The Aston Martin DB11 begins Aston’s ‘second century plan’. A DB car, the natural successor to all the DBs before it, a grand tourer in the most conventional, but most important, Aston Martin tradition. “The DB11 is the most important car,” Aston’s CEO Andy Palmer says, “in Aston Martin’s history.”
In its history? Big claim, Palmer. But, then, Palmer has been given a big job: to make Aston Martin make money. Not a lot of Aston bosses have managed that before, but this time it’s crucial.
It’s crucial because of the plans Palmer has put forward. They’re of the scale that would have seen Danny Bahar, former Lotus CEO, throwing them on a motorshow stand accompanied by a bemused looking Brian May, Naomi Campbell and Random Baldwin.
Aston intends this: seven new models, one a year, between now and 2022, until the range revision starts over again. They’re ambitious plans, but apparently put forward with enough sense that Aston has secured £700m to make the first four – DB11, Vantage, Vanquish andDBX SUV – come to life. Beyond that, incoming revenue funds the rest.
So to the DB11. It’s new. Really new. Recently, Aston Martins have been revised with the glacial pace of somebody looking after a stately home: a new boiler here, replacement glazing in the orangery next year. But the DB11 is something else.
The architecture is different. Still aluminium, but where there were loads of extrusions before, there are more pressings now, so if you see a chassis in the bare metal there are more curved surfaces, which allows for greater interior room within a body that’s only marginally larger than the DB9’s.
There are double wishbones at the front but, for the first time on an Aston Martin, a multi-link setup at the rear. Steering is – another first – electrically, not hydraulically assisted. And there’s a new engine. Mercedes-Benz now owns 5% of Aston and has a technological exchange partnership in place, so it makes perfect sense that the DB11’s engine is an Aston Martin designed, Aston Martin developed, 5.2-litre, twin-turbocharged V12. Mercedes-AMG V8s can wait until later. Meantime they’d like you to know this is a proper Aston, m’laddio. Duly noted.
For the first time in, oh, about a decade, this is a new Aston that doesn’t look like another Aston from the outside, too. That’s unlikely down to the changes in proportion, although there are some: the wheelbase is 65mm longer than the DB9’s but overall length is only 50mm longer. The front overhang is 16mm shorter and rear overhang 11mm longer, but it’s the track width that’s most significant. If the DB11 looks more muscly than the DB9, that’s because the front and rear track widths have increased by 74mm and 43mm respectively, yet overall width is only up by 28mm.
Dotted around the new design features are some funky aerodynamics. There’s some underfloor stuff, vents that take high-pressure air from the top of the front wheel arches and feeds it out of the vents at the side. Weirdest but funkiest of all, are those roof strakes that depart from the windows by the C-pillar and feed air from down the side of the car, into tubes that run under the boot lid – you can see them when you open the boot – and flow the air out, upwards, at high speed, at the boot lip. It has a similar, lift-reducing effect to an upturned spoiler, but without having to have an upturned spoiler if you don’t want one. And Aston’s designers don’t want one. Neat.
Inside, things have moved on from the DB9 to a similar extent. Where carpets and surfaces follow the bodywork there are more contours, more scuplting, and so a more natural, organic feel to the interior. Material choices help, mostly. Brogue-finish on the leather looks brilliant, and Aston assures us that where you see a material that looks like a material, that’s because it is that material, not a poorer substitute. A couple of bits of metal, like around the air vents, are of the sort that need reassurance to believe that’s true, but mostly the DB11’s finish is excellent.
It’s in here, too, that the Daimler connection finally comes to light. There’s only one column stalk and it comes from a Mercedes – bit of a shame in a £150,000 Aston, I think – and there’s a large, central screen that adds the odd Aston flourish to the regular Mercedes theme, which is no bad thing. Behind the steering wheel – honestly, what’s wrong with round? – is a fully digital dial array; not notably Merc, and disappointingly low of resolution and odd of colour in a couple of places, but a darned sight easier to read than in any Aston of the past decade.
Gone too is another slight frustration: the old key – emotional control unit, no less – that you’d put into the dash, but would have to remove again, before reinserting, to start the engine, if you hadn’t kept it pushed in in the first place. It stirred one emotion or another, I’ll grant you. However, it has given way to a more conventional keyless go, with a proper start button atop the dash. Phew.
Still, this can do two things, depending on how long you push it for: it can start in full woofle, or a quiet start, should you want to make a soft getaway.
