Does A Proper Sports Car Need To Be Manual?

To manual or not to manual in a sports car? Is that even a question worth asking?

Over the last couple of decades, many auto manufacturers have decided to make the choice for us, racing to develop the fastest-shifting dual-clutch transmissions. Then ZF hit back with their 8-speed torque converter, which seems to do 90% of what the best DCT gearboxes offer, but at a far lower cost, making them an obvious choice for use in premium vehicles. Through all this, manufacturers like BMW and Porsche have put their customers first with the option of proper manual gearboxes. You can even get them in the M3, M4 and new 992 GT3.

But today it’s another manufacturer that I want to talk about. Up until a few months ago, Aston Martin was a brand that I didn’t really associate with. Sure, I knew they still existed and also acknowledge and respect what they stand for, but there was some disconnect. Why? I don’t think I can even answer that. I’ve ridden in and tried a few Astons in the past, but they’ve never really captured my interest.


They have certainly always spoken to me with their elegant design, but that’s about it. Once upon a time, I only thought of Astons as cars either for older gentleman, or for masochists who like to drop substantial sums of money into something that they know will have reliability issues.


But over the last few years I’ve had the chance to meet and spend time with various Aston Martin models.

My fondest memory was borrowing the four-door Rapide for a special feature we worked on. I remember loving the car as much as particularly not loving it. Aston created something fresh and incredibly beautiful in the Rapide, but at the same time so many aspects of it felt frustratingly dated.


I remember thinking what a pity that was, especially because the car really made you feel special, whether looking at it over your shoulder when you walked away or sat behind the wheel. It just needed that bit extra; a little sprinkle of newness that would allow it to truly shine and feel current.

It’s taken Aston Martin a few more years to get to that point, and for me the 2020 V8 Vantage is a big wake-up call. This year, it’s even offered with a manual transmission option.


This Aston has truly mesmerized me. The V8 Vantage is a true brute of a car; a hooligan dressed in a finely-tailored tuxedo ready to party at any time, but at the same time able to be a luxury GT that can be easily used every day. The reason behind this is the Mercedes-Benz partnership.

All V8 cars in the Aston Martin range now sport AMG-sourced engines, and integrate previous-generation Mercedes-Benz infotainment setups within their cabins.

The notion of a revered manufacturer dropping its identity for a parts-sharing program won’t sit well with everyone, but I’m of the opinion that it’s worked out rather well for Aston Martin. Hear me out…


Would it have been better for Aston to evolve its old V8 motor or develop a whole new unit? Sure, an original powerplant would guarantee pedigree and a tangible character that would make it stand out against other V8s, but in the real world, a massive investment is needed for a manufacturer to embark on a new engine project, not to mention the time involved.

Simply, it’s prohibitive for small manufacturers to do this sort of thing now, which is why Aston Martin collaborating with Mercedes-Benz was a very good idea. At least they picked their best V8 to drop into the Vantage, and even if it sounds like any AMG 63-badged Benz out there, who really cares?

If it’s good enough for Pagani, I’m pretty sure it will suit Aston just fine.


Not one time firing up the 4.0L ‘hot-vee’ twin-turbo V8 did I complain that it sounded like an AMG GT or a G63. No, I smiled, or rather grinned evilly knowing the sheer thrust this motor is able to deliver.

The way it’s presented under the hood is very dramatic too. The entire front cowl lifts up exposing the compact motor nestled deep against the firewall for that true front-midship layout. If I really had to be picky, it could be a tad more curated in this respect. A more pleasantly-designed engine cover and a splash of color to lift some of the details would do wonders. Currently, you can only have this if you opt for the pricey optional carbon fiber pack.

What annoyed me the most was the unequal length and shaped rubber hoses that connect the turbo intakes to the two air boxes. Would symmetry have been so difficult?


And then, to bring it back around to my intro, there’s the transmission – or rather the choice of two. One is the ZF8 8-speed fast-shifting auto gearbox, as fitted to my test car, and the other a 7-speed manual that is available as an option.

