If Aston Martin's upcoming Vantage AMR isn't already on your radar as one of the most eagerly anticipated cars of 2019, then it ought to be. When we put the standard Vantage head-to-head with Porsche's 911 GTS it was a close-run thing. Ultimately, though, Nic concluded that: "Porsche has done a worthier, subtler job of making the underside of its car a little more tactile for the driver. The 911 itself is better chiefly because it is tangibly lighter... to the general enhancement of the experience."
While the Vantage had "never felt so limber", the GTS's weight advantage and superior handling were just enough to tip the scales in its favour. Imagine, then, a Vantage with the AMR treatment previously afforded to the DB11.
In that car Matt found the enhancements to have transformed its character, bequeathing it with: "more weight to the steering and a more immediate response... less lean and pitch once in the bend, meaning you'll chase the throttle sooner on corner exit... traction feels improved from before and, should you breach that, the intervention from the systems is more natural and less intrusive. Throughout a corner, throughout any drive actually, the AMR is a more positive, more confidence inspiring, and more satisfying sports car." Effusive praise indeed.
Now consider that that car lost only 5kg versus its previous iteration, whilst the Vantage AMR announced by Aston today will shed a whopping 95kg. The standard carbon ceramic brakes will have something to do with that, as will other tweaks made during the coupe's transformation, but the majority of the saving comes from the addition of something even better than the weight loss itself - a seven-speed manual gearbox.
Substituting it for the 8-speed automatic not only removes mass, but also makes good on Andy Palmer's long-standing promise that Aston would not abandon the clutch pedal. The new transmission gets a dog-leg first, race car-style, with a double H-pattern setup beyond that, and comes equipped with AMSHIFT technology, allowing for auto-blipped downshifts and full-throttle upshifts. Its inclusion doesn't prevent a 0.3 second deficit to 62mph versus the auto-equipped standard, though. Power is provided by the same AMG-derived 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 as previously, with outputs unchanged at 510hp and 460hp - but top speed remains 195mph.
No matter, because the AMR's focus will be on delivering improved performance in other, more important, areas than outright speed. Less weight, improved balance, greater feedback and a proper gear lever ought to make for a far more immersive driving experience, hopefully improving on what was already a compelling base model.
That's the good news, now here's the bad. Unlike the DB11 AMR, which replaced the standard V12 DB11 in the series production range, the Vantage AMR is to be a limited-run special, restricted to just 200 examples worldwide. Of those, 59 cars will be specced in 'Vantage 59' livery, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Aston Martin DBR1's Le Mans victory. The fixed specification features a Stirling Green and Lime exterior paint scheme, with a Dark Knight leather and Alcantara interior featuring AMR signature Lime stripes and stitching.
In one final twist, however, Aston has announced that following the sale of all 200 Vantage AMRs, the rest of the Vantage range will gain the manual transmission as a standalone option from 2020 onwards. Perhaps hold off on that pre-order of a standard car for a few months, then eh?
Speaking of the Vantage AMR, Aston CEO Andy Palmer said, "When I joined this company, customers asked and, as a gearbox engineer and racer, I promised that we would always offer a manual transmission in our line-up. The Vantage AMR not only honours that commitment but sets us apart from our competitors in continuing to offer a three-pedal option." He continued, "With the Vantage AMR, we have created a thoroughly modern sports car that rewards effort and focus from the driver; the antidote to driving a computer game. With the Vantage GTE set to race again at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, I hope that those customers who are lucky enough to take ownership of a Vantage 59, will have even more reason to celebrate with their new car".
The Vantage AMR is on sale now from £149,995, with Vantage 59-specced models from £164,995 and deliveries scheduled to begin towards the end of this year. If you can't wait that long, or don't fancy parting with quite that much cash, then there are other alternatives available, though. Both V8 and V12 examples of the previous generation of manual Vantages are available in the classifieds, and offer a similarly robust antidote to any driving simulator.