By Guy Jenner
For 2022 model year, Aston Martin will drop the manual gearbox from their core model line-up. The final car offered with a manual was the Vantage which will now be sold in automatic format only.
This decision comes five years after previous Aston Martin CEO, Andy Palmer vowed that the company would always sell cars with manual transmissions.
"I've already made a commitment that I want to be the last manufacturer in the world to offer manual sports cars and I want to honour that commitment,"
To be fair to Mr Palmer and Aston Martin, they did deliver on their promise to keep building cars with manual transmissions but customers simply didn’t buy them in anything like the numbers required to make it commercially viable. The people have spoken and Aston Martin had to make the sensible decision.
Nevertheless, manual gearboxes remain an involving and fun format for the driving enthusiast. It is a purchase that is made at an emotional level, one simply can’t justify it any other way. The modern automatic fitted to an Aston Martin (8 Speed ZF) is faster changing, faster accelerating, quieter cruising and more economical than any manual equivalent. The auto also provides an opportunity to have both hands on the wheel at all times and is far more comfortable to use in traffic.
It is therefore difficult to make a case for a manual but there will always be those that derive huge satisfaction from doing the shifting themselves. Shifting yourself is a challenge and can hugely rewarding, even if we will never be able to do it as well as modern, automated unit.
And so to mark the end of manual transmissions in the main Aston Martin range, we thought we would take a look back at some of the modern era manual Aston Martin’s we have enjoyed since production moved to Gaydon, Warwickshire.
Aston Martin DB9 – 2004-2016
The DB9 was the first car to be built in the new facility at Gaydon. A beautiful V12 Coupe, it took the world by storm. The graceful shape still looks wonderful and contemporary today.
Originally, the DB9 was available with an automatic only. The trend for large GT cars has always been to have an auto transmission. The DB9, however, was at the sportiest end of the GT spectrum. Therefore, Aston Martin decided it was only right that they should offer a manual gearbox alternative. It was six speed unit, manufactured by Graziano of Turin. It was also £3,000 less expensive than the auto option. Interestingly, it was available in Coupe and Volante formats.
Aston Martin use a rear mounted transaxle layout for good weight distribution. The manual gearbox enjoyed lower gearing than the auto. It was therefore quicker 0-60 by 0.1mph.
The original torque converter auto of this era was less efficient and sapped a bit more power from the V12 engine. This combined with the lower gearing made the manual transmission feel noticeably more responsive. It had a lightweight flywheel that made it rev quickly too.
For 2013 model year, the manual was dropped from the DB9.Less than 5% of total production across 12 years were built with this gearbox option.
Just over 16,500 DB9 were made.
Of total production, there were:
385 Manual Coupe
237 Manual Volante
Like the most immersive cars, a manual DB9 needs a bit of familiarisation. The gearbox is at first slightly balky and awkwardly placed when driving slowly but it starts to makes more sense at pace.
It revs quickly and enjoys being driven with enthusiasm. It feels energetic and hungry for more throttle. A DB9 is still sporty enough to be driven with enthusiasm and rev matching is very natural with the free-revving nature of the V12.
DBS Manual 2008-2012
The DBS was originally launched with a 6 speed manual only. It enjoyed 510 bhp which was 60bhp increase over the DB9 before DB9 power grew to 470bhp with 2009MY. The centre piece was a gear lever machined from a single piece of aluminium. It was tactile and beautifully finished.
DBS enjoyed a tremendous amount of success owing to not only the wonderful design but its appearance in two James Bond films; Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
In 2009MY some significant changes were made to the model:
From this point, the 2+2 format with auto transmission instantly became the best seller. Sales of manuals declined until Aston Martin withdrew the option in 2011.
A grand total of 984 DBS were built with the manual gearbox out of approximately 3,400 DBS in total.
The model split was:
984 Manual Coupe
1552 Automatic Coupe
45 Manual Volante,
803 Auto Volante
In total, of the 984 manuals, 870 examples had 2+0 seating.
