Review: What It’s Like to Pilot an Aston Martin Vantage AMR Manual on the Nürburgring

On the simple joys of driving one of the last true manual supercars

October 30, 2019 8:46 am
2020 Aston Martin Vantage AMR Manual review

People say the V8 engine is dead. Others claim the manual transmission is archaic. Some will even tell you building elite supercars is unnecessary and out of fashion.

None of those people were at the Nürburgring recently, where your correspondent witnessed the test run of the UK’s hottest new machine near Germany’s most famous racetrack.

At $180,000, the Aston Martin Vantage AMR Manual is not the British company’s most expensive build. With a run of only 200 vehicles, it will also not be seen too often on your local roads, even once it’s sold out worldwide. But it might just be the most entertaining machine in the automaker’s line for one simple feature: that stick shift on the floor.

The Vantage entered the Aston Martin family in 2005 and existed in both 12- and eight-cylinder models over the years. The Vantage AMR (the letter code used to ID the sportier tune of the already sport-tuned Aston Martins) arrives with a 503 horsepower V8 borrowed from Mercedes-Benz AMGs. That’s essentially the same power plant as the regular, paddle-shifter transmission Vantage. However, when you take an automatic transmission out of any car, you cut a couple hundred pounds off the overall weight. In this case, you end up with an already exceptional mover made even more nimble.

Testing the abilities of this Vantage AMR Manual required a route that would include everything from banking turns to open Autobahn, and the terrain in and around the western Germany town of Nurburg provided all of the above.

There’s no better spot on Earth to kick off the road-testing of a supercar than the world famous Nürburgring. A racing course of staggering size and unrelenting pressure, the legendary track runs 12.9 miles and serves up 170 turns. Unlike many racing havens, the Nürburgring is open to the public during operating hours whenever it isn’t preparing for a professional race. Anyone with 30 Euros and a valid driver’s license can take their own car out to test what many racers call the “Green Death” or Green Hell.”

It has earned the nickname: in the last year, 82 crashes have spread out over its tree-lined pavement, leaving three racers dead. Throughout its history, 70 professional racers have met their end on the Nürburgring. Despite the danger, it’s a bucket-list destination for speed lovers and racing fans alike.

Aston Martin maintains a headquarters for its international racing team connected to the track, and the folks speed-testing the Vantage AMR Manual stayed at the Dorint Am Nürburgring Hocheifel overlooking the home straightaway.

The Cockpit Bar

The hotel houses the hallowed Cockpit Bar, a shrine to racing and the spot where many immortal drivers have made a pit stop after a race. Packed with paraphernalia and posters documenting the history of the Nürburgring (even the darker times. when a Swastika adorned the raceway’s promotions), the bar attracts racing crews clad in their team regalia nearly every day.

After looping the Nürburgring, we headed out onto the unlimited speeds of the Autobahn, Germany’s gift to the average car lover. The Vantage AMR Manual’s speedometer tops out north of 170 mph, but there’s no doubt the car could push north of that given enough open space and a crazy enough driver.

When Aston Martin gives you a car for testing, they want you to push it to its limits in the hope of learning and sharing its full capabilities. This writer-turned-driver knows his limits even if the car has very few, so I stayed on the safe side of that 170 mark. The acceleration is nothing short of sensational, without any signs of hesitation or turbo lag. With its baritone exhaust note announcing its presence, the car’s impeccable balance prevents any of the road’s unwelcoming vibrations into the steering wheel. A potentially terrifying speed in a lesser car becomes a casual joyride in this machine.

Heading west toward Luxembourg along the Moselle River, I took the Vantage into the beautiful mountain town of Mayen. Now a tourist’s paradise of luxury hotels and quaint shops, the city was 90 percent ravaged during World War II as American forces pushed into Germany from France and Belgium.

Parked in this rebuilt alpine paradise, the Vantage AMR Manual stood as an example of cultures coming together. It’s a British car powered by a German engine driven that day by journalists arriving from Japan, Singapore, Korea, the USA, Canada and almost every country in Europe.

The journey away from Mayen opened up a series of mountain roads ideal for Aston Martin’s superlative engineering. Switched into its Sport + driver mode (a tick above standard Sport and a notch below Track), the Vantage AMR Manual’s suspension tightens and acceleration focuses on quick, immediate bursts. The result is a car that bites off even the tightest turns with completely grounded ease. 

Of course, whether I was downshifting to explode out of a hairpin or upshifting to blow by Autobahn traffic, I had to kick in the clutch and shift my way through the short-throw, seven-speed manual, racing-inspired transmission. That stick-shift sensation is a fading phenomenon in the automotive world. Most drivers under the age of 40 no longer know how to “drive stick.” The proliferation of automatic transmissions and electric vehicles make manual shifting unnecessary, but the loss of the tactile elements of fully-involved driving should be mourned — just as vehicles that preserve it must be celebrated.

There’s simply something immensely satisfying about reaching down and grabbing a gear when you need it. The full-body process of a clutch-pushing left leg cooperating with a gas-punching right foot that works in unison with a stick-shifting right hand allows a driver to truly feel and understand the mechanical operation of a car. In a “manual,” you’re actually driving; in an “automatic,” you merely steer.

Realizing this, Aston Martin built and offered this 2020 Aston Martin Vantage AMR Manual for buyers who share that appreciation for that more traditional, somewhat outdated driving style. The automaker realizes there are car lovers out there who will pass over equally appealing hypercars just because they can drive stick in this one.

You’re reading that correctly. In this era of hyper-vigilant environmental sensitivity and a relentless attack on the pure, visceral pleasure of driving, Aston Martin engineered a new variant of its supercars just so that well-heeled lovers of speed could clutch, reach down, grab a gear and hit the gas. 

If you don’t find that fact wonderful and affirming, or feel the Vantage AMR Manual is irresponsible or distasteful, you are entitled to that opinion. I just don’t want to drive anywhere with you — or have lunch with you in Mayen, while we’re at it.

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