Like any true petrolhead I like a manual car. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bog-standard hatchback or the most exotic of supercars, give me a stick and a third pedal and I’ll be happy. At the same time, I’m also not one of those people who cry on the internet about the so-called ‘death’ of manual cars. I’m not going to be lobbying every manufacturer to go out and make manual cars even if it isn’t a viable business decision.
I don’t get what these people complain about. There are still plenty of manual cars available today. In fact, some of the best driver’s cars are still equipped with a manual box. Cars such as the Porsche GT3 and GT4, Honda Civic Type R, Renault Megane RS, Hyundai i30N, BMW M2 & M3, Mazda MX-5, Ford Fiesta ST, VW Golf GTI and R, Abarth 595, Ford Mustang, every Lotus, Nissan 370Z, Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Subaru WRX STI, and now the Aston Martin Vantage.
The list above are just some of the enthusiast cars still available with a manual and it’s quite an extensive list. However, you might notice apart from Aston Martin, only Porsche really has a manual super sports car. There’s a good reason for that: modern sports cars are just too powerful. Imagine a Nissan GT-R or a Ferrari 812 with a manual gearbox, it’d just be dreadful. These new cars work best with a dual-clutch or some other sort of self-shifting transmission and I’m fine with that. There is a time and place for all this.
Which is why, just before Andy Palmer was forced out of Aston Martin, he was hellbent on putting a manual gearbox in their sportiest offering. Will this be his lasting legacy?
We’ve already driven the new Aston Martin Vantage with the ZF 8-speed automatic before and since then Aston Martin has added a Roadster variant (auto only as of now) and a handful of limited-edition AMR which first introduced the manual gearbox to the Vantage range. First was the AMR 59 Edition, which was limited to 59 units, then the Vantage AMR which was limited to 200 units. However, you can now buy a regular non-limited Vantage with a manual gearbox. Still with me?
Developing a new gearbox is a costly exercise and Aston Martin knew full well a manual Vantage won’t fly off the shelves like hotcakes so they haven’t bothered making a new gearbox at all. Instead they’ve just nicked the 7-speed manual from the old Aston Martin V12 Vantage S and with a few tweaks here and there mated it to the AMG-sourced V8.
It’s a striking thing isn’t it? It’s still very much an Aston Martin, albeit one designed for the modern era. This particular car is finished in the stunning Viridian Green paint from Aston Martin’s bespoke Q division and equipped with the new ‘Heritage Package’ which adds the one piece carbon fibre grille and front splitter, canards, and a fixed rear wing. It’s a bit excessive if you ask me and coincidentally so is the asking price. In Japan this racy package costs a whopping ¥3,000,000 or the equivalent of $43,000 New Zealand dollars. For a splitter, wing, and canards. Brilliant.
However, with the wing, I couldn’t help but think it had some visual similarities to a Jaguar F-Type SVR and Mercedes-AMG GT R. Take that as you please.
It’s more or less the same as the automatic Vantage with a bit more alcantara and an odd shaped gear stick protruding out of the centre console. The one benefit of the stick shift is that it sort of cleaned up the somewhat messy and confusing array of buttons on the centre console. Not that there’s a lack of buttons in the manual version.
I’d go as far as to say that yes, while there are four fewer buttons, the addition of the gear stick just makes things even more baffling. During my time with it I couldn’t for the life of me get used to where anything was. Usually in a car I’d get in and within a few minutes intuitively figure out where the climate controls are or where to lock and unlock the car. With the Vantage there’s so many buttons there isn’t enough time in human history to remember what they all do. Don’t get me wrong, I like a physical button more than having to go through endless submenus on an infotainment screen but the Vantage’s buttons are so illogically placed I always ended up switching the interior light on or the rear window heater.
The Mercedes-sourced infotainment system is still functional but it is showing its age. Aston Martin desperately needs to update it or at least give their cars Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
What isn’t the same is the way it drives. Ditching the ZF 8-speed auto and the e-diff that accompanies it means a 70kg reduction in the Vantage’s overall weight. That brings it down to a rather respectable 1460kg and gives the Vantage a perfectly balanced 50:50 weight distribution. In place of a trick electronic diff is an old-fashioned mechanical one that Aston Martin claims makes this Vantage more playful than the e-diff equipped cars.