An extremely rare configuration of DBS is the 2+2 seat manual with B&O of which 114 built.
Again, the DBS manual was lower geared than the ZF Auto. The clutch and gear lever were not heavy, in some ways lighter and easier to use than the V8 Vantage single clutch set up. The large gear lever assisting with the weight of the shift.
A DBS manual feels like the perfect sports GT. It is long-legged, smooth with an enormously flexibly engine. It has just enough sound and involvement without proving tiring on a long journey
V12 Vantage 2009-2013
On 11 December 2007, as part of Aston Martin's opening of their own design studio, Dr Bez unveiled a concept car based on the V8 Vantage. The car, known as the V12 Vantage RS, featured the AM11V12 engine from the DBS and produced 510 bhp.
Officially unveiled at Geneva in March 2008.It became known as the V12 Vantage and went into production from 2009 until 2013.
There are a lot of similarities between DBS Manual and V12 Vantage manual. It did, however, enjoy a shorter wheelbase (about 140mm less), fast steering rack and fixed rate dampers. It wasn’t much lighter but certainly felt it on the road.
V12 manual: 1199 coupe and 109 roadster
Yet in all that time just 1199 V12 Vantages were made, making it a substantially rarer proposition than a Ferrari F40. And I wonder how many people realise that.
Despite similarities to DBS, distinctly different character. On the road it feels firmer, edgier with more attitude than DBS.
It was supplied on Pirelli P Zero Corsa which were dry-biased tyres. If temperatures dropped or there was moisture on the road, the V12 Vantage became very playful.
The six speed manual transmission enjoyed a conventional shift pattern and was exactly the same as the DBS, including the aluminium gear lever. It is a work of art but could get very hot in the summer and incredibly cold in the winter!
On the finale of the 13th series of Top Gear, presenter Jeremy Clarkson drove the car simply saying that "It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful". If you haven’t seen the Clarkson test, it is worth watching:
V12 Vantage S 2013-2018
In 2013, Aston Martin launched the V12 Vantage S launched in 2013 - 2018
The power grew to 565bhp with a top speed of 205mph.The biggest change was that Sportshift 3 came as standard, there was no pure manual option. Instead, the Sportshift was an automated manual. It often gets misunderstood but it is a very good gearbox, if you get know how to use it. It rewards being driven on the paddles and understanding how to interact with the throttle when changing gear.
The V12 Vantage S also enjoyed adaptive damping which calmed the ride.
The Sportshift III remains a rear mid-mounted transaxle unit, which contributes to the 52:48 near-perfect weight balance of the V12 Vantage S.
The uprated Graziano unit, with Magneti Marelli hydraulics was a far lighter unit than any dual clutch system. It was also the most efficient version which was air cooled instead of oil cooled gearbox. This change was not only lighter but it avoided 3-4bhp loss via the oil pump.
Other notable features of the Sportshift3 gearbox are:
In 2016, the option of a 7 Speed dog leg returns (2017MY).It was still a Graziano box, essentially the same unit as in the Sportshift3 but with the automated systems removed.
It also enjoyed a system called AM shift. This provided a number of benefits when switched on:
V12 Vantage S Manual:
260 Coupe S manual,
1017 Coupe Sportshift,
91 Roadster S manual,
272 Roadster Sportshift
57 Coupe manual
18 Coupe Sportshift,
23 Roadster manual
6 Roadster Sportshift
The V12 Vantage S is an incredibly well-rounded car. It is a joy to drive. More composed than the earlier V12 Vantage but very quick.
The adaptive damping helps ride quality and the taller top gear helps with long distance cruising. The engine has strong torque characteristics – 70nm extra (over V12 Vantage) even from 1000 rpm. At high revs it has a savage rasp through the One-77 derived muffler.
