KEEPER OF THE FLAME
Matt Becker is the man charged with shaping the driving dynamics of a new generation of Astons
THEREWASANOTHER Aston present at our Goodwood ‘greatest’ gathering. As a consummate modern Grand Tourer, the DB11 didn’t fit the exacting brief of our cover story but, according to Aston Martin’s chief engineer, Matt Becker, it most definitely points to what we can expect from Gaydon’s next generation of drivers’ cars.
Architect and guardian of Aston’s ‘vehicle attributes’, Becker is the man with ultimate responsibility for shaping the character and capabilities of the DB11, the all-new Vantage replacement, the Vanquish successor and, yes, even the AM-RB 001. There’s no one better to explain what makes an Aston feel and perform like an Aston. Or how the DNA of a pure, analogue masterpiece like the DB4 GT can be preserved, translated and successfully applied to cars with an almost total reliance on electronics.
‘When I arrived here, Andy Palmer was very clear on the product objectives,’ he begins. ‘The first was that there should be a clear visual difference between the cars. The second that they drive like they look. That bit’s my job!
‘Fundamentally, we have a shared philosophy of what makes an Aston an Aston and we have confidence in the qualities and identity that this gives our products. It’s also about the skills we have within the company, and how we use the technology available to us. The brand is huge, but in the grand scheme of things Aston Martin is a small team of people doing big things. That means everyone is working flat-out, but it also means there’s a consistency and continuity between models, and indeed successive generations of model, that you can’t achieve in a huge
company with different teams working on different models. That’s why, whatever the development stage, we always make sure we have a GT, a “super GT” and a “sports” model to drive back-to-back to gauge whether we’re dialling-in enough differentiation between the cars.
‘With a GT car like the DB11 you don’t want to feel everything and you don’t want it to ask too many questions of you, because you want to be able to drive long distances and feel refreshed. With super-gt and sports cars, we dial more feel into them, because the drivers want to be more connected and to push harder to find the limits of grip.
‘The traditional way we achieve this is to look at bush stiffness, spring rates, damper rates, anti-roll bar contribution and tyres. Plus we now have the software that controls the damping, EPAS [electric power-assisted steering] and torque vectoring. We have all these tools that enable us to turn-up the feel factor so you get more information to your fingertips and seat of your pants.’
Becker acknowledges that if you make the car more communicative, then you inevitably sacrifice an element of comfort. ‘If you want to have less roll in a car you have to have higher spring stiffness and higher anti-roll bar stiffness,’ he says, ‘because at the end of the day you’re managing physics. If you chart the elements of handling and ride, handling will be improved and ride will be sacrificed. Today’s technology means we can cheat that to a degree, but it’s always a tug of war.
‘With cars like the DBX [Aston’s hybrid crossover] and AM-RB 001 hypercar, that tug of war is pulling Aston Martin in entirely new directions. How can you engineer Aston-ness into cars intended to exist way beyond the boundaries of what’s gone before?
‘The DBX is interesting, because the tech fitted to SUVS these days is industry-leading. You’ve got active differentials, proper torque-vectoring, active roll control, active rear-steer, hugely sophisticated active damping. It can’t overcome the physics of a heavy car with a high centre-of-gravity, but it can manage and mitigate it to the point where you can create a genuinely sporty car in a manner that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.
‘It’s very hard to compare different models across our range, but again, if you assume DB11 is a baseline, the Vanquish successor will be 20 per cent more sporty, the new Vantage 40 per cent more. The Vantage is a very different kind of car. Yes, it will share some fundamental underpinnings and architecture with DB11, but it will be a much smaller, more aggressive, more intense car, and tuned very differently.
‘We have a term called “roll-per- g”, which is how much roll angle you have per 1g of lateral acceleration. It’s a metric you can use for setting up spring-rates and anti-roll bar contribution. So DB11 is around 3deg-per- g, new Vanquish will be around 2.5deg and Vantage around 2.2g. Any reduction in roll-per- g means the car feels flatter, more agile and more responsive. The difference sounds small, but the cars will feel very different in character.
‘Vantage will have a solidly mounted rear subframe, whereas DB11 has an isolated rear frame for improved ride comfort and road isolation. So Vantage will have greater stiffness in the rear structure, so we can give it a faster steering response because the rear is more able to respond and react. It all helps create a truly agile, exciting car.’
Prior to his role at Aston Martin, Becker held the same position at Lotus, where he worked on pretty much every model, from S1 Elise to Evora, incuding the stillborn Esprit supercar, not to mention for many of Lotus Engineering’s clients. How did this prepare him for life at Aston?
‘I’ve always worked with the belief that you can get comfort and body control if you do things a certain way. That was the philosophy at Lotus. The cars are very different here at Aston Martin, but that goal of compliant ride and agile handling is equally valid. More so, probably.
‘If you speak to Adrian [Newey], he’ll tell you he tries to visualise airflow. Well, I suppose I try to do the same thing with how a car drives. Whenever I first think about a car, I have it in my head almost immediately how it should feel and behave. Then when I drive it I know straight away how close it is to achieving that. I drive development cars and feed back to the engineers exactly how I want it to feel. We’re a strong team. Well aligned on how Astons should feel, and totally focused on making cars that are all distinctly different characters, but all great to drive.’
It all points to a bright future. One filled with models that build on our expectations, alongside brave new genres that demonstrate the marque’s ability to move with the times. That product plan is sure to challenge a traditionalist view of what an Aston Martin should be, but, thanks to Becker, it seems Aston’s dynamic DNA is safe hands.