From the get-go you feel like this is an old-school approach to a manual sports car. It’s big, meaty, and something you have to grab by the scruff of the neck. The clutch has a nice hefty feel to it, the 7-speed manual is good but doesn’t have the same razor sharp feel as something from Porsche or even Honda. I’m not old enough to remember a time when dogleg gearboxes were the norm so it took me a while to get used to it.
Down for first wasn’t an issue but because this has 7 gears (which is far too many for a manual), everything just seems squished together. Far too often I’d get 4th when I wanted second and 1st when I wanted 3rd. It’s also a notchy gearbox that lacks the finesse of that from a Porsche but you know what, it suits the brutish character of the Vantage. Once you’ve gotten used to the idea that this isn’t a scalpel sharp precision machine but instead a homage to the thuggish Astons of old, then it starts to make sense.
This is a car you need to manhandle and have full confidence in what it can do. Stick it in Track mode where the throttle response becomes sharper, steering gets heavier, and the quad exhaust gets noisier and you’ll have a car that’s as rewarding to drive the harder you go. It’s brilliant. With a manual gearbox the car feels more playful, it feels more alive. On a good mountain road you can push it hard with full confidence knowing the chassis balance won’t throw any nasty surprises your way. The front end turns in with the balance and flow of some of the best front-engine cars in the business. The back behaves as predictably, dab on the throttle and you can feel it wanting to skip out without killing you. It is a fantastically balanced thing with neutral handling for the most part and tail happy when you want it to be. Then there’s the brakes which are spectacular. They’re not carbon ceramics but have great feel.
The novelty of the combination of AMG’s brilliant 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 with an old school manual gearbox is hard to ignore. This engine just pulls and pulls. In the Vantage you get 375kW and 625NM, that’s 60NM less than what you get in the automatic. However, with the manual gearbox you get an added sense of occasion to an already special package. The Vantage comes with something called AM Shift which auto blips the throttle on downshifts, making changing gears highly addictive especially if you have the exhausts in loud mode. What an exhaust too. This Vantage has the optional quad-exhaust set up and it’s a must-have option. In Track mode downshifting is rewarded with volcanic eruptions from the back end. People have criticised it for not sounding like a proper Aston Martin and I say rubbish to that.
It has a distinctive GT personality but with more than enough sporty characteristics to make it fun on a twisty bit of road. There are cars that have better handling, better straight line speed, and arguably more fun but none have Aston Martin badges on them. It’s amazing how you could spend an afternoon blasting up your favourite bit of road in Sport+ or Track mode then drive back home in the more comfortable Sport setting in 7th gear and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a lazy grand tourer. That’s just a testament to Aston’s trick damping system.
That said, as with other modern Aston Martins, they’ve lost a bit of their magic and soul. Sure, they’re now mighty capable cars that’ll give the Germans a run for their money but at the same time Aston Martin sure are asking a lot of money for their ‘baby’ model. It just doesn’t fizz and ooze the same kind of charm as Astons of yesteryear.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/Torque||Fuel, L/100km||0-100 kph, seconds||Price – High to Low|
|Aston Martin Vantage||4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol||375kW/625NM||12.8||4||$331,310|
|McLaren 540C||3.8-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol||397kW/540NM||10.7||3.5||$330,000|
|Mercedes-AMG GT C||4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol||410kW/680NM||11.5||4||$310,200|
|Porsche 911 GT3||3.8-litre flat-six petrol||368kW/460NM||12.9||3.9||$305,250|
The Pros and Cons
|• Old school feel of the manual |
• Aston Martin feel-good factor
• That engine is still a gem
• You won’t be seeing many others on the road
• Priced too high compared to rivals
• Interior could be neater
• Infotainment showing its age
• You can tell it’s “hand made”
|Vehicle Type||Sports Car|
|Tested Price||$340,000+ (est)|
|Engine||4.0-litre V8 twin-turbo petrol engine|
|0 – 100 kph, seconds||4.0|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||1,460|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||5040 x 1937 x 1432 mm|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||350|
|Fuel Tank, litres||73|
|Fuel Efficiency||Advertised Spec – Combined – 11L / 100km|
Real World Test – Combined – 16L / 100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||N/A|
|Warranty||3 year, 100,000km|