The seven speed gearbox needs acclimatisation to get the best from it. The shift pattern is dog leg where first gear is down and back. The shift gate is also quite tight and busy because of the sheer amount of gears. With familiarity it is possible to execute shifts very quickly and smoothly.AM shift is hugely helpful but can be deactivated instantly with one press of a button should you wish to drive without the assistance.
V8 Vantage 2005-2018
Across 13 years of production, V8 Vantage was always offered as a manual. It remained a 6 speed manual throughout, the 7 speed was never used except for the Sportshift gearboxes.
It is a straight-forward and robust car. The mix of Sportshift to manual was far more even compared to other models in the Aston Martin range.
Sportshift offers gear changes up to three times faster than the manual transmission already available, with the driving enthusiast able to access precision gearshifts in less than 200 m/s.
Equipped with Sportshift, Vantage retains low polar moment of inertia and excellent balance, with a negligible increase in overall weight and minimal impact to the Vantage’s optimal 49:51 weight distribution. Equally, top end performance is unchanged, at 280 km/h (175 mph). However, the 0-100 km/h (62 mph) sprint is achieved a fraction faster than the manual car's time of 5.0 seconds.
V8 Coupe 4.3: 6408 manuals vs 1746 Sportshift
V8 coupe 4.7: 1794 manuals vs 3421 Sportshift
V8 roadster 4.3: 727 manuals vs 2293 Sportshift
V8 roadster 4.7: 507 manuals vs 1816 Sportshift
V8S coupe: 243 manuals vs 1668 Sportshift
V8S roadster: 63 manuals vs 762 Sportshift
GT8: 119 manuals vs 36 Sportshift
V8 AMR 63 manual Coupe, 74 Sportshift Coupe, 12 Roadster manual, 51 Roadster Sportshift
The V8 gearbox is actually a little more physical than the V12 Vantage. It has a nice, short, mechanical shift that can be used in anger. Like all the cars mentioned, the pedals are well placed for heel and toe and the brake pedal is not over served.
Manual transmission suits the Vantage experience well and combined with the naturally aspirated V8, it is great fun to drive. The engine is enormously flexible so can be revved and driven with vigour or will comfortably cruise using the low end torque for relaxing progress.
New Vantage Manual – 2018 onwards
The last manual to be offered in the core line up was the Vantage Manual. It was available in Coupe only.
Launched as a Vantage AMR first, just 200 units were made for the world. They were a higher spec car with signature paint schemes and carbon ceramic brakes.
Once the AMR’s were sold, the manual transmission variant became part of the standard Vantage offering. It was a significant £6,000 less than the standard auto.
It was also quite a bit lighter than the auto with a 95kg weight saving. It used the 7 Speed dog-leg Graziano box as seen in the V12 Vantage.
Despite torque being down slightly on the auto from 505 to 461 because of the gearbox limits, it is capable of 0-60mph in 3.9 secs.
Instead of the E-diff used in the auto, the manual was given a mechanical limited slip diff. Aston Martin also changed the springs and dampers. They also stiffened the rear anti-roll bar by 20%.
There are no definitive numbers on Vantage manual but estimates put production at less than 400.
The 7 speed manual takes time to get used to. A short shift and dog leg format require acquaintance to re-programme the brain. AM Shift is still present and really helps.
Aston Martin spend a lot of time on details such as the pedals which are carefully placed to allow heal and toe. They adjusted the level of brake modulation to again make rev-matching more natural.
Once familiar with manual, it is a lot of fun. The Vantage has tremendous low down torque which can make the drive feel very lively. It is involving, challenging but like any Aston Martin, can be driven in a more relaxed style when required.
And so this brings us to the end of the line for manuals in the Aston Martin core model range. It is unlikely that this will change although it is possible that we might see the occasional short run of specials with a manual transmission.
Why have manuals fallen out of favour? We think there are a few reasons:
Ultimately, buyers have voted with their wallets. This seems to apply to the whole industry. Aston Martin made a valiant effort to continue the life of the manual but it is clearly the right commercial decision to now drop the option from their range.
Thank you manual gearboxes, you have been great fun!