Civic leaves tarmac, Peugeot 3008 – European Car of the Year, no less – arrives
Aston’s Paul Barritt says his development team ‘focused on more mid-range frequency and top end, with a more cultured, more European sound’ than the AMG applications. Perhaps it’s a happy accident, perhaps it’s the exhaust and ECU tuning, but it’s startling just how closely related this V8 feels to the V12. A year since I drove the V12, I’d also swear the V8 seems hungrier under full throttle from low revs.
There’s more good news too: the V8’s price drops by £13k to £144,900 versus a V12, fuel efficiency rises by 4.5mpg to 28.5mpg, emissions drop 40g/km to 230g/km CO2, and the performance isn’t lacking: the V8 makes 503bhp and 498lb ft, compared with 600bhp and 516lb ft for the V12. The smaller engine also contributes to around 100kg of the 115kg overall lower kerbweight, reducing the aluminium GT to a still-sizeable 1760kg. The weight reduction not only bodes well for agility, it also makes the V8 just 34bhp-per-tonne shy of the V12, and actually 8lb ft-per-tonne richer.
The 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza rubber carries over from the V12, but there are chassis tweaks to capitalise on the weight loss, and to position the V8 as a sportier, more driver-focused proposition, where the V12 is an intercontinental missile. Chief engineer Matt Becker says his team has responded to feedback that the DB11’s electrically assisted steering was too light, a characteristic he prefers and something that never bothered me. You notice the extra effort that’s required to tease the steering off-centre, and that chunkiness persists and builds as you load up the front tyres. I like it – it makes for reassuring feedback, and does provide a sense of accuracy and consistency, but the feel is a little synthetic.
Aided by the weight loss, the steering is also swifter to respond, with the DB11 swivelling around its centre point more aggressively than the already pretty punchy V12. The smaller engine being pushed further back in the chassis is a factor – the weight distribution swaps from the V12’s 51:49 front-to-rear to 49:51 – but it’s also because there are new, stiffer bushings on the rear axle, putting a super-fast broadband connection between your steering message and the rear axle’s inbox. ‘It wakes the steering up,’ explains Becker.
The front springs are softer but there’s less weight, enabling the ride quality to be preserved. The damping feels significantly tighter, with an underlying restless edge that’s noticeable even on a motorway. It’s far from uncomfortable, and the DB11 still wafts over crests and through compressions with a relaxed gait, but the keener steering and firmer-feeling chassis add a more ruthless attitude to this V8 upstart. Cycle up through Sport and Sport Plus settings and there are more pronounced characteristics to each step too: I remember the V12’s Sport Plus mode feeling useable for fast cross-country blats, but the V8’s is more track-biased; nothing wrong with that, that’s the point of having different chassis modes after all.
We drove on twisting back roads and motorways north of Barcelona, but persistent rainfall gave the dust-baked surface all the adhesion of butter on a hot stove. Naturally, this made it tricky to work the tyres really hard and get a proper feel for body roll and traction, but the rear tyres would quickly catherine wheel if you didn’t short-shift. But this much is clear: the V8
DB11 chassis set-up underlines the impression that this is the more driver-focused car.
Not everything does, though. The brake calipers’ pistons are a little smaller, which should boost response at the top of the pedal. Our car’s pedal felt a little soft, but that could be because it’s spent its entire life being thrashed by journalists; carbon-ceramic discs aren’t on the menu. The gearbox also leaves room for improvement. It’s an eight-speed ZF automatic, laid out in a transaxle arrangement (integrated with the rear axle, not bolted to the back of the engine). Compared with the V12, it gets its own tune and pressure calibration. It’s smooth and swift enough, but there’s always a little fuzz to the gear engagement, even when you progress up through the powertrain modes. You’re treated to more of that lovely V8 bass from Sport mode and upwards, so it’d be logical to have crisper gear engagement to increase driver involvement too. Higher quality shift paddles would help aesthetics and interaction alike.
Outside and in, the V8 DB11 looks as enticing as the V12, with its elegant design and an interior that’s a giant stride ahead of its DB9 predecessor. The one big flaw lies with the seats, with headrests like limestone, a complete lack of under-thigh support and only average lateral support: a gnome perched on a decorative toadstool would feel more securely located than a DB11 pilot in a bit of a hurry.
But despite these criticisms, the V8 DB11 is an extremely satisfying GT, and the case for buying one with a Mercedes V8 is so compelling, it risks undermining Aston’s own V12. Maybe you simply can’t countenance a big Aston without a big V12 but dropping four cylinders makes the DB11 more affordable, more agile and more efficient too. That it still sounds and goes like an Aston makes it hard not to declare this the pick of the range. All of which raises the question of just how fantastic it’d feel with 604bhp and 612lb ft of AMG E63 S V8 bolted in.
Interior, shared with the V12, is much better than the DB9’s, although seats are too hard
E63 S would slot in just as neatly…
Switching between modes makes a real dierence to the driving experience: it can be GT or track focused
DB11 V8 a lot of fun on a rare dry stretch. Heavier steering feels right on the V8