I’m a big fan of traditional manual transmissions, so if the option is there I don’t need to consider anything else. After all, there is nothing that offers that direct link to a car like rowing through an H-pattern ‘box to upshift and downshift to and from whatever gear you feel like.

Out on the road, the Vantage is one of the best cars I have driven in the last couple of years. The interior is a special place, but the performance is what truly shines. This car has an instant bark of torque as soon as you step on it. Play around with it too aggressively before the tires are up to temperature and it’ll slither up the road like a well-prepped and tuned drift car. But even when the rubber is at optimal temp, you still need to be careful unleashing the 503hp on tap.

The handling via active dampers is sharp when you want it to be, but comfortable and refined enough when you just want to cruise. It’s rewarding to drive as it just feels so well-sized; it shrinks around you and there’s plenty of feedback through its controls.

I really have nothing bad to say about the 2020 V8 Vantage – other than that it deserves an even more antisocial-sounding exhaust – and that’s rare.


Let me show you that cabin, which you access by pivoting out the door handle. This allows the door to smoothly swing open but also rise up vertically in proper Aston Martin fashion.


This press car is finished in a subtle metallic silver, but there was a far more exciting color inside.


Small cabins with high belt lines and thus pretty short windows really do need a pop of color to make them feel less claustrophobic, and the orange trim highlights do a good job of that here.


Well-selected materials are a tactile delight, and you can tell that these cars are still, for the most part, built by hand.


There is plenty of space in here for two occupants, including ample shoulder room as the Vantage is a pretty wide car.


Thankfully, Aston has ditched the ugly steering wheels they used a generation back. This is how you expect a modern car to look and feel.


The main dash instrumentation is all digital, distributed through three specific displays. In the center you have the tachometer, while the side screens giving you a few different parameters along with indicators for the damper setting and driving mode you have selected.


The wide center console houses all the switches and dials to control both the infotainment and some car-related settings.

If the shiny touch panel with the scroll wheel underneath it looks familiar, it’s because this is what Mercedes cars used one generation back. It’s not the greatest unit, but it still feels modern and far more reliable than anything Aston could have developed in-house.


They even added a knee pad on each side of the transmission tunnel, which means you don’t exit with bruised limbs after a spirited drive through some twisty backroads, something that happens to me with a lot of cars.


Lift the tailgate and you’ll be surprised at the amount of space you have. The trunk easily swallows a couple of camera bags and a tripod, meaning it’s perfectly sized for a weekend getaway.


Design is subjective, so I don’t want to spend long talking about looks, but it’s hard not to fall for this car. It’s simple and elegant yet incorporates aggressive touches, my favorite being the rear light setup that swings up along the trunk line.


This creates an instantly recognizable shape. You know it’s an Aston Martin from a mile away, and I think that’s half of the job done right there – penning a recognizable shape as a signature for your brand. This is something Aston has always done well and their new crop of cars are no different.


The reason why I got to drive this car for a few days – and decided to take the gearbox angle for this story – is that when chatting to Aston Martin’s representative in Japan was told that the manual version of the Vantage V8 would be arriving in the country this year.

I’m sure it will represent the ultimate interpretation of this chassis, but while waiting for the manual test car to arrive Aston Martin Japan suggested I first try the 8-speed ZF automatic-equipped V8 Vantage, and here we are.


Having been pleasantly surprised at the capability and everyday usability of this thing, I’m hoping the 7-speed Graziano manual 2020 V8 Vantage will be even more special, and then the question I’ve posed in the title can be definitively answered.


A manual always allows the driver to feel more connected to the car, more involved, and therefore offers up a far more satisfying driving experience. In 2020, finding manual cars with this sort of performance pedigree only leaves you with a handful of manufacturers, but hopefully that will change.

So I’ll end this story here; call it part one of my Vantage V8 experience. Now, I better hit up Aston Martin Japan and see if that manual has arrived…

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare



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Sexy car!
But Dino... only the Vantage and DBX have MB engines :). The V12TT is their own design.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Quite right sir!


