WE ROAD-TEST ASTON MARTIN’S NEW DB11
It’s lucky that Aston Martin’s first DB model in 10 years has broad shoulders, as there’s quite a lot resting atop them. For the DB11 headlines the historic brand’s launch into another century, with seven all-new models expected, which is no doubt why new(ish) Aston boss Andy Palmer calls this the most important model in the brand’s 103-year history.
The car sits on a new aluminium platform that carries a suite of fresh-to-the-marque tech, like turbocharging and multi-link rear suspension. Aston’s designers have followed the same basic brushwork of old to deliver a recognizable and timeless form, with body panels in aluminium — bar the magnesium door frames, the plastic composite boot lid and quarter panels, and injection-moulded plastic for bumpers and sills.
As for the chassis beneath that sleek body — it’s 21kg lighter and 39 per cent stiffer than its predecessor. Not that the DB11 is lighter overall — the rear suspension and the motor alterations add weight, quite apart from the small increase in size.
The 48-valve engine is more or less the same structure as the 5.9-litre V12 powering its predecessor but now with a shorter stroke and, along with it, a smaller capacity — 5204cc. But those twin-turbos deliver 447kw and boost torque to 700Nm, available anywhere from 1500 and 5000rpm — while the DB9 delivered a comparatively paltry 619Nm at 5500rpm.
Must be thirsty, you say? There’s auto cylinder deactivation to try to curb that, though, frankly, if you’ve spent NZ$365K on your car, you’ll be less worried about the fuel bill than, presumably, the emissions and globalwarming effects of cutting your vehicle’s thirst. Claimed numbers are 11.4 litres per 100km — we logged 16 litres per 100km after a slightly countryside-heavy drive.
The car’s style has been pitched as a move away from the earlier Aston curves, but it’s just as graceful, just as elegant, and, though, yes, some of the design details are perhaps a little more aggressive, the overall effect is as timeless as it ever was.
We’re told that the aerodynamic details are genuinely useful, with air fed from the front wheel arches through the front wing vents to cut axle lift, and inlets in those C-pillars sending air through the rear wings and out via an Aeroblade spoiler. Which all sounds fabulous if you’re planning to race or, for that matter, indulge in low-level flights down some German autobahn. It’s slightly less useful in strictly speed-limited New Zealand, of course, unless you’re seeking boasting rights down at the yacht club after a few aggressive corporate takeovers.
What you will appreciate, wherever you go, is this interior. The narrower sills ease entry and egress; the wide, blade-like doors open lightly, and stay open at whatever angle you like; and the basic architecture is familiar — everything feels as beautifully crafted as you’d expect in a top-end car, which means that it’s nicer than before, and, as for those leather seats and the trim with this fabulous detail …
Yep, this is one gorgeous cabin, and allegedly a bit more practical. I’m told the rear seats are a whisker larger, and it’s true that this time I got in, and didn’t need assistance to uncork myself, but it was still sufficiently cramped that an adult (1.6m tall like myself) wouldn’t want to sit back there for much longer than it would take for a trip to the dairy. But boot space has nearly doubled, and it’ll now hold 270 litres — relatively useful in a car like this.
The relationship with Daimler is most obvious around the multimedia set-up, as nitpickers may recognize it as a reformed Comand Online system, but it’s very easy to use via a rotary wheel, thus avoiding the messy fingerprints that soon blight the look of any touchscreen.
Touching the edges
All this exploration was conducted while I got to work photographing the details — and fended off what seemed like multitudes of the curious springing from the shrubbery, having selected a secluded beach car park for this bit, assuming that I’d get some privacy. But soon I was at liberty to touch the edges of the performance — and I really do mean just the edges, for public roads to the west of Auckland city are not designed for top-speed shenanigans, even assuming they weren’t illegal.
Mind you, it rapidly became obvious just how fast this car is. Official figures suggest that it’ll sprint from zero to 96.5kph — or 60mph in the old money — in a brisk four seconds flat, and double that in 8.4 seconds. That’s a full second quicker to the open-road speed limit than its predecessor, and, believe me, it’s a little mind-bending to floor the go-pedal and feel that neck-straining surge while surrounded by such refined elegance — a bit like discovering the Duchess of Cornwall, in opening-of-parliament attire, rivalling Usain Bolt off the 100-metre line.
Better yet, the soundtrack is still as engaging as ever, perhaps not quite as basso as its predecessor, but no less beautiful — and still quintessentially an Aston V12. It felt as relaxed at cruise as you’d want, too, and, in real-world terms, as responsive in auto as in manual mode — or almost: I will never quite get used to the feeling of disengagement one gets when not manually choosing the gears, however efficient the system replacing my dancing hands and feet.
As for handling, GT cars have always aimed at what must, at times, seem an impossible compromise — continenteating comfort and refinement, while having the ability to get up and boogie like an out-and-out performance car, and the overall balance is generally weighted towards speed and refinement and, of course, ride comfort.
You can choose GT, Sport, or Sport+ modes, and each of them firms the adaptive dampers, which seemed remarkably able at absorbing west-coast-road bumps without compromising body control. But, on our roads, GT seemed
Everything feels as beautifully crafted as you’d expect in a top-end car, which means that it’s nicer than before, and, as for those leather seats and the trim with this fabulous detail …
to deliver the best all-round response — the car felt flat through corners, and, though steering feel was a whisker light, which wasn’t unexpected given the electromagnetic tech, it seemed precise enough.
That said, we never achieved the sort of speeds likely to truly put the car to the test, being without a circuit and within a limited timeframe on a legal road.
I must confess that I have a soft spot for Astons that has nothing to do with James Bond, or a lingering and perhaps unhealthy fondness for Daniel Craig looking his most dangerous. But it does have everything to do with Aston’s ability to pen an elegant line that promises speed; craft an opulent cabin that still boasts purpose; and build a car that feels both quick and engaging, and sounds every bit the thoroughbred the marque name promises.
This latest version may have been regulated into a relative taming of that once-feral V12, and some might prefer a more radical change in look, but I’m still besotted. Now where’s that invitation to sample this car on the track? No doubt it got lost in the (snail) mail …