As I sidle up next to the 2021 Aston Martin DBX, I’ll tell you one thing that doesn’t immediately jump to mind: “I need to head off-road in this thing”. Yet that’s exactly what we did on a recent Australian drive of the brand’s flagship, all-purpose SUV.
It’s definitely a first for me – I’ve never driven any vehicle with an Aston Martin badge on anything more challenging than a gravel driveway. Usually toward a castle in England. For an exclusive lunch.
Still, like any other luxury SUV, the Aston claims to be able to head off-road with some measure of capability. And the Australian arm of the English motoring icon was more than committed to illustrating that point.
We already know, in many ways, the DBX is a sports car wearing high heels. And I don’t mean that disparagingly either. It’s fast, it’s capable, and it’s more composed at speed than you’d ever expect an SUV to be. It’s not alone – the BMW X5 M, Lamborghini Urus, Audi RS Q8 and Porsche Cayenne – among others – are large SUVs that can be coaxed along at high speed reassuringly. Despite the fact most of us would prefer sports car manufacturers sticking to sports cars, the reality is in the sales figures.
The DBX is more closely aligned to the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan than the models I mentioned above, and in the example of those two, the case for them is much stronger than the case against. Certainly from a profit security angle for the companies involved. The Cullinan effectively underpins Rolls’s future plans, and according to Bentley more than half of all vehicles sold with a Bentley badge are members of the expanding Bentayga range.
For a more comprehensive overview of the DBX in its more likely habitat, you can read our impression of the DBX on-road here. No surprises that it’s impressive.
I’d never caught myself wondering about its off-road credentials, though, and a quick straw poll of the CA editorial team revealed no-one else had either. But when we were offered the chance to test the DBX out of the city, who were we to say no?
|2021 Aston Martin DBX|
|Engine||4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8|
|Power and torque||405kW @ 6500rpm / 700Nm @ 2200–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Nine-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||12.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||NA|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga, Audi RS Q8|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$427,370|
The reality – harsh or otherwise – is that few DBX owners will ever head anywhere that even remotely looks like an off-road track. And with good reason, when you factor in the close to $400,000 investment the buyer has made. It’s a big chunk of money to send out into rugged terrain.
That doesn’t mean it can’t, though, and some of the intrinsic design principles the DBX adheres to actually strengthen the off-road case.
First, there’s ride height. It’s obviously got more clearance than a Vantage, and Aston Martin has ensured it is usefully set up to clear obstacles. Couple that with the high-riding seat position and you’re starting out on the right foot for off-road driving.
Second, the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system is excellent on slippery roads, so you might expect that to translate to slippery dirt.
Third, visibility is expansive thanks to the slender pillars and tall glasshouse. Other elements like the steering, relationship between engine and gearbox, and the way drive is sent to the road should, in theory anyway, translate to competence off the sealed stuff.
Now, we didn’t head into this drive expecting to be rock crawling up the side of a mountain. That said, we didn’t quite know what to expect either. Heading south of Sydney through thick fog, though, it had been raining the day before, so mud was something we expected to see.
The road drive reminded us of the things the DBX does well – it’s quiet, insulated, comfortable and premium, either from behind the wheel or as a passenger. It’s fast obviously, but it’s one of those rapid transit SUVs that feels effortless at all times.
The fact that every element of the cabin feels like a bespoke, handmade execution means the DBX delivers a premium, quality experience few SUVs can match, and every Aston Martin buyer will want.
The driveline, and the engine in particular, is a cracking SUV concoction. Snarling and nasty in Sport or Sport+ mode, there’s no doubt as to the multi-layered ability the DBX possesses. It’s a consummate all-rounder.
None of the above should come as any surprise to Aston fans or anyone who’s driven an Aston Martin either. The brand has, after all, been executing such vehicles for decades. With some success, too, it has to be said.
Off-road driving, though, is a completely different kettle of fish.
Before you head off-road, selecting the Terrain or Terrain+ mode jacks the suspension up to provide serious ground clearance – 45mm extra on top of the DBX's standard 190mm clearance, to be specific.
These modes also allow the AWD system, with active centre transfer case and nine-speed automatic, to do its thing. With 405kW and 700Nm on offer, there’s not going to be an issue with powering out of sticky situations either.
Our test drive is a muddy, slippery, rutted track up to a high point on a farm. While it doesn’t qualify as what we’d call treacherous off-road driving, it absolutely tests the DBX’s drive system, grip and hill descent control when used. The latter is something I usually use sparingly off-road, but the Aston Marin system is definitely competent.
The slight surprise is how easy the DBX is to drive in slippery conditions. It’s big but it doesn’t feel cumbersome, the steering is direct and light enough not to have to thrash at the wheel to correct a slide, and it delivers drive to the wheels with grip quickly, and without too much fuss. Even the huge road tyres, which filled up with mud almost immediately, didn’t hinder its progress as much as they should have. Modern traction-control systems really are exceptional.
Despite our off-road drive only being a short one, we know from Mike Duff’s DBX prototype drive, and his earlier ride-along experience, that what we sensed in the mud translates to trickier off-road conditions as well. And, at the completion of our off-road course, there’s the added benefit of a DBX splattered in mud, which looks pretty appealing.
The point remains that few, if any, Aston Martin DBX owners will ever head off-road in their pride and joy. That shouldn’t count against the fact that it is capable, though. Probably more capable than you could expect it to be, given how formidable it is on-road.
The work engineering teams do in the development of these big, heavy, multi-talented SUVs continues to impress. It’s not easy to satisfy two vastly different disciplines, yet the DBX is another shining example of the fact you can. An impressive effort from the custodians at Gaydon, and their not-so-small baby continues to raise eyebrows for all the right reasons.