We have been up close and personal with the design and engineering concepts at Aston Martin HQ. We have driven early chassis development prototypes on the Bridgestone test track. Now it is time to find out whether the 2017 Aston Martin DB11 delivers where it counts the most: on the road.
It is no exaggeration to say the DB11 is the most important new car in Aston Martin's history. The first of seven new Astons to be rolled out over the next seven years, the DB11 debuts the essential building blocks of an ambitious plan to make Britain's storied sports car maker a genuine Ferrari and Bentley rival: a new twin-turbo V-12 engine, a new aluminum-intensive vehicle architecture, and state-of-the-art electronic hardware.
It's the latter that makes a positive first impression the moment you slide in behind the wheel of the DB11. Like a down-at-heel English aristocrat artfully papering over the cracks in his crumbling stately home, Aston Martin has always managed to look wealthier than it actually is. Faults were forgiven as eccentricities, passed off as part of the charm of owning a hand-built British sports car. But in an era when even stately homes have Wi-Fi, the shortcomings of Aston's antiquated electrical architecture had become painfully obvious. Exhibit A: the Rube Goldberg nav system in the outgoing DB9.
No more. With the DB11, Aston Martin has entered the 21st century. It has a 12.0-inch digital instrument display, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen, and a modern center stack with simple, clearly marked switches and touch controls. There's power height and reach adjustment for the steering column and switches on the steering wheel that allow drivers to toggle between GT, Sport, and Sport Plus settings for both powertrain and suspension. Navigation, HVAC, audio, and other functions———there's even a Park Assist feature———are accessed and operated via a familiar rotary controller and optional touchpad on the center console. It's the only obvious artifact of the new electronic hardware's supplier, Daimler.
There's leather everywhere inside, of course, but old-school techniques of stitching, quilting, perforation, and broguing (just like the shoes) have been used by Marek Reichman's design team in a modern manner to give the DB11 interior an intriguing and uniquely upscale ambience. Along with 35 standard exterior colors, there are 28 standard leather colors (and three types of leather), and six standard trim finishes include a choice of open-pore woods, piano black, and two styles of carbon fiber. For those DB11 buyers overwhelmed by the possibilities, Aston offers six ready-to-go "Designer Specification" color and trim combinations.
Fire up the engine via the pulsing crystal start button at the center of the center stack, and reach farther across to the right to push the button marked D. With the powertrain and suspension set in GT, the DB11 oozes effortlessly around town, the suspension quietly dealing with road acne despite the big, low-profile Bridgestone S007 tires. Compliance stiffness front and rear has been decreases by 60 percent compared with the DB9, and ride frequencies are 15 percent lower.
"We wanted the vertical motions to be more relaxed," Aston's vehicle attribute engineering chief, Matt Becker, says, "but we didn't want a lazy car." Lateral stiffness has therefore been increased by 60 percent at the front axle and 20 percent at the rear, courtesy of new, stiffer knuckles, bushes, and bearings, so even in the softest damper setting, GT, the DB11 changes direction with commendable precision and control, though Becker's team are working on final tuning tweaks to tame a slightly floaty sensation from the rear axle over large bumps at highway speeds.
The Sport Plus damper setting is there for the occasional track day or a thrash along one of Germany's billiard-table-smooth two-lanes. It's not uncomfortable or harsh by any means, but you are more aware of the small amplitude imperfections in the road surface. Best all-round suspension setting is Sport, which deftly tightens the upper end of the secondary body motions, particularly at the rear of the car. In Sport the DB11 turns in smoothly the moment you pull the steering wheel off-center and tracks faithfully through wicked mid-corner heaves, delivering a well-judged balance between grip and ride quality.
Overall, there's an oily predictability to the DB11's chassis that feels just right for a GT car. Sportier Astons———notably the next-gen Vanquish and Vantage———will feel sharper and edgier, Becker says.
We loved our first taste of the 600-hp, 5.2-liter V-12 on the track during our DB11 prototype drive a few months back. And we're pleased to report it's no less impressive out on the road, delivering a surge of thrust all the way to its 6,500-rpm power peak and 7,000-rpm redline. Those numbers betray the presence of the turbochargers mounted low at each side of the block. (The naturally aspirated, 6.3-liter V-12 in Ferrari's new GTC4Lusso makes its 680 hp at a dizzying 8,000 rpm and revs to 8,250 rpm.)
Another tell is the way the thrust builds. High-performance V-12s tend to develop maximum torque at relatively high crankshaft speeds, but the new Aston V-12 has all 516 lb-ft on tap at just 1,500 rpm. (The GTC4Lusso's V-12 makes its peak torque at 5,750 rpm.) Nail the gas, and the DB11 instantly slingshots forward, especially with the powertrain switched to Sport or Sport Plus mode. With so much torque available so soon, the traction control system is at DEFCON 1 to stop the rear tires going up in smoke, particularly on a tight, twisting two-lane. Aston Martin claims a 0-60-mph time of about 3.9 seconds for the 3,902-pound DB11, and since we drove the prototype, Aston has adjusted the claimed top speed upward from 196 mph to 200 mph. Hey, we like round numbers, too. ...
The new engine also features an innovative cylinder deactivation system that not only shuts down one bank of six cylinders on light throttle loads to improve fuel efficiency but also alternately shuts down the left and right hand banks to ensure the catalytic converters on each side of the engine remain within their operating temperature range. It works seamlessly; you're never aware of the acrobatics going on under the hood.
Switching the powertrain to Sport and Sport Plus modes changes the throttle mapping and opens the exhaust bypass valves, transforming the V-12 soundtrack from a muted growl to a barrel-chested roar under hard acceleration. For all-round driving, we preferred leaving both suspension and powertrain in Sport. For fast two-lane work, toggling the powertrain to Sport Plus mode not only sharpens the V-12's responses but also makes the rear-mounted ZF eight-speed automatic much more alert, delivering nicely judged rev-matched downshifts on the entry into corners and holding a lower gear when needed through switchbacks.
Right now, though, the transmission is the DB11's weakest link. Switching to Sport and Sport Plus modes seemed to increase shift shock rather than shift speed, the transmission thumping between ratios, particularly under hard acceleration. We also noticed occasional driveline shunt at low speeds, as if the engine and the trans weren't always on the same page. The problem is in the software. Aston engineers are aware of it and are working on the fix. And while they're at it, they could give the steering column-mounted paddle shifters a more concise action and precise feel.
The DB11s on the launch program were all pre-production models; another 150 will go down the assembly line at Gaydon before the first customer car is built. We're looking forward to a drive once the simple transmission software tweaks have been completed because this is otherwise an impressively accomplished car.
Tiny, independent Aston Martin has often teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, often conjuring charismatic GT cars almost out of thin air for less money than Toyota would spend on a Corolla face-lift. It still works with budgets that would almost be rounding errors at a big automaker, but there are no cracks to paper over with the DB11, no eccentricities to excuse. It's the best, most completely resolved new Aston Martin in the company's history. Aston Martin DB11 is now on sale in India at Rs 4.2 crore.