Shocker ! A manual gearbox returns in the Aston Martin Vantage.
A chance to taste the 7 speed manual gearbox in the 2021 Aston Martin Vantage.
A few weeks ago I made an astonishing discovery while visiting Aston Martin Vancouver, specifically a brand spanking new 2021 Aston Martin Vantage with a 7 speed manual gearbox. Amidst the pandemic madness I had completely forgotten that Aston Martin had promised us a manual gearbox in the new Vantage, when the Vantage debuted in 2017. Naturally I asked if I could get behind the wheel of this rare Aston Martin. The answer was yes but with a large caveat, I was limited to 10km. So it was going to be more of a photoshoot than a proper test drive, nevertheless I was grateful for the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a manual Aston Martin with just 68km on its odometer.
Museum of Vancouver
I was excited and a tad querulous about my forthcoming manual Aston Martin Vantage adventure. The apprehension came ironically from having to drive a manual gearbox. Once upon a time driving a manual gearbox was simply the only way to truly experience a car, be it in a supercar or in a regular car, however those days are long gone. 10 years ago while I was writing my exotic TV show called First Rides I wrote several episodes that featured the debate between a manual supercar and the new double clutch paddle shift gearboxes that were just coming into vogue. Sadly my TV show never made it into production, however my wife and I got to experience a small test in the teaser video we made for the show featuring a Lamborghini Murcielago with a 6 speed manual transmission up against a paddle shift equipped Ferrari 360 Modena spider. On that day the paddle shift came out the winner. I was exhausted driving the Lamborghini Murcielago over two days of filming. Since then I have had the good fortune to drive a fair number of supercars where I have become accustomed to the ease and simplicity of using a double clutch gearbox. Even using the paddles has become an optional extra, thanks to the seamless transmissions of modern supercars. This is a long way of saying I have not driven any manual supercars for quite a while. I really did not want to be responsible for crunching the gears on a brand new $201,000 Aston Martin.
With all this mental baggage stowed I stepped out to my Vantage which was clothed in a sinister gloss black paint. Darth Vader clearly had a hand in the design of this car as the bonnet vents were covered in a black mesh. Continuing the dark theme were the 20 inch Snowflake design gloss black diamond turned wheel rims. All in all one serious bit of road going artwork. Now the moment of truth had arrived I was going to be driving a manual gearbox again. I am happy to report that all the old skills kicked in and muscle memory took over and I easily pulled away from the dealership without any fuss. Of course every stoplight meant a little bit of work was required, gearing down, going into neutral while waiting for the light then engaging first gear to pull away from the light, heady stuff I know. Now this Vantage has 7 gears, however thanks to my limit of 10km I never got out of third gear.
In all my time with the car I never stalled once or even came close to stalling, partly this can be attributed to my great skill, and partly to the highly forgiving nature of this particular clutch. The clutch pedal was easy to modulate. The actual gear lever could use a bit of work, I found it a bit clunky shifting gears and the gear knob was rather underwhelming for a $201,000 car. Positioning a car for photography is tedious at the best of times but with a manual gearbox the workload increased significantly. I confess omitting a few of my planned shots due to the effort required to reposition the car and not wanting to put extra stress on a brand new gearbox. The upside of moving the car to different filming locations enabled me to play around with the three transmission modes, normal, sports and sports plus. In sports plus the dashboard turns red and causes the exhaust to lower its timber to a hearty burble. I did manage to get up into third gear along a couple of straight bits of road which delightfully produced a throbbing sonic rumble from the exhaust.
City driving or in my case driving around a small enclosed neighborhood and park is not the ideal place for a manual supercar, however I have no doubt that on a highway the Vantage would be right at home. I admire Aston’s decision to give its buyers the choice of a manual transmission in this day and age. Porsche is the only other supercar manufacturer that provides driving enthusiasts with a manual option and even they are slowly phasing this option out. A manual supercar arguably rewards driving skills far more than a double clutch paddle supercar. I doubt many of these manual transmission Vantages will be produced but for those who enjoy being the focal point of a spirited driving experience this particular Aston Martin Vantage will bring great dividends.
For myself this experience was a bit of an eye opener regarding the passage of time and the nature of getting older. Ten years ago the debate about manual vs double clutch. I would have debated this on a supercar by supercar basis, but for me now that debate is over and I am fully on the side of the double clutch paddle shifting supercar (my younger self would be horrified). I recognize that I am a different driver now. Aston Martin deserve high praise for going against the grain and producing this manual Vantage. Choice is never a bad thing to have when choosing a supercar. Hopefully in the not too distant future I will get an opportunity to fully exploit the manual characteristics of this English thoroughbred supercar. My thanks to Aston Martin Vancouver for trusting me with this brand new car that is eagerly awaiting its new owner.