2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8
Not Just the Best Aston, But Maybe the Best GT
Aston Martin has long been the definition of ‘cool’ from its jaw-dropping design to its inclusion in the James Bond franchise, it’s always invoked images of tuxedos, casinos and mountain roads. A long, rich and somewhat tumultuous history belies the current direction of the company, with all of the ups and downs seemingly smoothed out by the strength of its current offerings. Last year we got to test the delicious V12 Vanquish, which at the time we lamented to be one of the last of its kind. Fearing the ‘sanitization’ of the brand by Mercedes/AMG’s new ownership stake of 5%, and the technical sharing that it would bring, we were glad to be one of the first outlets to get some time with the first Aston Martin to come with an AMG supplied engine. So, does the German DNA ruin the magic of previous models? Let’s find out.
Design has long been one of the most celebrated aspects of any Aston Martin. There is just no denying how beautiful they are. The iconic-grill shape, muscular lines and lavish interiors have been the defining characteristics of the brand. That and the lurid, sonorous V8 and V12 engines that have been fitted under the bonnet year after year, and the always normally aspirated, always possessing the performance and auditory muscle to back up the looks. This is what we feared most would be missing with the switch to turbocharged powerplants. First, the all-new Aston V12 and then this AMG-derived V8. We have not yet gotten the chance to try the new twelve cylinder, but we have heard lots of audio clips – and despite the muffling of the sound inherent in a turbocharger design, it appears to have that magic soundtrack still.
Which brings us to the V8. Walking up to the new DB11 I was first struck by the design. Having seen lots of pictures of the new body shape, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of seeing it in person. Pictures simply do not do this thing justice. In photos it looks somewhat harsh and angular – gone are the sinewy and curvaceous lines in favor of a more futuristic and bold theme. However, in person you get all of the same athleticism, grace and beauty coming through. The grille and taillights are just refinements of the iconic shapes. The bulging haunches of the quarter panels and gentle curves are highlighted by the new edges. It’s like someone who’s gotten in better shape, still recognizable but all toned up. Seeing all of this made me even more nervous to hit that start button, but it was time.
Slipping into the new Aston for the first time, I was also struck by the minimalist interior. This had more to do with the spec of our test car, as there are nearly limitless ordering options for materials, finishes and colors. I was also struck by the modern, AMG-derived control and infotainment systems. They are well integrated, but clearly functioning at the highest-industry level, as opposed to the antiquated-feeling and rudimentary systems in the Vanquish. We’ll get back to that soon, but now it’s time to get this V8 fired up. I was genuinely nervous about the sound, but after hitting the start button and letting it settle into an idle, all my fears washed away.
Aston Martin engineers worked many hours to retune and recalibrate the sound of the AMG supplied V8 so that it has its own unique sonic identity. And it worked. The low-bass tones have been reduced and the higher frequencies amplified to give the engine a more refined and melodic tone. Switching the drive mode over to Sport+ opens up the exhaust even more, and a few quick revs revealed some muted backfiring and a raspy edge to the sound. I couldn’t wait to hear it at full song.
Well, when you’re in a DB11, and it’s running, and you’re in Los Angeles, with some of the country’s best roads, you get right to it. Immediately, I found that the new partnership had corrected one of my other gripes about the Vanquish. The 8-speed Automatic transmission on the DB11 is sublime. There’s no way you could tell this was not a dual-clutch. From the way it gets off the line to the laser-quick shifts, there’s no hint of a torque converter. It’s these electronic advances that the Mercedes/AMG partnership brings which really transform Aston from the quirky, pretty one to the best-in-its-class one.
Handling too is a revelation, with active dampers that feel at home on the highway, the mountain pass and the racetrack. In fact, the drive-mode selections on the DB11 are simply fantastic as well. Three drivetrain modes, three suspension modes and three traction modes, and you can run any combination – comfort, Sport or Sport+ on the drivetrain and suspension, and Standard, Track or Off for traction control. Each new combination we tried revealed a new personality. One of the best was to have the suspension in comfort mode and the drivetrain in Sport or Sport+. This gives you compliance for the LA expansion joints with the excitement of quicker shifts, better throttle response and a snappier exhaust note. It’s a GT car that can impersonate a sports car when you want.
