Talked up by brand CEO, Andy Palmer, as the most important car in the company’s 103-year history, Aston Martin has gone all out with the new DB11. Has it paid off?
It’s funny how it takes a new arrival to make something seem really old. I remember the DB9 launching, and of course, in a vague sort of way, I’m aware that some time has passed since then. But it wasn’t until I arrived at a palatial Italian villa in the very heart of Tuscany, and saw an original DB9 parked next to its successor, that those 13 years really hit home.
The DB9 aged so gracefully because it was a fine piece of design – one of the best-looking cars this side of the millennium – and because it ushered in a design language that spread across Aston Martin’s entire range. We come to Aston Martin at another such formative point; under new CEO Dr Andy Palmer a new generation of cars is being born, and the DB11 is number one.
Big shoes then. You only need to look at the DB11 to realise that it’s not short on confidence. Neither is Palmer, nor the rest of his team. I mean, for one thing, we’re giving it the runabout in central Italy – Modena itself is just half a fuel tank away.
So what’s the DB11 brief? It’s got to set the tone for the next six years of AM. It’s got to pick up where a much-loved line leaves off, and show us how much more there is to come from a company that is already enjoying a pretty positive patch. Oh, and it will also serve to introduce turbocharged engines to Gaydon – something the brand is committed to across the board as it plans its next generation of cars.
You only need to look at the DB11 to realise that it’s not short on confidence. Neither is Palmer
All of this was on my mind as I nosed down the twisted track from our villa. It’s a lot of pressure, but the first impressions are of a car more than equal to the expectation. With a new infotainment system (nabbed from Mercedes, so you know it works), things inside the cabin are slicker than ever – although the central console could still lose at least a third of its buttons.
As an Aston Martin, it is by definition a tasteful place to be sitting, but the devotion to customisation means it’s down to you where your DB11 sits on the spectrum from Cheshire to Chesterfield. Luckily, you can’t do too much to mess with the outer looks. It’s a whole lot more muscular and aggressive than the DB9 (like going from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig, if you will), with that big front grille and tighter creases that flow all the way back to the rear aeroblade spoiler. Later, as sultry clouds massed for a summer storm, it looked positively devilish.
So perhaps it’s odd that the first thing you notice about the driving is that the ride is a lot smoother. A lot. It’s a grand tourer that you really want to do a grand tour in; but it’s also a lot sportier than its rivals. Ferrari has recently pepped up the California T with a Handling Pack, but I’d wager it’s still woollier than this Aston, while the Bentley Continental GT V8 S, which I happened to be driving the week after I drove the DB11, is a rival in initials only.
It’s a grand tourer that you really want to do a grand tour in; but it’s also a lot sportier than its rivals
With every top-line carmaker accepting that turbocharging is the only way to be fast, petrol-powered and law-abiding (ok, not every carmaker – Lamborghini will get there in its own time), we are seeing very rapid improvements in what that means for an engine.
In terms of lag, you really wouldn’t know this V12 was aided by blowers, and you wouldn’t necessarily guess it from the noise either. The old V12, still found in the Rapide or Vanquish, makes a simply gorgeous, guttural sound but this new unit has character all of its own. Like the rest of the car, it’s got more of an edge – almost a rasp, as you rise up the revs – but purists shouldn’t worry. You’ll be too busy having fun, in any case, because what really does mark the DB11 as a modern turbo supercar is the ready availability of torque.
More than once I gave it a spurt to overtake and the gearbox would drop to maybe fifth, if I was lucky. Take it by the scruff of the neck, though, and it’s very willing. It wants to rev – the redline arrives at 7,000, only 200 rpm below the old V12 – and there’s great feel from the steering. Aston made a point of quickening up the steering ratio (in their own words, close to Ferrari 458 territory), and it shows. We ate up Tuscany’s backroads like hungry, hungry men.
Oddly, this only served to give us an appetite. And so we drove and we drove. It may have been our eagerness to make the best of the terrain, but it felt like the DB11 was its truest self left in Sports Plus – pushing on, dashboard doing its red mist bit, using as much of the 600 horsepower as we dared. If it’s true that the DB line has always had something of a brute-in-a-suit character, this one really struggles to keep its tie on.
Maximum power: 447kW (600 bhp / 608 PS) at 6500 rpm
Maximum torque: 700 Nm (516 lb ft) from 1500 rpm
Acceleration: 0 - 62 mph (0 -100 km/h) in 3.9 seconds
Maximum Speed: 200 mph (322 km/h)