It has been five years since my last trip with Aston Martin and similar to 2014, it was a direct flight from Singapore to Frankfurt Germany, before being whisked away to the Nürburgring. However, while the 24 Hours Nürburgring Endurance Race headlined that weekend for the motorsports community, it was the testing of the then-new Vantage N430 that made the trip most memorable for me.
On this trip, there were no races to distract my fellow journalists and I, as we were amongst the first in the world to test drive the spanking new manual transmission Vantage. The invitation was equally special for us as we (9tro) were the only media invited from our part of the world.
After a sumptuous dinner at the famous ‘Pistenklause’, a restaurant frequented by racing legends such as Ayrton Senna and Nikki Lauda, we returned back to the Dorint Hotel for a good night’s rest. As good as British hospitality and German steaks were, the main focus of the week was without any doubt, the latest Vantage.
Having had the opportunity to experience the new automatic transmission Vantage earlier this year, and the chance to catch up with Marek Reichman during his recent Design Masterclass, I was beyond eager to jump into the driver’s seat of the manual transmission Vantage AMR.
The day started with our group of a dozen journalists meeting at the hotel lobby after a quick breakfast, before being shuttled to the AMR Nürburgring Performance Centre, situated less than 3km away. Having its Performance Centre located so near the Nürburgring circuit and within sight of the Nordschleife, serves as a testament to the brand’s racing prowess and commitment to the development of all new and existing products. The current model range is the most rigorously tested in the marque’s history, with a 10,000km Nürburgring durability test a key part of the sign-off process for all new models.
Greeting us at the entrance was a fleet of seven Vantage AMRs awaiting our input, while another pair sits inside the showroom area, one of which being the already-iconic ‘Vantage 59’. But before we began our four-hour test drive spanning some 280km, a formal introduction to the first ever manual transmission twin-turbo V8 Vantage AMR by Director of Communications Kevin Watters; Senior Manager for Global Product Strategy and Planning Adam Constable; and Manager for Vehicle Engineering James Owen.
Some immediate takeaways from the introduction before we proceed onto the driving impressions. Firstly, the seven-speed manual gearbox developed by renowned Italian transmission manufacturer Dana Grazino, features a ‘dog-leg’ first gear. This sees the reverse gear situated at the top left corner, with the first gear situated at the bottom left corner. The second to seventh gear, that will be used most frequently, are positioned in a traditional double H-pattern configuration.
Secondly, designed to offer the maximum driving experience, the transmission system is mated to a mechanical limited-slip differential instead of the electronic differential (in the automatic). This entire setup was calibrated and fine-tuned by Chief Engineer Matt Becker and his dynamics team, from Aston Martin’s base at Silverstone Circuit.
Thirdly, by replacing the automatic transmission with a manual system, replacing the standard brakes setup with a carbon ceramic version as standard, along with tons of carbon fibre parts all around the car, helps reduce overall weight by close to 100kg. This in turn enhances both handling capabilities and performance.
Fourthly, by limiting production to only 141 units in the ‘Hero Specifications’ and 59 units in the ‘Halo Specifications’, Aston Martin has effectively created a line of instant-collectibles with the new Vantage AMR.
Shortly after the introduction, we were paired up before being ushered outside to the cars. I was assigned the only unit painted in the Lightning Silver paint scheme with a sleek black interior and contrasting silver/white cross-stitching.
Propelling the Vantage AMR is the same 4-litre twin-turbo V8 power plant from its automatic cousin (also seen in the Aston Martin DB11 V8), offering a strong 510PS (504bhp) with 625Nm of torque. This highly potent engine was positioned as low and far back into the chassis as possible, resulting in an optimal centre-of-gravity with a weight distribution of near 50:50 ratio. Furthermore with 95kg (210lbs) shaved off, as well as having a third pedal connected to a proper stick-shift, this iteration will put a smile on the faces of all drivers, especially the purists.
Also unlike the 8-speed automatic ZF gearbox in the automatic model, which has a top speed of 314km/h (195mph), the Vantage AMR boasts a top speed of 322km/h (200mph) with a century sprint time of 4 seconds.
As the decision to create a manual variant was decided from the very beginning, both the automatic and manual Vantages were developed alongside one another. This allowed for a strategic and effective manufacturing process, delivering precisely what any Aston Martin is supposed to deliver - an exhilarating experience.
With a pre-planned route of approximately 280km stored into Vantage AMR’s integrated satellite navigation system, which I must add, operates flawlessly as compared to the previous generation Vantage, we were on our way. The route was very similar to the one I drove five years back, unfortunately due to a morning downpour, we were forced to a more conservative driving style. This gave us the opportunity to experience the car in a wet environment, which proved to be just as exciting.
Right off the bat, the ‘dog-leg’ configuration gearbox requires some getting used to, as most conventional stick-shifts have their first gear located at the top left corner. However, muscle memory will kick in after a few traffic lights and the rationale behind why it was designed this way will quickly become apparent. Originally seen in the previous generation’s V12 Vantage, the gearbox was just as silky to operate and despite it being firm, it engages really well with a solid ‘thuud’ at every shift. Likewise could be said for the clutch pedal, and driving this even in the heaviest of traffic would not be much of a chore.
It is also possible to switch between the Sport, Sport+ and Track modes for both the powertrain delivery and the adaptive Skyhook suspensions. This allows you to mix and match your preferred configuration for both road or track use, while fully exploiting the Vantage AMR’s unique character and capabilities. However, an immediate downside of this is that the only way for you to fully open up the exhaust valves for the pop and crackle, will be to have the powertrain set to Track mode.
Halfway through our drive the sun broke through, melting away the dark clouds and heating away the damp roads. As we continued on with our drive along small towns, twisty and meandering mountain roads, I began to feel more and more connected with the car. Regardless as to how aggressively the car was pushed into the corners, the agility was superior and the grip, immense. Even during the few occasions where the rear starts slipping, it was easily manageable as I could feel even the slightest rotation of the chassis. It will not be hard for anyone who drives the Vantage AMR to immediately appreciate the efforts and expertise of the engineers and designers, all of whom have clearly worked tirelessly in perfecting the car.
On the autobahn where many sections offered unrestricted speed limits, the velvety and linear pull creates an illusion of unlimited power. Mated with the AMSHIFT system, which seamlessly syncs the gear position, clutch and engine management network to allow for breathtaking full throttle powershifts (flatshifts), as well as flawless rev-matching downshifts.
By the end of our four-hour session, I was in love. Indeed with the right amount of zeros in the bank account with a correctly placed decimal, you can be spoilt for choices for cars with better performance, better handling and maybe even better looking. But if I may quote my closing lines from the last time I was here with the Vantage N430, “power and beauty stems from the soul, no where else.” The new Aston Martin Vantage AMR exemplifies just that!
For the full specifications, please refer to the following page.