Another benefit of going with the V8 version, besides saving $16k off the base price, is that it sheds about 250lb, critically over the front wheels. The engine is shorter as well, and as such resides completely behind the centerline of the front wheels. In fact, despite being a front-engine GT, the weight distribution is 49% front 51% rear. This means not only sharper turn-in, but better feel of what the rear is doing. It was only pushing hard on the track where we felt that the front grip was lacking a bit, as the quick turn-in gave way to a little understeer. For my taste, bigger front tires would have been welcome, but the factory tuning means that most drivers could comfortably get to the limit without feeling out of their skill range.
The handling is not just good because of the suspension system and reduced weight, there is some real aerodynamic innovation in the body as well. The giant front splitter keeps the nose pinned and the steering direct at higher speeds. But it’s at the rear where the coolest aero feature lives. The rear quarter windows tip inwards at the rear to make the C-pillar into a large air intake. That air then travels through the quarter panel and through the trunk lid where a completely hidden rear spoiler creates rear downforce. The only thing you see are two long slits where the air exits after pressing down on the internal spoiler. On top of that, a pop-up spoiler adds more downforce at higher speeds, but is hidden around town. There are tons of other air-management innovations as well, borrowed surely from Aston’s successful racing program. Air extractors in the hood and on the fenders behind the wheels extract air from the engine and brakes. You can see how much thought was put into the design.
Getting back to the navigation and control systems, these are borrowed directly from Mercedes, who already have the most acclaimed control and electronics in the business. The trackpad is actually usable, as is the scroll wheel that sits just below it. There are two thumb-wheels on the steering wheel as well, and they take over whatever system you have selected in the LCD instrument cluster. It’s one of the most intuitive, user-friendly and satisfying systems to use. Luckily our test car was fitted with the magnificent Bang and Olufsen audio system, a must-have option if you’re in the market for one of these. It’s simply the best audio system in any car, although we did find the Vanquish to have slightly better bass response.
All of the little touches that make an Aston special are still there to add up and make the whole better than the sum of its parts – the hand-stitched interior and supple leather, the comfortable and supportive seats, and the intricate stitching on the headliner. There’s just no denying that it’s special, and while there may be other cars that can outperform it in some categories, this newest Aston has a legitimate place in the discussion of best. It’s not just the passionate one now, it’s also got the technology and engineering to back up that passion. It’s no longer just about the looks and the glamour, it’s about world-class performance. While it’s easy to think that all that technology will take away from the mystique, it flat-out doesn’t. Instead of making the older models feel like the ‘classic’ and the new one feel different, this one just feels like a new-classic. After a few days behind the wheel, I can honestly say it’s got all the ‘special’ of previous models with just the right amount of ‘German’ to make it all work, as well as it looks. All I can say is: “Well done chaps!”
Special thanks to Aston Martin The Americas and Willow Springs International Raceway
Aston Martin Experience
Driving the Aston Martin DB-11 conjured images of high speed chases with James Bond behind the wheel, or playing baccarat at casinos dressed impeccably in a tuxedo. The Aston Martin we drove on the street and track delivered all the thrill that watching a James Bond movie gave me as a kid – and so much more. Its twin-turbo V8 and suspension take on the iteration of the various modes: GT, Sport and Sport Plus. Each mode delivered a unique feel and sound, and the Sport Plus mode was the “baddest” (as in BEST) sounding. The DB-11 is not naturally aspirated, it naturally aspirational. Nearly every material shouts RICH! Its status and cost deserve more exclusive treatments of carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum and over the top luxurious leather.
The Aston Martin brand is to exotic automobiles as Tiffany is to fine jewelry. If my wife were to review the Aston Martin, and women are influencers of car purchase decisions, she would likely look at the DB-11 through her jewelry manufacturing eyes and inspect it for the 4 C’s:
Color: The exterior paint and interior color combinations
Cut: Shape of the precious gem dictates how it looks in sunlight, and how it moves through space.
Clarity: Purity and quality of the gem. Engineering and performance.
Carat: Gems are weighed in carats, which directly relates to their cost. Exotic cars are scarce and are priced accordingly. (carat)
The DB-11 is a gem of a car with outstanding color, cut, very good performance and an exotic price tag.
For those who are affluent and seek a unique statement, the Aston Martin DB-11 delivers on most counts. I’m reminded of a notable quote from the 20th century comedian, Jack Benny, when confronted by an armed robber who threatened him with, “Your money or your life?” paused and then replied “I’m thinking it over.” I might reply similarly if I were approached with the proposal “An Aston or your wife?” … with “I’m thinking it over.”
Gary Vicari, Invited Guest