Full woofle’s pretty nice, by the way. I love how downsizing means ‘only’ 5.2-litres and the addition of two turbochargers. This is still a gold-top V12, making 600bhp at 6500rpm and 516lb ft between 1500 and 5000rpm. It drives, as per, through an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, mounted at the rear, to the rear wheels only. That the engine is mounted a long way back – the extended wheelbase means all of the block is behind the axle line – and that it’s a transaxle means weight distribution is, Aston says, 51:49. Aston quotes only a dry weight so far, of 1770kg, but assume a full weight will mean around 950kg sitting over each axle.
Not an insignificant amount, then, but Aston is getting quite serious about not only making its cars look different, but feel different. This is, it says, its softest car – it’s a GT, not a sports car – so there is more alertness and keenness to come. It says it almost by apology, but really there’s no need, because the things a DB11 can do dynamically are faintly extraordinary.
Engage woofle and pootle off – the ZF auto is still the best auto in the business – and you’ll note that the ride quality is excellent. There are drive modes – of course there are drive modes – changing both the powertrain and the chassis, independently. You get GT, Sport, and Sport Plus, and such is the cleverness of the damping – adaptive in any mode too – that all three modes are quite viable on the road. As with most systems like this there’s a temporary ‘overshoot’ on the damping when you flick between them, so that you obviously feel a difference between one mode and another, then it settles down. There’s so much ride quality to spare in Comfort that the other two don’t ruin the suppleness, though there are roads on which you wouldn’t choose to use them.
Then, body control is so good in Comfort that there aren’t that many times you’d think it needs to be hugely tighter. For a 1900kg car, the DB11’s bump absorption, yet ability to remain composed over lumps, bumps and crests is really outstanding. Sure, sometimes in its softest mode you start to think ‘A-ha, finally, it’s starting to run out of ideas’, but then you look at the speedo and realise that at that speed little this side of a McLaren 650S would have any ideas left. A Bentley Continental GT would still be wondering what the last crest had done to it by the time a DB11 had long forgotten about it and be dealing with the next set of inputs.
The agility, for a 2+2, 1900kg, V12-engined car is truly outstanding. Aston has wound up the steering’s speed, not quite to Ferrari levels, thankfully, but it’s still quite quick, which makes the Aston turn with enthusiasm. There’s less need to get the nose planted like there is in today’s other V12-engined Aston Martins, before the front is happy to turn. You just flick the lightish, accurate steering towards a corner and the DB11 follows. Is there less road feel than in, say, a V12 Vantage S? I don’t doubt it, but you do get subtle messages, and far less kickback – only the odd nibble here and there that’s barely worth mentioning. This is the GT, remember – it’s not supposed to be brimming with feedback, but amiable and, on a motorway, stable for hours on end. And it is.
Do make no mistake, though; it is still chuffing fast. If it’s wet, as it was for a few miles of our test, the DB11 will trouble the traction control in just about any gear at all. Oh, sure, there’s a bit of turbo lag at low revs – there are two turbos, after all. But this donkey makes 516lb ft from 1500rpm. If for a nanosecond it’s only making 300lb ft, well, that’s no big deal. And it’ll rev out cleanly and purposefully, should you ask, which you probably will, because it’s quite addictive, and yet it still sounds like a large capacity V12, and at this point you’re going quite fast but the chassis allows it because it’s got the capability in hand. It’s so trustworthy, and so docile near the limit, and it rides, and it’s so agile, and it just does so many things that it’s all rather overwhelming. Here is a car with 90% of the agility of a McLaren 650S or Ferrari 488 GTB and 90% of the ride quality of an S-Class and both of those things should be incompatible with its kerb weight. How, exactly, have they done this?
If there is a GT car with a better chassis, I have not driven it. There are GT cars with better engines, with no turbos, but this V12 is – really – extremely lovely. There are, perhaps, GT cars with some more pleasing interior elements but again, if you are complaining about this one, you’re perhaps quite curmudgeonly. Are there other things to complain about? Maybe. One test car we tried had a bit of wind noise, another did not but had a notable, but not deal-breaking amount of road noise; these are late pre-production cars. Andy Palmer says he’ll personally sign off the first 1000 customer cars which, on top of what else he has to do, means he’s going to be quite busy. On this showing, everybody at Aston will be.
Aston Martin DB11
Location Italy; Price: £154,900 Engine V12, 5204cc, twin-turbo petrol; Power 600bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 516lb ft at 1500-5000rpm;Gearbox Eight-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1900kg (approx); Top speed 200mph; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Economy tbc; CO2/tax band tbc / 37%; Rivals: Bentley Continental GT; McLaren 570S