The only excuse for your 'sports car' not being manual is a physical defect/difficulty.


dude if yours saying that you have a physical defect for not driving manual than you have a mental defect, why cant we just like cars and not have jerks like you interrupt us


^^^ this guy salty he cant 3 pedals

Dino Dalle Carbonare

You should drive daily in Tokyo ;)


Do you LOVE "the game"? Must be as involving as possible, thus three pedals almost always mandatory. If it needs a relationship then you're looking the right way...
Or: Do you want to SERIOUSLY compete at any level? Then must be as fast and robust as possible, thus the least distraction from speed is almost always mandatory. Three pedals today compete only in King of Hammers or where power placement is still too complicated for computers, and even then they don't always win.
Solved. Done.

Now the question is does the Aston in question need three pedals to be a "sports car". Yup. It's class (not just cost) competition is just faster. Unless you go full carbon all the things and R&D a few million more to toe with the 911 GT3/2 (RS+) for example, it's delusion that an also ran is "competitive" apples to apples. Learn to drive and spec the three pedal, or go full cream puff and go DB11 if you just can't figure out what grandpa was doing with his two feet all day, everyday.

Jow BlowOffValve

Depends on what you're after in your "fun" car. Purity of the experience? Get a manual. Outright lap times? Sequential and paddles.

But not everybody can afford a dedicated "fun" car, so a lot of times there needs to be compromise(read: kneel before the the wife and pray to never incur her wrath again)


Dino Dalle Carbonare

Haha so true!




Bare in min that this comment is coming form a guy who was seeking a manual BMW 128i coupe (the most trusted and "reliable" drive-train) and ended up finding a pristine DCT 135i OEM+ and the last stretch to reach home is touge.
I have never tried a ZF8 (and maybe I'm afraid to try it and love it as i did with the DCT), never owned an automatic, and refused to drive the sluggish low HP/ economy vehicles of friends and relatives. I still prefer driving a manual any day even if facing traffic but I accept the idea that the manufacturers and dumping it for some more advanced technology specially with high HP numbers and regular driving skills consumers, some of them will need to change a clutch every couple of months (for example we've all faced the problem of rolling our car from a stand still on a deep inclined road when we were beginners at least and some still can't do it).I can also see why a lot of the consumers are ditching the manual: let's say you daily drive your M3/Golf GTI/... and take the kids to school on your way to work and for the weekend you take the same car for a spirited drive. As I see it, evolving from an H-pattern, to a sequential, and now to DCT. This is the best we can get before we start driving full automated train-like vehicles.
And since I can'y afford a Porsche, i hope the ZF8 won't replace all the "regular" market range manual and DCTs (read: MK5 Supra) and see more of them available for us. For a regular sporty car, manual is always the choice; for a relatively high HP performance car, I can understand the choice of DCT.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Most modern MT cars have a brake hold function that holds the brakes momentarily on a hill for your to comfortably let out the clutch and get on your way. I rarely hold the car on the clutch on a hill and just use the handbrake as I always have an image in my head of clutch discs slipping for no good reason lol


I also do the same in an uphill and I'm not saying they stopped R&D on the manual gearboxes, some of them also have an auto rev matching without the need of heel-toe. Diver engagement aside, the major drawback of an auto transmission, at least to me, was the sluggish feeling and the "stupidity" of the system (like up-shifting on a downhill and ending up cooking the brakes) and the "problems" are solved with the modern technology on high end vehicles. If i feel the car driving me not me driving the car I'll be literally scared.
Again, I' ll take a manual any day given (and i wish i could find a good condition manual 1 series where i live) the satisfaction I can get from the 3rd pedal will never be replaced by any artificial intelligence. But I've started to understand the choice of the new automated gearboxes specially when someone is using the car let's say 90% of the his time as a daily commuting vehicle.

