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If you were going to spend about $400,000 on a car, would you not pay an extra $27,000 to get a bespoke Aston Martin V12 engine over a Mercedes-AMG V8?
That was the question that kept coming up over our weekend with the latest and most affordable incarnation of the British brand’s DB11 – a car that screams elegance from every angle. The sort of ‘supercar’ that demands the respect of car lovers and those that appreciate sheer beauty as an abstraction.
The modern Aston Martin feels right at home no matter where it is, be it parked out the front of a Michelin-hat restaurant or passing through McDonald’s drive-through late at night. Aston has positioned itself as a brand that sits somewhere between Bentley and Ferrari – in a sense that it delivers both ultra-luxury and performance, but merged together in a unique package that doesn’t sacrifice one for the other. It sounds like marketing fluff, but it’s true: there is a place for Aston Martin to exist and continue to build on its incredible history in today’s ever-crowded luxury market.
You buy an Aston Martin because a Ferrari or Lamborghini is too brash, and while a Bentley would be nice, you desire a bit more dynamic ability. Though to be fair to most Aston buyers, they tend to own cars from the other brands as well.
The DB11 is the exact kind of car you want to daily with pride, for every drive is a treat. The long tradition of DB cars continues its design philosophy of presenting cars as works of art that inspire even when standing still. Go look at a DB9 today and compare it to cars of the same era from other high-end brands, and you will understand the true definition of timeless beauty.
But it’s not just design, Aston Martin is on a bit of roll in general. It’s producing new product after new product, and its tie-up with Mercedes-AMG has given it access to – arguably – one of the best twin-turbo V8s money can buy.
Even so, this V8-powered DB11 is an enigma. The problem? Not only is it competing with the likes of Porsche and Ferrari that have their own V8s, unlike its mighty twin-turbo V12, you can buy that same engine in a $160,000 Mercedes-AMG C63 S. In fact, while Aston Martin’s tune delivers 375kW and 675Nm from the 4.0-litre unit, Mercedes squeezes out another 25Nm of torque. That’s a hard one to explain over the dinner table.
Yes, it’s an AMG heart and, yes, it’s the same as the one you get in the new (and much cheaper) Vantage, but shouldn’t the real question be, ‘Is it a better car than the V12 DB11?’ regardless of the DB tradition of being powered by glorious V12s?
Comparing a V8 to a V12 is an interesting proposition. Development of V8 performance engines is still well and truly ongoing, while the V12’s low volume and the Greenies' hatred for the internal combustion engine have meant far less return on investment and arguably less advancements… But, it’s still a V12. Show me a 12-cylinder-powered sports car that doesn’t evoke the sort of emotional response that makes you weak at the knees.
Funnily enough, Mercedes-Benz has its own issues with that conundrum with cars like the S63 and S65 targeting completely different buyers, whereby the V8 might actually be faster, but speed is irrelevant. Perhaps the best way to think about the DB11's model range is to realise that there are some that just demand a V12 for the sake of it, given the price tag. And there are those that simply want the comfort, class and luxury of a four-seater Aston Martin without really sacrificing all that much by picking a high-performance V8, except perhaps stature to the superficial.
Also, in some markets the registration or taxation difference between V8 and V12 engines is astronomical, so you can see why the V8 DB11 exists.
From the outside, it’s almost impossible to tell the V12 and V8 apart, except for an additional few vents on the bonnet. That goes for the whole car, which retains its gorgeous proportions and wide hips. While there may have been some criticism of the new Vantage for its ultra-modern frontal design, the DB11 has now been with us for some time and initial criticism of its look and feel has weathered away, with its true elegance shining through. It stands to reason that the DB11 will become a timeless classic as per its predecessor.
Jump inside and Aston Martin’s highly specified leather interiors are always a pleasant place to be. Simple, yes, but also embodying refinement. The Mercedes-sourced infotainment system is tremendously better than what was before, but its inclusion, alongside all the Mercedes switchgear, is a constant reminder that the well-dressed James Bond might be a double agent for the Germans.
We found some details in the cabin to be lacking finesse, such as the air-conditioning vents that felt flimsy and a little low-key. It’s hard for a low-volume manufacturer that hand-builds cars to get everything right, but simple things like the feel of buttons and how the air-con operates can, and should, be improved.
On the plus side, the front seats of our test car were tremendously comfortable, and exactly what we would expect from a long-range grand tourer that is designed to be both sporty and comfortable. Your passenger can fall asleep in the DB11 at 200km/h (of course, this remains only a theory we wish to test one day…).
Even so, let us not forget that the DB11 is marketed as a four-seater, but really, the rear seats are kind of like Marxism, in that they work in theory. Much like the NBN. You can sort of fit a small adult in there if you use a broom to push them into place, but other than that, they are primarily for children. Naughty ones.
Start the V8 and the DB11 comes to life with some theatrics, but not the brute low-bass-frequency noise of the AMG unit we are used to. It doesn’t have that harsh growl that screams aggression. Aston Martin’s engineers have given their take of the AMG V8 a more distinct noise that is focused on frequencies above 300Hz in the mid-range, rather than below it.
Of course, you can still immediately tell it’s the infamous 4.0-litre AMG unit, especially under full acceleration. The eight-speed ZF transmission is a different unit to that found in the German products, but it’s definitely better suited to the application here, whereby smoothness is everything. That’s not to say it isn't a rapid-fire gearbox when Sport+ is selected, because it is. If you were to drive it after being told it’s a dual-clutch transmission, you would be hard-pressed to say otherwise.
In terms of performance, the V8 DB does the 0–100km/h run in a claimed 4.0 seconds flat. About 0.1sec slower than the 115kg-heavier V12. In a real-world application, both engines will likely use a similar amount of fuel (if you need to ask…). What the engine difference means, though, is that the weight balance of the V8 is actually shifted to the rear, which allows for better handling dynamics.
Can you feel it? Perhaps on a tight mountainous road, but we are talking about a GT here that will hardly be pushed close to its limit, therefore its improved dynamic prowess is conceivably wasted. It’s also worth noting that the DB11 rides beautifully over bumps, once again showcasing why it’s such a well-regarded GT.
The strongest case you can make for a V8 DB11 is that it makes for a fantastic daily. That is the true nature of this car, and not something that can be said about offerings from the Italians or even McLaren. You can conceivably compare it to a highly specified Porsche 911 GTS or a Mercedes-AMG GT S, but realistically neither will give you the head-turning looks, the glamour and the prestige of owning an Aston.
Really, there is something to be said about Aston Martin ownership. It’s very different to other brands: there is an elemental level of respect from the car-loving public when an Aston Martin pulls up. It’s an underlying emphasis on old-money values that for good or bad has been lost on some other high-end brands.
Ultimately, we understand the reasons for the V8 DB11, and we think it’s a fantastic car that makes perfect sense for the right buyer. But, we would still buy the V12.