At more than a century old, Aston Martin is in a very exclusive club. During that long life, it has made 80,000 cars, a figure that may not sound all that exclusive— until you realise it’s the equivalent of Toyota’s output for three days. While 95 per cent of all Aston Martins are still in existence, they’re a rare sight and invariably cause heads to turn.
In the highly competitive world of exotic sports cars, however, history and exclusivity don’t count for much against the technological developments and, it has to be said, marketing that have pushed high performance cars to unprecedented levels. Speed figures seem almost irrelevant, given how quickly the cars surpass themselves year after year—and in an era that requires vehicles to be ever more environmentally friendly.
Aston Martin has managed to carve itself a special niche and brand aura in this demanding field. The association with James Bond has certainly helped, but that only goes so far; the cars still have to deliver on their promise of high-end performance combined with British flair, where poise and decorum accompany stellar engineering.
In the lead-up to the marque’s centenary, Aston Martin focused for more than a decade on what it called the VH platform, which was shared by virtually all its cars and was highly successful. But to better meet the demands of today’s marketplace for rapid innovation and shorter product lifecycles, Aston Martin laid the foundations for a new platform in what it calls its “second-century plan.”
The recently launched DB11 is the embodiment of this revolutionary change, the first product of Aston Martin’s new management supported by new investors— among them Daimler, which has taken a 5 per cent stake. Under the new regime, Aston Martin says it will introduce a new car every year for the next seven years, including a crossover vehicle to be built in a second factory in Wales starting in 2019. Each model will see much greater differentiation from the rest of the Aston Martin line-up, not only visually, but also dynamically.
The DB11 shows this approach clearly, with an aesthetic that differentiates it from its immediate predecessors. While the Aston Martin genes are undeniable, you’re not likely to mistake the DB11 for any car produced in the past decade. The design has been somewhat polarising, particularly the rear, which is radically different. But the design is very functional, for hidden within its lines are the car’s aerodynamic features.
Aston Martin, ever focused on elegance, did not want the car to sprout spoilers or other accoutrements for stabilisation at high speed. With the DB11’s “Aeroblade” design, the wind flow is managed from the front, where it exits over the side of the wheel wells, and on the flanks through intakes at the base of the C-pillars, venting through the boot lid. The only concession is a small rear spoiler that extends at high speed and which bears a minor resemblance to the shield 007 deployed in his DB5. Incidentally, the reference number of the Bridgestone Potenza tyres on the DB11 is S007. Aston Martin is adamant this was unintentional, and the tyres are not exclusive to the marque.
"The DB11’s presence is undeniable. And if you don’t see it, you’ll certainly hear it when the company’s first turbocharged engine, a 5.2-litre V12, roars to life"
Visually, the car’s presence is undeniable. And if you don’t see it, you’ll certainly hear it when the company’s first turbocharged engine, a 5.2-litre V12, roars to life. This is one turbo that doesn’t leave me wanting. Aston Martin is well aware of the importance of engine noise at all speeds, and the DB11 delivers beautifully. But it also has a quiet mode; to start the engine without the typical mechanical flourish, simply keep the start button pressed until it fires up. You’ll still hear it, but at a lower level that will hopefully not wake your entire household.
On the dynamic front, Aston Martin is almost apologetic about the engine’s statistics: 600bhp, 700Nm of torque, zero to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 322km/h. These figures are more than enough to send you on your daily commute or a road trip at a more than adequate pace, but the motoring world almost yawns these days at sports cars that have “only” 600bhp. With the DB11, however, Aston Martin is not seeking the crown of ultimate performance; that’s the job of one of the other models in development under the second-century plan.
This car is designed to take you great distances at speed in ultimate comfort and luxury—a grand tourer par excellence. The interior doesn’t disappoint; you’ll find only the finest leathers and detailing. The dashboard and switchgear may look familiar to those who have driven a recent Mercedes-Benz, thanks to Daimler’s involvement—and you’d be hard pressed to blame Aston Martin for making use of some of the best technology available. But the carmaker has personalised the instrument panel by framing it and making it look analogue rather than fully digital.
Keeping to the DB11’s character as a grand tourer rather than a barnstormer, the gearbox is a fully automatic eight-speed with an electronic fly-by-wire control system. It’s one of the best automatics I’ve ever used, with none of the lag you normally associate with them, even when in manual mode. The car has three preset driving modes: GT, Sport, and Sport Plus. Different modes can be assigned separately to the throttle response and the suspension system; you choose the combination you’d like via switches on the steering wheel. I preferred Sport or Sport Plus on the windy Tuscan roads, dialling in GT mode when we hit traffic. Neither sport mode was particularly aggressive or bone jarring. The braking system is equipped with pretty much every electronic marvel you can think of, including active torque vectoring, which Aston Martin is using for the first time.
The car comes into its own on the open road, its poise at high speed inspiring confidence. The engine features automatic cylinder deactivation, where one bank of the V12 is switched off when conditions dictate, such as cruising. The system automatically switches between the two banks to manage wear and temperature, and the car’s response or character is not affected.
Aston Martin has struck a very nice balance between performance and usability in a remarkable package with a modern aesthetic. It’s impressive how the functional aspects of the aerodynamics are so cohesively and seamlessly woven into the design. On the inside, the car is spacious and comfortable, and adapts to your driving mood, whether you’re on the daily commute or a road trip across Europe. However, it won’t be your go-to wheels for your next track day. It wasn’t designed for that; you’ll have to wait for the new Vantage. The DB11 shows a renewed energy and direction for Aston Martin, and should go on your shortlist if you’re considering a grand tourer—or simply a beautiful exotic car.
(Text by Sean Li)