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When a new turbocharged future was confirmed for the Aston Martin DB11, the news should have caused Trump-levels of protests outside the brand’s factory in Gaydon.
Well, that’s what I thought – right up until the moment I got inside the new DB11 and went for a drive.
The problem is, Aston Martin is about as iconic as automotive brands get. And, after all, Toyota makes more cars in three days than Aston Martin has done in its entire history. Its rarity and exclusivity are a result of certain inherent core values, like design and character, that are truly unrivalled in a me-too world of edgy lines and virtual cockpits.
Part of that character is sound. Hearing an old DB9 or a Vantage fly by is akin to having front-row seats at an automotive festival of sound. It screams beauty, power and soul and that’s the point of the British brand – you don’t buy an Aston Martin to go fast, you buy an Aston Martin to express the highest level of understated class. So has that all changed with the DB11?
To answer that question we need to look at what Aston Martin wants to be.
The brand sits somewhere in the middle between extreme performance and extreme luxury. It’s not a Ferrari and it’s not a Rolls Royce, but with the new DB11, it’s now closer to both than ever before and that’s a positive result of its turbocharging and new architecture.
The Aston Martin DB11 is the first truly new car from the brand in over a decade. When we say new, we mean the door handles are about the only thing you’ll notice it shares with its predecessor. The old 6.0L naturally aspirated screaming V12 has been replaced with a 5.2-litre twin turbo V12 built at Ford’s factory in Cologne, Germany (where Aston has been building engines for some time).
In saying that, Aston says the engine’s engineering and design is all in-house, where the company decided to spend its limited R&D budget on the V12 rather than the upcoming new V8 that it has sourced from part owner, Mercedes-AMG.
So, does the new V12 sound as good? You can be the judge of that for yourself here. Compared to the DB9? That’s kind of like asking if JFK was a better orator than Obama? Whilst one may have an allure that history has deemed as irreplaceable, the other is an instrument and consequence of its time. Both are equally as effective.
With 447kW and 700Nm of torque available through a super smooth ZF eight-speed automatic, the DB11 excels where the old 9 was falling behind.
The figures say it will go from a standing start to 100km/h in 3.9 secs before topping out at 322km/h. Finally, the world’s most glorious GT has the performance figures to match.
Frankly, that’s what the DB11 is. Aston Martin has built the world’s greatest Grand Tourer. Anthony and I drove the car for close to 500km through Brisbane out to Warwick and despite our best attempts, we couldn’t think of another GT that could match it for comfort, performance, class and poise.
It’s such an improvement over the DB9 in every single imaginable way that one would think the British brand is starting a new and much brighter chapter of its 104-year history.
From the outside, the Ian Callum-era of Aston Martin has finally come to a solid end. Long time and very talented head of design, Marek Reichman, has truly expressed his intent with the DB11 and perhaps delivered what could be considered the hardest design successor to a car in history.
The DB9 was internationally regarded as one of the most beautiful cars ever designed, so anything that was set to replace it was faced with some unrealistic expectations.
Thankfully, Aston Martin has a very different philosophy when it comes to design than almost all other car companies. Design and beauty comes before engineering. At Gaydon, Reichman tells the engineers what the car should look like and they have to work out how to package it. This emphasis on beauty has seen the DB11’s design move in a different direction, modernising the GT world and starting a fresh brand identity that brings new, and perhaps younger, buyers to Aston without alienating the lifers.
It would certainly have looked a lot better in any other colour than what we tested here. The very dark blue, which looks pretty much black, matched to the black wheels, grille and other highlights really doesn’t help showcase the beauty of the design. We’ve seen it in brighter and more playful colours and it evokes different emotions.
The interior is much the same, with dark blue leather trim and little highlights. Yet, the quality of the leather and materials used, let alone the fit and finish, is the best in any Aston we’ve yet seen. We should note, however, that we did have some bits of trim come loose, or fall off completely, but that’s part of the charm of owning a hand-built car, it might need a little love in its first few months of ownership before it's perfect.
As for the practicality of the car, the DB11’s interior is easily able to accommodate two large adults in extreme comfort. There are back ‘seats’, which my two- and five-year-old boys appreciated for a quick drive (thanks in large to ISOFIX anchor points), but don’t expect to fit any adults you want to remain friends with back there.
For once, the infotainment system in the Aston didn’t evoke emotions of extreme rage. The Mercedes-Benz sourced COMAND system is a huge improvement over anything Aston Martin could’ve done itself, even with all its R&D budget.
The optional Bang & Olufsen sound system remains top-notch with clarity that will please the most demanding audiophile, yet presents the same ‘issue’ as all other Astons we’ve sampled equipped with the same system – it lacks bass.
Behind the wheel the Aston Martin DB11’s road manners are immediately evident in the form of a true GT. This is not some hard-edged supercar designed to break your back. In fact, it presents a better ride than most luxury family saloons on sale today. Its compliance over bumps is staggeringly good. We subjected it to some terribly surfaced country roads and it never let us down. It’s undoubtedly the type of car you can drive every single day and enjoy doing so.
As for its performance, 600hp is a lot of power, but its 0-100km/h time is not exactly groundbreaking, matching the likes of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. It does feel much faster than that though, particularly how it pulls from 100km/h onwards. It’s relentless.
You can push it hard into a corner and be consistently amazed by how well poised and balanced the chassis is. It’s very natural in how it conquers the twisty stuff. Also, as we experienced in extreme wet weather in Brisbane, the DB11 is well planted in all conditions and its driver aid systems work only when they need to, letting you enjoy the experience of that glorious V12.
As the road gets tighter and your grin gets larger, the DB11 makes a liar of its 1770kg dry weight. It feels like a comfortable sports car with the agility unbecoming of its size.
The steering provides the levels of feedback one would expect from a GT, communicative but occasionally a little light. Here you have a massively powerful V12 GT that anyone can drive and that’s testament to Aston Martin’s engineering ability.
Overall, the Aston Martin DB11 is currently the world’s greatest GT. It possesses a combination of performance, luxury and class that its rivals are unlikely to match.
What excited us the most, however, is the thought that, if the DB11 is this good as a starting point, where does that leave the upcoming Vanquish and DBS?