Aston's all-new DB11 is simply stunning and with a new turbocharged 5.2-litre V12, we find out what it's like to drive in Italy.
Stunning, isn’t it? But mere photographs simply don’t do the all-new Aston Martin DB11 justice – on the street, even at a distance, this automotive artwork paints a picture of must-have desirability and near-perfect proportions.
Compared to the aging DB9, it looks to have moved two to three generations ahead, yet it’s still unmistakably on-brand.
The last time we got up close and personal with the DB11 was in outback Australia in a prototype covered in a camouflaged wrap, which was a bit like looking at Miranda Kerr in overalls.
Well the wrap is off and this time we’re in Italy (Tuscany, to be precise). More importantly, for the first time it will be me behind the wheel of the DB11, instead of the climate control engineers.
Not for a decade or more has there been such a defining launch for this storied British luxury sports car manufacturer, which just happens to be celebrating 103 years in business this year. Over that period Aston Martin has produced a total of around 80,000 cars, about the same number Toyota builds in three days.
It’s a mind-blowing analogy that speaks volumes to the kind of rarity afforded to Aston owners over the years. But in an industry that boasts an annual production of 85 million cars, it’s a fractional slice of the market any way you cut it, though the company claims a staggering 95 per cent of all Aston Martins are still in existence because few, if any, are ever scrapped.
All that could be about to change, as Aston Martin enters what could be the brand’s most successful period ever – and it all starts with the DB11, the replacement for the iconic DB9. It’s a clean-sheet design that boasts Aston’s very own turbocharged V12 engine, as well as its own brand-new platform and upper body design.
It’s a crucially important car for Aston Martin, not just because it’s the first brand new model for the badge in some time, but because it is effectively the trigger for a product pipeline that will see the company deliver seven new cars in seven years, commencing with this one.
Currently, Aston Martin has a four model line-up; Vantage, DB11, Vanquish and Rapide. But over the next few years – a period which Aston’s can-do CEO Andy Palmer has labelled the “Second Century Plan” – the company will produce new-generation versions of all its current models, as well as introducing brand new models like the DBX crossover, which will go into production in 2019 at a second manufacturing facility at St Athan, in South Wales.
Aston builds around 3000 cars a year, though production capacity is more like 7000, which effectively sets the size of the Aston’s core sports car business. Additional sales will come from the DBX (think more than one Aston Martin crossover) and ultimately, Lagonda – a super high-end luxury four-door sedan that will be positioned between brands like Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
But for now it’s all about the DB11, and what a stunner it is, too. Part evolution and part revolution, it’s the first time Aston has moved away from its decade-old VH architecture that still sits within the Vantage, Vanquish and Rapide models. Key benefits of the new bonded aluminium platform that incorporates mostly pressings and mouldings is that it’s 39 kilograms lighter, and critically for driving dynamics, it’s 25 per cent stiffer than the outgoing DB9 GT.
There’s a big customer benefit, too. By moving away from extrusions and going to more pressings, the DB11 gets more room on the inside (a request from DB9 owners) without adding substantially to the car’s exterior dimensions. So it’s an airier cabin with more seat travel than ever before, more legroom, more headroom and even better ingress and egress (getting in and out of the car).
Proportionally, it cuts a sleeker profile than the DB9, especially evident when blasting along a quiet Tuscan road for the very first time. That’ll be the longer wheelbase it sits on, but the DB11 is also wider and lower than its predecessor. The rear wheel arches are impossibly broad, yet elegant at the same time.
Chief Creative Officer and Design Director Marek Reichman and his team have seriously outdone themselves with this car. It’s a near perfect blend of function and form and there are no bad angles. None at all. And no longer are the signature Aston side strakes purely ornamental. Those on the DB11 serve a real purpose, allowing unwelcomed high-pressure air at the front of the car to escape, therefore making the car more stable at high speed – more on that later.
Even the arm plate supporting the wing mirrors act as a form of inverted wing, thereby producing a small amount of downforce as the airflow passes under and over the arm piece. They’re also beautifully fashioned – looking more concept than production in design.
By far the most effective aero feature on the DB11 are the so-called AeroBlades, which draw air in behind the C-pillars before channelling it down the side of the car and exiting through a vent behind the pop-up rear spoiler. Essentially, it’s a fast moving jet stream that creates significant downforce without the loss of drag.
Sitting at the heart of the DB11’s sub-frame is a brand new Aston Martin 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 powerhouse of an engine putting out a suitably healthy 447kW and 700Nm of torque. The figures say it will go from a standing start to 100km/h in 3.9 secs before topping out at 322km/h.
