We had reservations about dropping a V8 into an Aston Martin DB11, but believe us, this is the better driver's car.
They say, less is more. Well, that’s what we were hoping when we got the launch invite for a new Aston Martin DB11 variant, because for the first time in nearly 50 years, there’s a V8 under the bonnet.
But not just any V8, because in another milestone moment, Aston’s relationship with Mercedes-AMG has delivered AMG’s potent 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, which the company says, has been tuned to deliver the right level of performance, as well as that unique Aston sound, befitting of an Aston Martin grand tourer with a bit of attitude.
In all honesty, though, we flew to Catalonia, in northern Spain, carrying not only our bags, but also, a fair degree of trepidation that such a move would only serve to undermine the iconic ‘DB’ badge, given its decades-old addiction to V12 power.
After all, in markets like Australia, where the cost differential between the V12 and V8 versions is just 27 grand, you’ve got to ask yourself, why anyone would bother? But in tax-sensitive places like China and Singapore where there exist heavy penalties for big engine brutes, the difference could be as much several hundred thousand dollars.
But, actually, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to it than that, and believe it or not, it’s less about outright power and torque, and more about driver engagement and vehicle dynamics. Not quite as we thought, then.
Drill down into the performance figures and you’ll very quickly realise that there’s very little in it, at least, when it comes to outright acceleration. The 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12, which boasts 447kW and 700Nm, claims the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.9 seconds, while the V8 version makes 375kW and 675Nm, and is good for four seconds flat.
Like I said, not much in it.
But, there’s a lot more to it than that, too. For starters, that donor engine from AMG isn’t just a plug and play thing, either, it’s been well and truly ‘Aston-ised’.
It’s essentially the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 out of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, though in the DB11 it produces 375kW of power and 675Nm of torque, whereas in the Benz, it develops the same power, but torque jumps to 700Nm.
Critically, the sump is different on the new Aston, too, far shallower than that in the C63 S, allowing the engine to sit lower in the engine bay, along with 115kg less weight up front compared to the DB11 V12. Importantly, mass distribution has shifted from 51 per cent front, 49 per cent rear – to 49 per cent front, 51 per cent rear, making for a wonderfully involving experience behind the wheel – more on that soon.
Aston has used its own engine management system, too. It’s a Bosch engine controller, but with combined Aston Martin/Bosch software, and a dedicated AM wiring harness, rather than a direct AMG lift.
And, thankfully, after many hours of tuning, along with a fair degree of in-house audio wizardry, the exhaust note is all Aston. Apparently, it’s not an exact science, so the engineers told us.
After studying the sound frequency graphs of the AMG GT S, which delivers the bulk of its base sound below 300Hz, Aston went the other way for the DB11 V8, by taking out much of that low-range bass noise out, and putting into the mid-range frequencies, which is why this thing sounds so different from the Benz.
The unique Aston noise is more or less down to the bespoke exhaust system and the unique way the engineers have dealt with the exhaust gasses, which are in turn, governed by the black magic that goes on inside the muffler unit. But whatever it is, it sure has worked, because, to this tester, it’s one of the car’s most defining features – but, then again, there are a lot of those on this car.
At the launch site, the PR team had placed a V12 and V8 next to each other, and frankly, you’d need a keen eye to spot the differences between the two versions, and what there is, is all up front.
The V8 is missing the two centre-mounted bonnet vents. Apparently, it doesn’t need them, because there are ducts that blow air over the turbos to help keep the temperatures down.
We like the dark headlamp bezels, too, and the black, non-machined grille blades on this particular car, it makes for an altogether tougher look, which boded well for the first time we fired up the new V8.
While it doesn’t quite announce itself with the same number of decibels as the V12 belts out, it’s a less-cultured, dirtier sound, like a public-school bully making a name for himself on his first day at the Harrow School.
Even in the least manic GT mode, there’s still a good noise when you punch it, and plenty of that heard inside the cabin. But, dial it up in either Sport and Sport + settings, and the volume rises by around 10 per cent, more than enough to satisfy even the would-be race drivers amongst us.
Mind, listen carefully enough, and there’s still an underlying refinement to the sound, but at full tilt across up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it’s loud, and there’s plenty of booming bass in there to make your presence known up there in these parts. Best of all, it sounds like an Aston Martin.
There’s a smidgen of lag down low, though less than I recall in the C63 S, but once you hit a couple of thousand revs, the DB11 feels positively potent under full throttle, perhaps even more than the figures suggest. Either way, it’s bloody quick, and in perfect balance with the DB11’s newfound character.
