STILL BE­SOT­TED

WE ROAD-TEST AS­TON MARTIN’S NEW DB11

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words and Photos: Jac­qui Madelin

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.

Time­less form

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.

Beau­ti­fully crafted

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 …

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