It’s quick, but not exactly benchmark stuff these days. Not when Ferrari’s naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V12 monster donk in its F12 Berlinetta develops a stratospheric 545kW and is capable of hitting 100km/h in a warp-like 3.1 seconds. Top speed is an eye-watering 340km/h.
When questioning the DB11’s performance credentials, Reichman is nonplussed in his response, “This is our new GT car and it makes 600 horsepower, so what do think the next-generation Vanquish will develop?"
I, for one, can’t wait.
Aston’s new turbo-powered unit is also a clean and efficient engine incorporating stop/start technology and what Aston calls intelligent bank activation, or what other manufacturers refer to as cylinder shut off. Once the car is up and running at a comfortable cruising speed with a light throttle, it effectively shuts off one bank and turns it into a fuel-efficient 2.6-litre straight-six.
But that’s a feature that wasn’t exactly top of mind in Italy, given the appetising mix of classic Tuscan curves, rolling hills and high-speed autostradas. Definitions of ‘quick’ can vary, but let me assure you in no uncertain terms – the DB11 feels like a proper fast car. In fact, it’s as quick as you’d want to travel in these parts, especially on those extra-narrow B-roads.
As with almost all turbocharged motors, there’s a momentary delay on initial throttle tip in, at least if you allow the working speed of the engine to dip below 1500rpm (the higher the better). Punch it from anywhere above and the big Aston GT starts to pile on the pace with a level of ferocity I wasn’t quite expecting. The boost isn’t always evident given the engine’s refinement and mostly linear power delivery, though it’s in the mid-range where this thing starts to feel seriously fast.
Wind it up on autostrada and you could easily nudge twice the maximum posted speed limit before realising it. Acceleration is truly effortless, thanks to the limitless torque output of this engine, as well as the car’s absolute front-end composure at high speed. Put that down in part to the DB11’s cool aero wizardry.
Turbos, by their very nature, have a nasty habit of robbing engines of their natural soulful cry, and anyone putting down around $400,000 for a V12 Aston Martin (turbos or not) won’t settle for anything less than the full surround sound experience of all twelve cylinders singing at maximum pitch, and I’m relieved to report that DB11 delivers just that.
In-car involvement is also louder than I expected, at least when you’re having a proper crack in this delightful part of Italy. I doubt you’d want any more volume, as it’s just about the perfect accompaniment to an authentic GT experience.
In an age where split-second-shifting dual-clutch transmissions are now commonplace in most high-performance cars, ZF’s eight-speed auto is the perfect pairing for this engine. Seamless and frankly, it feels just as quick as some of the dual-clutch units. But it’s the refinement of the gearshifts that will be most welcomed by owners of DB11.
On the narrow roads the DB11 feels every bit its two-metre plus width (including side mirrors) but that doesn’t stop it from carving up the really twisty bits like a well-sorted hatch.
The chassis is exceptional. There’s a new three-stage adaptive damping system that offers a significantly more compliant ride, thanks to former Lotus suspension guru Matt Becker, who tuned the DB11. Drivers can toggle through several settings; GT, Sport and Sport+ settings, the latter two providing firmer degrees of damper control.
Ride comfort, though, is first and foremost, so it doesn’t seem to matter which mode you select, the car never feels nervous (or intimidating), so there’s no bump skipping regardless of the condition of the road surface. It’s a hugely positive driving experience, and one that urges you on with all the confidence in the world.
Some of that is down to the new steering system and bespoke tyre selection. The DB11 is the first Aston ever to move from hydraulic to an electric power steering unit, which means it can drive a lower CO2 figure, as well as integrating new features like the optional auto park system (care of Aston’s Daimler technology partnership) that requires electric steering to operate.
I don’t think there’s quite the level of feedback through the tiller that there was with the DB9, but the weighting is spot-on and it’s pretty responsive thanks to a quicker 13:1 steering ratio – the DB9 was slower at 17:1. It’s not as manic as Ferrari’s F12, which boasts a quicker 11.5:1 ratio, but it’s nowhere near as intimidating as that car either – so again, this feels like the correct tune for the DB11.
Aston Martin’s dynamics team worked closely with Bridgestone; the official tech partner for tyre development on DB11. The end result is a bespoke S007 tyre with a unique tread pattern, construction and compound in split sizes; 255/45 front and 295/35 rear fitted to standard 20-inch alloys. Right from the outset you’re aware of the grip level – prodigious but not unnatural is how I would describe the road holding.
