out 510hp, though peak torque has been pegged back from 685Nm to (a still chunky) 625Nm.

That’s the protect the gearbox. It would have been possible to reinforce it to allow for higher torque figures, but that would have meant more weight, and Aston’s engineers wanted the AMR to be lighter than the standard car, so it made the torque sacrifice.

Carbon ceramic brakes are included in the price (roughly €280,000) and, combined with the lighter transmission, the overall weight reduction is 95kg — about the same as an average-sized Irish man.

The gearbox itself is an unusual seven-speed item, with first gear back and to the left in a ‘dog leg’ layout that then puts second to seventh in a conventional H-pattern. The idea is that, once on the move, you rarely use first anyway. It takes a lot of getting used to, but I guess an owner of such a car has that luxury.

Crucially, having to perfect the gear change means you’re more engaged with the driving experience than you would be in a Vantage fitted with the regular eight-speed automatic transmission.

And while Aston fits a very clever rev-matching system to the manual car (which automatically blips the throttle when you change down and allows for full-throttle up-shifts), it’s a system that the driver can also quickly disengage, so they themselves can learn the art of ‘heel and toeing’.

This is where, while braking and changing down a gear, the driver twists his foot to also dab the accelerator pedal, matching the engine speed to the next gear in a bid to smoothen out the whole process (and, let’s be honest, to hear the engine at work).

Yes, it is as challenging as it sounds and, the fact that Aston’s engineers specifically refer to it when discussing the AMR reveals who they expect to buy this car.

Indeed, the rest of the chassis of the AMR model has been tweaked to make the Vantage even more agile than usual. An ostensibly less sophisticated differential is fitted, for example, though the three-mode adaptive damping is retained.

On slippery German test roads, the AMR initially feels twitchy and nervous, doing its best to channel that V8’s exertions through the rear wheels to the wet tarmac. But once you learn to relax and trust the car, you realise that the level of grip and traction are quite dependable and you can make good progress on an interesting road.

The quick-witted steering helps with that, as it conveys to your hands with clarity what’s happening at road level, contributing to an experience that is exhilarating by any measure. It matters not that the manual Vantage AMR takes 0.4 seconds (at a claimed four seconds exactly) longer to sprint from a standstill to 100km/h.

And yet, despite the layout, the considerable power output and the focus on driving enjoyment, the Vantage AMR is no stripped-out lightweight racer, suitable only for the racetrack. Indeed, its interior is trimmed in a gorgeous mix of leather and Alcantara, with figure-hugging sports seats and all the equipment you could ask for.

Of course, those with deeper pockets can opt to hand their purchase over to the ‘Q by Aston Martin’ personalisation department for further customisation.

But don’t worry if your Lotto numbers come in too late to grab one of the limited-edition versions, as Aston Martin has confirmed that it will offer the manual gearbox across the Vantage range from next year.

A range that will include the yet-to-be-launched open-topped Roadster variant. A manual- equipped Vantage Roadster would likely be the slowest version in the line-up, but also, perversely, probably the most appealing.

A thoroughbred, if you will, one to be driven for the sake of driving, not just getting from A to B when necessary.

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