Aston Martin Vantage

Power on the 2009 Aston Martin Vantage is provided by a 420-horsepower, 4.8L V8 with dry-sump lubrication--for more consistent oil distribution in high-performance track driving--and variable inlet cam timing. With the standard six-speed manual gearbox, the Vantage can race to 60 miles per hour in a very respectable 4.7 seconds, reaching a top speed of 180 mph

There's also an optional SportShift transmission, which brings magnesium paddle shifters alongside the steering wheel to command quick upshifts or downshifts. It has a "creep" feature that allows the vehicle to behave like a conventional automatic when you lift off the brake pedal unlike several competing systems. The transmission has been improved a bit for 2009, and now features Comfort and Sport shift modes.

Handling is an especially strong suit for the Vantage. The gearbox is rear-mounted for a more even weight distribution, the engine's dry-sump configuration allows it to be mounted low, and the wishbone suspension helps manage the power and weight well on tight, curvy roads. The two-seat Vantage is somewhat heavy for a small sports car yet quite light for a V8 tourer. Thanks to the extensive use of aluminum components, it weighs less than 3,600 pounds.

The interior is laid out with tight, cockpit-like accommodations for two yet has materials and conveniences as commonly offered in luxury cars. The Vantage is available in a wide range of trims, including mahogany, bamboo, walnut, and Piano Black finishings. Platinum silver fittings are also available.

Side air bags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes are also standard. Key options include xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, parking sensors, alarm system upgrade, 700-watt audio system with surround sound and heated seats.

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Editors' First Take

There are a lot of sports cars, relatively speaking, vying for our attention in the same broad price bracket as the Aston Martin Vantage. You could have a well-optioned version of the latest Porsche 911, for example. Fancy something with the engine a little further forward? How about an Audi R8 or a McLaren 570S? If front-mid-engined is your thing, then the Mercedes-AMG GT is an appealing choice, and BMW has also just released the M8. I think Maserati will still sell you a GranTurismo if you fancy something Italian.

Since its launch last year, the Vantage has arguably struggled to stand out in this somewhat crowded marketplace. Granted, the car looks wonderful, and if you're a sucker for the badge, then nothing else will do. There's nothing wrong with the coupe's dynamics, but they aren't class-leading. The 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine is good, too, but it's not exactly bespoke (even if the Mercedes-AMG badges have been taken off).

Now, however, with the launch of the Vantage AMR, it feels like Aston Martin has carved its own distinct niche in the market. And it's a rather appealing niche. The thing that principally differentiates the new AMR is the fitment of a manual transmission. It's the same Graziano, dog-leg, seven-speed gearbox that we saw in the last V12 Vantage, so it's not the easiest or, at times, slickest-shifting unit out there. Neither is the gear knob something to feast your eyes upon. But the pedals are placed absolutely perfectly, so heel-and-toe downshifts are a joy to perform (although the new AMR Shift program will automatically blip the throttle if you want). There is also real satisfaction to getting your head around the slightly peculiar shift pattern, as well as the unusual weightings across the gate.

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