Best Buy's Anniversary Sale Samsung Could One-Up Apple Peloton Alternatives GMMK Pro Keyboard Review Natural Sleep Aids $59 Off Apple TV Equifax Error: Check Your Status Biggest Rent Increases

2020 Aston Martin Vantage AMR first drive review: Stick-shift standout

A seven-speed manual transmission gives the Aston Martin Vantage a bit more personality.

2020 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
How do you make the excellent Aston Martin Vantage even better? Add a manual transmission.
Max Earey/Aston Martin

There are a lot of sports cars, relatively speaking, vying for our attention in the same broad price bracket as the Aston Martin Vantage. You could have a well-optioned version of the latest Porsche 911, for example. Fancy something with the engine a little further forward? How about an Audi R8 or a McLaren 570S? If front-mid-engined is your thing, then the Mercedes-AMG GT is an appealing choice, and BMW has also just released the M8. I think Maserati will still sell you a GranTurismo if you fancy something Italian.

Since its launch last year, the Vantage has arguably struggled to stand out in this somewhat crowded marketplace. Granted, the car looks wonderful, and if you're a sucker for the badge, then nothing else will do. There's nothing wrong with the coupe's dynamics, but they aren't class-leading. The 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine is good, too, but it's not exactly bespoke (even if the Mercedes-AMG badges have been taken off).

Now, however, with the launch of the Vantage AMR, it feels like Aston Martin has carved its own distinct niche in the market. And it's a rather appealing niche. The thing that principally differentiates the new AMR is the fitment of a manual transmission. It's the same Graziano, dog-leg, seven-speed gearbox that we saw in the last V12 Vantage, so it's not the easiest or, at times, slickest-shifting unit out there. Neither is the gear knob something to feast your eyes upon. But the pedals are placed absolutely perfectly, so heel-and-toe downshifts are a joy to perform (although the new AMR Shift program will automatically blip the throttle if you want). There is also real satisfaction to getting your head around the slightly peculiar shift pattern, as well as the unusual weightings across the gate.

Now playing: Watch this: The Aston Martin Vantage AMR Manual gives you full control

Like the manual 'box, the chassis also requires concentration but delivers a real sense of interaction and enjoyment. It has the feeling of a car with a short wheelbase. The quick steering is matched by the response of the front tires so you need calm hands to pilot it smoothly. Add in the fact that traction can feel decidedly limited -- especially on wet roads -- and you have a car that definitely makes you think.

Try listening to a podcast as you head quickly down a sodden country road and by the end you'll probably find that you've missed its salient points. This is a car that demands you pay attention to it. And I like that.

Aston Martin intends to build 141 Vantage AMRs, which might seem like a curious number. However, when you add to those 141 another 59 Vantage 59 Editions (essentially AMRs with some extra carbon fiber and a celebratory, motorsport-aping paint job) you get a nice round 200. After those 200 have been sold, Aston Martin will offer the manual gearbox as an option on the standard Vantage.

None of this, of course, is as rudimentary as simply bolting a manual gearbox on in place of the eight-speed automatic. There are a host of other changes, including a mechanical limited-slip differential (also made by Graziano) in place of the electronic diff fitted to the automatic Vantage. This in turn has required a 20% stiffening of the rear antiroll bar, while the rear suspension and the electronic power steering have also been retuned to take account of the drop in weight. The AMR weighs in at 220 pounds less than a standard Vantage, but 154 pounds of that weight saving is as a direct result of the manual transmission.

The only downside is that engine torque has had to be reduced slightly compared to the automatic Vantage. Power remains at a healthy 503 horsepower, but the torque figure is down by 44 pound-feet to 461, and it is limited to just 258 lb-ft in first and second gears. This is because making the gearbox cope with the V8's full 505 lb-ft would have required extra strengthening, and that would have added an extra 220 pounds, meaning an undesirable net gain of 66 pounds for a manual-equipped car compared to one with an automatic. For what it's worth, I can't say I ever felt a need for more torque.

So, it's lighter and more engaging. And if you like to be able to brag in your local bar, you'll be pleased to hear that the Vantage is now also faster, as the claimed top speed of the AMR is 200 miles per hour. The price has gone up too, with the AMR starting at $184,995, but the manual transmission will be a no-cost option when it is offered on the standard Vantage next year. It's an option I would definitely choose, because while it might not instantly turn the Vantage into a class-leader, it does make it feel distinctive among its rivals.

Max Earey/Aston Martin

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.