Keep it pinned, and you’ll be hurtling along at well over two ton before you know it. That’s when you’ll really appreciate the turbos and their penchant for what seems like limitless pull, but without even the slightest effect on the exhaust note – it just gets louder and more visceral.
The eight-speed ZF auto seems to work even better in the V8. The shifts seem faster and more responsive, but still with that customary refinement of the ZF ’box. I can’t imagine any other transmission in this car, certainly not a dual-clutch unit.
Interestingly, feedback from V12 owners suggested the paddle-shift travel be reduced, which it has – by 50 per cent, and certainly you’re acutely aware of that in Sports +, when going back and forth from second to third, as the whole shift process feels more spontaneous.
But, it’s not just the kind of pace that’s possible that excites, the handling and ride package is sublime. It only takes a couple of turns, before you start telling yourself (and your colleague in the passenger seat) just how good this thing does corners and how you would choose it over the V12 in a heartbeat.
It’s still a GT at heart, but the V8 offers a more driver-connected experience behind the wheel. Why? Principally, because you’ve got a lot less mass to contend with on turn-in, so sharpness and response feel significantly amplified.
You can throw this car from corner to corner, and the only thing holding it back will be your ability to react as a driver. The EPAS (Electric Power Assisted Steering) is exceptional, for its speed, accuracy, weighting, and feedback – all of it in perfect harmony.
And, it’s not just the quick stuff that you’ll enjoy with this new DB11. Hour-long stints on a six-lane autopista in Spain are a breeze – fun even, because you’ll barely need to adjust the steering wheel, so perfect is the on-centre tune and weighting.
This is a car that encourages the very best from a driver; push as hard you want, and it responds to the driver’s every demand – now I’m starting to think it’s one part GT, and one part pure sports car.
It’s the combination of the near-perfect weight distribution and the V8’s finely-tuned suspension; incorporating a number of changes that have only enhanced body control. Funny, I can’t recall one instance during several sustained flat-out stints across some very demanding sections, where I ever felt the car needed more, or better of anything. And believe me, we were pushing.
These were detailed changes the engineers made. For instance, they recognised there was a little bit of yaw overshoot from the rear axle on the V12, so, to compensate, they added stiffer rear subframe bushes to the V8, as well as adding a stiffer rear upper control arm, for improved lateral stability – of which there is plenty.
And again, it’s not just the flat cornering Aston Martin's managed to get right; over several hundred kays we got the chance to put ride comfort to the test over some fairly ordinary surfaces – much of that being coarse chip with battered edges, and not once did suspension compliance ever falter in terms of ride comfort.
If anything, I would have said (and did say to Paul Barritt – vehicle line director, Aston Martin) the V8 could benefit from an even stiffer suspension setting to match the car’s holistic chassis setup. A level of stiffness beyond Sport +, which still offered way too good a ride for a car with this much dynamic talent.
That includes the phenomenal grip from the bespoke S007-coded 20-inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres. Granted, there’s a decently-wide footprint from the 295s down back and 255s up front, but we simply weren’t expecting to be able to get back on the throttle so early on the exits, as was possible on the test route, yet all the while providing generous ride comfort over seemingly any surface. Better still, even mid-corner bumps don’t seem to upset the car’s ability to the power down early.
Aston, says the brake balance was optimised on the V8 for a, ‘sportier characteristic’ – we’re not so sure. They’ve also reduced the brake piston size, and the brake vacuum is engine-driven on the V8, rather than an electronic vacuum pump used on the V12.
In fact, if there was a chink in the DB11 V8’s enviable armour, it appeared to be the brakes, at least on our car, though again, we were certainly inflicting some extraordinary abuse on them. We eventually lost some brake pedal, though, it eventually recovered, but only after we backed off, but still a bit disconcerting at the time.
That said, we came to Spain expecting the worst, given we had become so used to Aston Martin’s flagship models armed with V12 engines.
But these are two entirely different cars for two entirely different buyers, which should only serve to broaden the brand’s growing customer base.
Cashed-up grandads and chairmen of the board will still find the silky-smooth DB11 V12 to be an exciting and well-rounded grand tourer. The same goes for gentlemen drivers and discerning country club members. It’s a car that offers stunning looks and craftsmanship, as well as an intoxicating sound and bucket loads of pace.
But genuine enthusiasts will buy the V8. Not for the money, mind, but for its sheer dynamic talent and more extroverted personality, because this is the car that doubles as a great GT during the week, and an accomplished high-performance sports car on the weekend.
More importantly, it’s an Aston Martin.
And, there’s nothing wrong with the sound, either. We like that dirty, bad-boy V8 bark in a British luxury marque, isn’t that what the Bond character is all about?
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