The First Drive Of Aston’s New Manual Transmission Vantage Shows That Flaws Can Add To The Fun
How can a modern sports car or GT be made to feel less sterile, more classic? Well the obvious way has to be to do away with paddleshift and stick with a manual transmission—along with rear-wheel drive of course. Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer has always promised to continue to supply a manual model long into the future, and this manual-equipped Vantage is one result of that.
Manuals aren’t easy to produce in these days of high-power turbo engines though: their massive torque can destroy a conventional transmission, emissions are more difficult to manage when shift points are being controlled by unpredictable humans, and it’s more difficult to accommodate three pedals and a stick.
This new manual Vantage also loses the auto model’s clever e-diff in favour of a cruder analogue limited-slip differential. That’s part cheat, because it would have taken a lot of work to re-calibrate the e-diff to match. But it does mean that the manual Vantage feels more analogue and tail-happy.
The model starts out as the AMR limited edition of 200, 59 of which are the already pre-sold 59 Edition that celebrates Aston’s win in the DBR1 in the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours. The rest come as four special editions with unique interior and exterior trim options, selling for $179,995 in the USA, £149,995 in the UK. Once they’re sold, the Vantage manual will be released as a ‘standard’ non-AMR model, available from the second quarter of 2020.
So, what’s it like to drive with the ‘new’ manual ‘box (which is actually the same Italian-made Dana Graziano unit used in the old V12 Vantage). The twin-turbo AMG-sourced V8 is a superb engine, but it had never been paired with a manual transmission in any application. It’s got a dogleg first gear, to the left and back of the gate, which always takes some getting used to—but anyone with an early 911, for example, would be used to that.
The more difficult bit is that packing in seven gear positions, plus reverse, into a gate that needs to be narrow to feel sporty, makes for a tricky shift. That’s made worse by the necessary light springing of the gearlever to the right, to add upward shifts. But when changing down, it means it’s very easy to go from, say, fifth to sixth when you meant to downchange from fifth to fourth (remember, second, fourth and sixth are at the front of the gate on a dogleg first ‘box). That dogleg first is also rather vague in feel, though that tended to vary between test cars.
What’s also very noticeable is the noise from the transmission, which is quite a shock from a modern car. You can hear the cogs meshing together, particularly on the overrun, and you just know that the NVH engineers will still be having nightmares about it. But Aston’s car set-up supremo Matt Becker insists it was a deliberate choice to keep that noise audible, and he’s right that it adds to the feeling of involvement with the car.
The manual is 70kg lighter than the existing Vantage, with its superb eight-speed ZF auto, and nearly 100kg lighter if you also take the carbon brakes that are standard on the AMR or an option on the non-AMR manual. That takes weight to 1499kg (3304lb). But the manual has to make do with less torque, a still-stonking 461lb ft rather than the auto’s 505lb ft. The torque is also limited in first and second gear to protect the gearbox. Power is 503bhp, and the resultant performance is a 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds and a 200mph top speed.
That’s slower than the auto, despite the weight saving, and though they apparently haven’t been compared yet, the manual would definitely be slower around the Nürburgring Nordschleife where the manual was developed. We drove it on the roads around the ‘Ring, and found it would let go on the greasy roads—so many wet leaves!—before the electronics pull you back. And concentration is definitely needed to get the gearshift right.
So though you’ll sometimes curse the gearbox, the manual Vantage feels more enjoyable, way more involving (that word again) and definitely more like a classic GT or even a muscle car than almost any other modern European-made car. Which would we choose? Manual every time.
Images courtesy of Aston Martin