Jay Soh Tsu Chung

I love this design, because it is based on already beautiful DB10. However, I just cannot accept that tail light design. I would prefer it to be more like the DB11.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Oh really? It's one of my favorite parts


Short answer, YES. What a shame

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Not a shame, the manual is coming back! Call it a last of wave of automotive hipsterism before our testicles all get chopped off and we drive EVs


The new optional front bumper looks much better. Also the steering wheel does look a lot better than the last generation but it's still far from looking decent. When you sit in the new Astons and it's just that big ugly, not quite a circle, shape you start to realise how ugly it really is.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Just spent a week in an Aston DBX and that center portion of the steering wheel really bothered me. Tad smaller would work so much better


That center console looks like something straight out of a late-80s sci fi anime.

Which is a good thing.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

I don't mind it. I'd still like a conventional shifter.


Manuals? Automatics? pfft.. everyone knows REAL sports cars use a pre-selector ;)

Dino Dalle Carbonare



This car is a good example of how "good" things have gotten. Power is so cheap that weight is hardly a concern. Gearboxes that don't require a third pedal hold more torque, and best the efficiency of manual transmissions.

I too understand why people choose the DCT when H-pattern is an option. Some would rather not think about how they got to work, but want the comfort, power, and image of the car. One colleague confessed that he doesn't want to do the work of downshifting to pass. Another wanted to be able to share the car with his non-enthusiast wife. I even know someone who converted a car from manual to a traditional automatic because it kept the big turbo he added in boost during shifts.

That said, it's not my thing. I have lost interest in having the fastest or highest tech car on the road. Now I just want to drive whatever puts the biggest smile on my face even if it means I'm DFL every time.

I do wonder, though, if there was a group of enthusiasts who lamented the invention of automatic ignition advance, in-car air conditioning, or electric starters 90 years ago.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Possibly, as a race we humans are remarkably good at complaining about anything that brings a change only to accept and swear by it the following week. That said, manual please.


This must be one of the only manual AMG engines currently in production right? Thats pretty cool


yeah, I think it's the only one. Mercedes has been done with manuals for a while now.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Yeah and that makes it even cooler.


"Does A Proper Sports Car Need To Be Manual?"

Yes, it does

Dino Dalle Carbonare



If we can't get manual transmissions in sports cars in a few years where are we going to get them in any new offering?

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Electric manuals? lol


Driving a manual just gives a satisfying experience and there's just nothing like it!


Seeing that there a few manufacturers still making the manual is just an amazing thing to see
Sadly it won't last long but I feel that the DCT is going to be the future as it has all of the good parts of a manual transmission while also being a manual
Basically a sequential manual/auto

Dino Dalle Carbonare

The more I read through these comments the more I think we need a proper post on transmissions. Fun seeing everyone's comments here.


I've come around to being more open to Automatics after being humbled in a straight line a few times, but when given the choice, I will always take a manual. I cram my 6'7", 300 pound self in an f-body, so I can slam gears in that T56, I'm not doing any heel-toe shifts with my size 18 shoes any time soon, but I make it work because it's what I prefer.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Hey I drive a ZF8 speed daily and its a godsend in Tokyo. That said when I jump into my other manual cars it's like the water parts and heaven opens up. And dude, WTF, size 18 shoes?


While a manual in this car may be entertaining, I believe it actually reduces its appeal somewhat given that the brand has always been about effortless style, performance, and delivering them on any occasion. For the purity and engagement of a manual, cars with a narrower purpose and focus would be more fitting... That being said, rowing through a manual in bumper to bumper traffic and quickly you dispel any notion of how connected you are to the car. Having multiple manual cars, I can attest that on a weekend drive in the morning when traffic is light, and you are winding in a canyon or navigating through sweeping roads are the reasons why manuals hold a certain nostalgia to many. But, a manual to this car I feel may not be necessary especially when the auto already delivers so much so effortlessly.


All of the arguments for a manual or an automatic are true. I find though that I don't seem to respect any brands that don't offer me the choice. I may choose an automatic but not if that is the only option. I know it is not rational but I wonder how many others feel that way. As the article stated he isn't sure why he didn't even consider the Aston until they had the manual. I stopped looking at Aston Martins but found myself excited to know they are again offering a manual option.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Exactly. Pretty simple, give us the option.


