As­ton Martin DBX

There’s a lot rid­ing on the suc­cess of the DBX. Thank­fully, it’s a fab­u­lous first stab at an SUV

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By: Mike Duff

Price: R3 899 000 Engine: 4,0-litre, V8, twin­turbo-petrol Trans­mis­sion: 9-speed au­to­matic Power: 405 kw @ 6 500 r/min Torque: 700 N.m @ 2 200-5 000 r/min 0-100 km/h: 4,5 sec­onds* Top speed: 291 km/h* Fuel con­sump­tion: 14,3 L/100 km* CO2: 269 g/km Ri­vals: Bent­ley Ben­tayga; Lam­borgh­ini Urus

No great sports movie is com­plete with­out a last­ditch vic­tory; the one that comes as hope is fad­ing and view‐ ers are steeled for no­ble de­feat rather than redemp­tive tri­umph. Then the longed-for goal, point, try or run ar­rives in the nick of time, vic­tory is snatched from the jaws of de­feat and the au­di­ence has tears in its eyes. But does the new DBX rep­re­sent fi­nal gasp sal‐ va­tion for As­ton Martin, or is this go­ing to be an­other in a long se­ries of missed op­por­tu­ni­ties?

There isn’t room here to list the soap opera of As­ton’s slid­ing for‐ tunes over the last couple of years. Even be­fore the corona cri­sis ar‐ rived, sales were slow­ing and losses mount­ing. The de­cline re‐ flected in the brand’s de­creased share price, now 90% lower than it was at the time of its IPO in Octo‐ ber 2018. More re­cently, the com‐ pany lost CEO Andy Palmer – who is be­ing re­placed by AMG’S To­bias Mo­ers – and has even warned about the risk of run­ning out of cash and go­ing bank­rupt.

Which is why the DBX needs to be a win­ner. Palmer or­dered the de­vel­op­ment of As­ton’s first SUV within days of tak­ing con­trol of the com­pany in 2014. Since then, it’s been leapfrogge­d by a trio of other ul­tra-lux­ury off-road­ers – the Bent­ley Ben­tayga, Rolls-royce Cul­li­nan and Lam­borgh­ini Urus – largely be­cause As­ton de­lib­er­ately chose a hard route to cre­ate it. Rather than try to share a plat‐ form with tech­ni­cal part­ner Daim­ler, which al­ready builds sev‐

eral mega-fast SUVS, As­ton took on the ex­tra trou­ble and ex­pense of cre­at­ing an all-new bonded alu‐ minium plat­form to un­der­pin the DBX and an all-new fac­tory at St Athan in Wales to build it. The al‐ liance with Daim­ler was called upon but only for the DBX’S pow­er­plant, the same AMG 4,0litre V8 that pow­ers the Van­tage and DB11 and, less sex­ily, the As‐ ton’s elec­tri­cal ar­chi­tec­ture.

Do­ing this gave As­ton’s de­sign‐ ers and en­gi­neers a huge amount of free­dom, some­thing they have taken full advantage of. The Urus and Ben­tayga as well as the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7/Q8 all use a com­mon set of “hard‐ points” that they must ac­com‐ mo­date. The DBX doesn’t need to make such com­pro­mises, some‐ thing that is ev­i­dent in both its el‐ egant pro­por­tions (shorter than the Bent­ley and Lam­borgh­ini but with a longer wheel­base) and in the car’s 2 245 kg mass. De­sign in‐ cor­po­rates a fair amount of vis­ual DNA from else­where in the range. There’s no doubt you’re look­ing at an As­ton Martin but it ap­pears svelte and sleek by the stan­dards of its hulk­ing ri­vals.

As­ton has taken a sim­i­lar ap‐ proach in the cabin, with a de­sign that is meant to make it feel closer to a sportscar than an SUV. There are lots of curv­ing, or­ganic shapes and, from the driver’s seat, the view is pretty sim­i­lar to the one in a DB11, al­though with a much higher eye­line. The DBX gets di‐ gi­tal in­stru­ments as stan­dard – a first for As­ton – as well as a 12,3inch screen in the cen­tre of the dash­board. The first big sur­prise is that this isn’t touch sen­si­tive. The As­ton is run­ning Merc’s last-gener‐ ation STAR 2.3 in­fo­tain­ment sys‐ tem so in­puts still need to be made through the la­bo­ri­ous click-and­turn wheel. Al­though spa­cious and well fin­ished, with plenty of room in the back for adults, the DBX is short on the sort of bling and con‐ spic­u­ous tech which many buy­ers in this part of the mar­ket en­joy. It doesn’t get ro­tat­ing screens, ges‐ ture con­trols or multi-con­fig­urable in­te­rior light­ing.

Yet, soon af­ter you set off, criti‐ cism dries up. As­ton’s so­cially dis‐ tanced-com­pli­ant launch be­gan with driv­ing off-road and on track at Sil­ver­stone, fol­lowed by an un‐ re­stricted op­por­tu­nity to drive as far as I liked within the UK dur­ing the fol­low­ing 24 hours. Mud-plug‐ ging felt like the nov­elty it doubt‐ less will be for any DBX; it’s as tal‐ ented as it will ever need to be away from the tar­mac. The

190 mm ride height can be in‐ creased by up to 45 mm in Ter­rain Plus mode thanks to the stan­dard adap­tive air sus­pen­sion. The As­ton proved adept at scram­bling over mod­est ob­sta­cles and up and down slip­pery gra­di­ents, with­out un­due drama or ex­pen­sive noises from the un­der­side.

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+ drives as well as it looks less re­fined than some lux­ury SUVS

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