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- Brian harper in Nurburg, Germany

It’s like dying and going to heaven. Only, upon rolling up to the Pearly Gates, there’s a sign posted that reads “closed for renovation­s.” Here I am, at the newly opened, Nürburgrin­g based AMR Performanc­e Centre, spitting distance from what is arguably the most famous race circuit in the world. Not only that, I’ve just been handed the key fob to the DB11 AMR, the fastest production car Aston Martin has ever built, powered by a thundering 630-horsepower, twin-turbocharg­ed 5.2-L V12 mated to a rear-mid-mounted eight-speed automatic.

But, will I be allowed to exercise the beast, to explore even a modest fraction of the car’s humongous potential on any portion of the Nordschlei­fe’s 20.8-km length? That would be an emphatic No! It’s the roads bisecting the verdant, rolling terrain around the countrysid­e, or nothing. Quel bummer!

As the replacemen­t for the outgoing V12-powered DB11 — no shrinking violet in the world of high-performanc­e, big-buck GT cars itself — the DB11 AMR ramps up the race-inspired dynamism, starting with more horsepower (up 30 hp compared with the DB11 V12, and 127 hp more than the V8-engined DB11), better handling and a bunch of exterior and interior enhancemen­ts. Aston Martin builds the prettiest classic sports cars in the world (by “classic” I mean front engine, rear-wheel drive, with a long streamline­d hood and tight, shapely rump). In the quest for speed and accelerati­on, though, the DB11 AMR loses a smidgen of its debonair reputation courtesy of its cosmetic makeover.

The runway model goes “Goth lite,” with exposed carbon fibre and gloss black detailing. On the outside all shiny bits have been given a monochrome treatment: dark headlight surrounds and smoked tail lamps complement­ed by dark front grille and tailpipes; gloss black roof, roof strake plus side sills and splitter contrastin­g with the exposed weave of the carbon-fibre hood blades and side strakes. Inside, door panels, vents and trim surrounds are all the black lightweigh­t material. The problem is, the real stuff doesn’t look any better than the fake stuff, which tends to cheapen the cabin of what is otherwise a very expensive car. The same could be said of the primary instrument­ation. What used to be a highlight of Aston Martin luxury in past models looks decidedly ordinary. At least the leather and Alcantara seats, contoured to coddle one’s backside in all the right places, have the smell of money. As for the bold central lime stripe in the roof liner and on the seats, the jury’s out.

Any quibbles regarding the cabin — which, despite having vestigial rear seats, should be considered personal transit for two — are banished the instant the gas pedal is given a tickle. Aston Martin claims a zeroto-100-km/h time of just 3.7 seconds, an improvemen­t of 0.2 seconds over the outgoing model. Top speed is a reported 334 km/h. Despite the explosive power, though, the DB11 AMR is not a race car. No, Aston Martin Racing campaigns normally aspirated V12- and V8-powered Vantages in the higher echelons of motorsport. The DB11 AMR is merely a bloody quick, $289,200 (to start), 2+2 gran turismo, “the consummate GT,” according to Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s chief executive.

OK, so the sports car won’t ever defend the marque’s honour on the world’s race circuits — at least not in any official capacity. For mere mortals, if not the top hot shoes, it’s still a hoot-and-ahalf to drive. The day’s route took us through the undulating Eifel countrysid­e, primarily on back roads connecting small towns. The beautifull­y maintained tarmac was a series of short straights, fast sweepers and tight hairpins, which were attacked, as often as was prudent, with gleeful abandon — especially the sweepers, which seemed exactly right in the Aston’s wheelhouse. For a heavy car — curb weight is 1,875 kilograms — the AMR is remarkably nimble. The meaty Bridgeston­e rubber — P255/40ZR20s up front, P295/35ZR20s at the back — gets some of the credit. The chassis has also been refined, Aston Martin’s dynamics team delivering a greater sense of connection without adversely affecting the coddling ride.

As for the sound blasting from the dual exhausts — if there is a more joyful noise emanating from an engine other than a V12, I don’t want to know it, especially when Sport or Sport+ modes are engaged. And the crackles and pops when backing off the gas are a mechanical symphony one can enjoy all day long. (Enjoy it while you can; 12-cylinder motors are an endangered species.)

The DB11 AMR hangs with rarefied company. Forget mid-engine sports cars; they all begin to look the same after a while — especially at speed. I’m talking the crème de la crème of the fast and furious, exotically priced, classicall­y styled grand tourers — consider the Ferrari 812 Superfast, the Mercedes AMG GT R, even the Bentley Continenta­l GT. (I might even include the Porsche 911 GT2 RS were I feeling open to a liberal interpreta­tion.)

Now, should you find a stunning, $289,200 grand tourer still too déclassé to be seen in, Aston Martin will happily charge you more for one of three Designer Specificat­ions, plus a “halo” limitededi­tion (100 units worldwide) $324,000 Signature model sporting AMR’s signature Stirling Green and lime livery. With extensive carbonfibr­e detailing on the exterior, the inside is swathed in Dark Knight leather with lime coloured detailing, plus satin dark chrome switchgear and satin carbon-fibre trim. Personally, I thought it a little too boy racer for my tastes.

And, naturally, Aston Martin’s accessorie­s team have a full list of options for those looking to add further raceinspir­ed styling. For the exterior, these details include a carbon-fibre engine cover, exhaust tips and a deployable spoiler, while a new carbonfibr­e sports steering wheel and paddle shifts bring that same AMR ethos inside. And what would be a weekend jaunt to the countrysid­e without expertly tailored luggage sets matching the car’s specificat­ion?

Forget the fripperies. Even box stock, the DB11 AMR holds me captive, an intoxicati­ng blend of disparate elements resulting in mechanical excellence. If nothing else it’s a reminder we are looking at one of the last bastions of extreme personal transporta­tion, before soulless, electric-powered autonomous transport pods become the products of future automotive manufactur­ing.

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 ?? ASTON MARTIN / DRIVING.CA ?? A hoot-and-a-half to drive, the DB11 AMR can tackle short straights, fast sweepers and tight hairpins with ease.
ASTON MARTIN / DRIVING.CA A hoot-and-a-half to drive, the DB11 AMR can tackle short straights, fast sweepers and tight hairpins with ease.
 ??  ?? The interior of the 2019 DB11 AMR is swathed in Dark Knight leather with lime-coloured detailing.
The interior of the 2019 DB11 AMR is swathed in Dark Knight leather with lime-coloured detailing.

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