I honestly don't care that much what it is: As long as I can shift it manually and I don't have to set a cooking timer before it shifts I'm good. Still prefer my manuals though, although I cant wait to install my manual sequential gearbox.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Ah sequentials, now that's a whole other post right there!


I think a manual transmission says more about the driver than the car.


It's all a matter of application. If the goal is purely competition and speed, you're going to use some form of sequential gearbox.

If the goal is the driving experience / driver engagement (which it should be for a road-going sports car), then there's few better ways to achieve that than a good old three pedal H-pattern manual. There are cities where a manual is going to get tiresome; an auto is always good as an option for those that need to prioritize daily driveability, but from a design perspective that shouldn't be a heavily prioritized concern if something truly wants to be labelled a sports car.

I drive a manual (in Los Angeles) because I wouldn't have it any other way, but my cars also lack A/C and power steering so I may just be an insane person.


this is a pointless topic that gets beaten to death in order to get people to respond because it insights controversy.

It’s click bait and it’s getting a bit dated imo. It just boils down to what you like on the street. If you’re talking race cars well then go to F1.

Modern Grand Prix cars are so complicated that shifting is simply something you don’t have time for. So in racing at the highest level it’s actually a burden. On the street it doesn’t matter.

Sports cars have no metric so it’s pointless to debate things like this lol. It’s more like a bragging right of anything imo. If you guys check out my Instagram I have a video discussing pedal technique and comparing this stuff. I dunno. Kind of a pointless topic imo.

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Call it click bait but I honestly wanted to try it out for myself. I pick up the manual Vantage this weekend. If you are interested stay tuned.


I will call it click bait and I will not wait for a n article about an over priced car to tell me why.

I just interviewed a 9x world champion who got a 250bhp car to do 0-60 in1.8 seconds. We also discussed this exactly topic about the manuals in race cars and the conclusion was staggering even to me. I think it’s a point everyone needs to consider when we have discussions like this moving forward and I’m not going to say why until it’s uploaded.

Please listen. Your entire thought process will change.


EV's will do away with manual transmissions. Some manufacturers will hold off for as long as they can, but eventually, they'll all the electric. I do enjoy my manual car and have a paddle shifting ride at home. There's no one influencing that judgement, just bad knees from an accident with a trucker who fell asleep at the wheel (police were convinced they were coming up on a fatality). Somedays I can't get out of bed, so a clutch is a pain to deal with, especially in traffic. On days when I feel good, I jump in my manual car and enjoy a good set of challenging roads (I'm lucky if I get four rides a year). My days of driving manual will eventually wind down (I had to stop riding motorbikes and mountain biking) so I am getting used to the fact that my cars will only have two pedals. Moan all you want about a real sports car having three pedals; be happy you're alive to drive any car.


Damn dude, that puts things into perspective and important to remember. Glad you are ok.


Well , god damn i´m no old gent and def. got way too less to spend for cars, but a manual DBS.....
And i hope the manual will boost sales for AM, cause it sounds like a perfect combination for this beauty

does a sportscar need a manual ? Depends ... nowadays cars are feeling numb in the speed category , a manual gives a bit back of it (and keeps you a bit more aware about the speeds you are doing) on the other hand todays cars are so powerful some would be not driveable without those advanced and capable flappy paddles


So how are these Aston's gear shifts? Quick,firm,?

Dino Dalle Carbonare

Picking the manual Aston up this weekend!


MT aside... anyone notice the horrendous panel gaps on this thing?


"A manual always allows the driver to feel more connected to the car, more involved, and therefore offers up a far more satisfying driving experience."

I totally agree with you Dino,
Manual cars give us the feeling to be in charge and connected to the car, removing that aspect it an odd feeling when I'm driving automatic cars. Surely there is nothing wrong with the automatic gearbox it makes our daily drive more practical and easy, but it still an odd feeling for me, even when I'm driving automatic cars my left foot unconsciously want to step on the clutch, and later I realized "oh it's an automatic".


"I only thought of Astons as cars either for older gentleman, or for masochists who like to drop substantial sums of money into something that they know will have reliability issues."

Just wanna say LOL hahahaha.

Great article Dino Loved it!