There’s no shortage of braking power, either. Aston has armed the DB11 with huge 400mm cast iron discs up front with six-piston stoppers, and 360mm down back with four-piston calipers. Pedal feel is good – nice and progressive. We drove the car hard in the twisty bits and the braking was surefooted and consistent, but a more thorough test would be useful as the DB11 isn’t exactly a lightweight at 1770kg (dry).
Inside, Aston’s design revolution continues unabated, but again with a level of restraint that befits this highly-prized British luxury marque. About the only recognisable trait are the authentic glass gear selector buttons. Everything else is clean-sheet new.
Thankfully, the infotainment system is all new. The old system in the DB9 (and still used in the other models) required patience and a computer science degree from Cambridge given its level of counter-intuitiveness.
The core system is borrowed from Mercedes-Benz, whose parent Daimler is a five per cent shareholder of Aston Martin, and sports a floating screen and Benz-style rotary controller, though the screen itself has been customised, at least from an aesthetic perspective. It’s light years ahead of the previous system and importantly, it’s easy to use – even on the run.
Gone are the traditional analogue dials, replaced by digital instrument display with a single tachometer gauge taking centre stage. It’s virtually unrecognisable as an Aston Martin and big leap forward.
The smaller, more manageable sports steering wheel has been lifted straight from the DB10 Bond car. And there’s only one instrument stalk hanging off it (more Benz influence) and the integrated switchgear is beautifully designed, so that the wheel itself still looks uncluttered.
DB11 also benefits from a noticeable upgrade in materials; the leather is beautifully supple and the entire cabin from floor to ceiling is soft touch bar the various trim inlays on offer.
There’s more space, too, front and back – a request from DB9 owners. Ingress and egress has been improved too, with noticeably wider door apertures making exits a breeze even in tight spots. This is a proper 2+2 GT car – there’s even an ISOFIX system.
Fresh, fast and sometimes furious, but always comfortable and always a sense of occasion, the new Aston Martin DB11 is in many ways the perfect blend of everything a driver could ever want of a luxury GT car.
It’s also ridiculously handsome from any angle, but undeniably Aston Martin in every way. And it’s in demand. And that means if you order one today, it will be next year before you see your car.
If this is an example of Aston’s ‘Next Century Plan' then we can’t wait for the next-generation Vantage to arrive.
The Launch Edition of the DB11 is priced at $428,032, and was limited to just 1000 cars, all of which were signed off by CEO Andy Palmer on the quality inspection plate. However, once they are all sold, the list price on the car will be $395,000 (plus on-roads), with the first Australian deliveries expected later this year.
Standard Specification for Launch Edition:
• Strathmore leather monotone interior
• Alcantara headlining
• Piano Black Trim Inlay
• Carpeted cabin
• Satin Silver Jewellery Pack - Paddleshifts, horn ring, steering wheel switches and surrounds, centre stack surrounds, door pull, door release, air register bezels and seatbelt bezels
• Black leather steering wheel
• Memory front seats and exterior mirrors (three memory positions)
• Heated front seats
• Powered Stowage
• Touchpad Control
• V12 front wing badges
• Warm Charcoal seatbelts
• Powerfold exterior heated mirrors
• Front and rear parking sensors and 360 degree cameras
• Cruise control & speed limiter
• Tyre pressure monitoring
• Alarm and immobiliser
• Remote-control central door locking and boot release
• Automatic temperature control with dual zone climate control
• Electrically adjustable front seats with side airbags
• Dual stage driver and passenger front airbags
• Curtain side, knee and head airbags
• Pelvis and thorax seat mounted airbags
• Trip computer
• Electronic Instrument Cluster with mode specific displays
• Laminated windscreen with clear noise-insulation layer
• Keyless entry and go
• Chrome side strakes and tail-pipe trim
• Heated rear screen
• Gloss Black splitter, diffuser and sills
• Dark Anodised brake calipers
• Bright Anodised roof strake
• Body coloured painted roof panel
• Bright Exterior Finisher Pack – Front grille, exhaust finishes and side strakes.
• Bright Bonnet Blades with black bonnet meshes
• V12 front wing badges
In Car Entertainment
• Infotainment System with capacitive switching
• 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system with ICEpower technology
• 8.0" LCD screen
• iPod and iPhone Integration and USB playback
• Satellite radio system (USA only)
• DAB & AM/FM radio
• A2DP Bluetooth audio and phone streaming