TUSCANY, Italy—First thing to do when you’re about to drive an exotic dream machine like this new DB11: be cool. Act casual. You will not fall for the Garden of Eden setting, a villa somewhere near Rome, maybe Tuscany, you don’t even know where you are.
You will not be seduced by free drinks and—holy hell, are those butlers? Yes, there are butlers.
Smile. Don’t get taken in by how nice and intelligent company CEO Andy Palmer is in conversation. Or how cool design boss Marek Reichman is—he’s a sci-fi movie buff, y’know, but somehow it’s not nerdy on him.
You’re here to drive a car, to see if the new DB11 from Aston Martin is good, good enough to compete with Bentley and maybe Ferrari.
Aston Martin is all about seduction. That’s the problem with this strategy of detached, cool objectivity right now. It might work with Audi or Ford, but Aston’s whole strategy has been to make cars which are achingly desirable, cars that when you see them, you forget their flaws and want them.
It’s the reason Aston – and Aston alone – has gotten away with selling $200,000-plus cars without a proper working nav system in the past. But those days, Aston would like you to believe, are over.
The DB11 is the beginning of a re-launch that will see seven new cars in seven years. Palmer says he’s secured plenty of funding for this ambitious plan.
Right away with the DB11, something’s different. It’s not as downright seductive as its predecessor, the DB9. Its style is more angular, more boundary-pushing. At its auto show debut in Geneva, it garnered mixed reaction.
I loved it, though. In two-tone silver it’s a sculpture, an ode to good taste. Here in the Italian sunlight, my opinion hasn’t changed.
This, right here, is where Aston used to let you down. You see the car, you love it, you walk up to the door, you get in and, uhh—what’s with the cheap plastic buttons? Why does the LCD look like Windows 98? Of course, then you started up the engine, and you forgave it, because you’re driving a bloody Aston Martin.
Here, too, it’s different with the DB11. You open the door and look at the craftsmanship on the seats and it’s as good as anything Rolls-Royce has done. The whole door panel is covered in a sheet of chopped carbon-fibre, which looks like black marble.
And it’s comfortable. There’s more space, more glass all around you. Your knee is no longer in danger of banging against the steering wheel getting in and out. With more mileage you’ll appreciate the seats even more. Love that throne.
So far, so good Aston.
To remedy the situation with the bad nav and outdated technology, Aston signed a deal with Daimler to use Mercedes electronics. If you’ve got a new C-Class you’ll recognize the control wheel and touchpad, and you’ll understand the new screen’s interface. It’s a massive improvement and well integrated into the interior design.
The instrument cluster is all-digital with a watch-bezel overlay for the main dial. It changes colours with the various driving modes. The nav system works as you’d expect in 2016. In fact, the new infotainment system is probably the single biggest improvement in terms of quality-of-life for the driver.
If anything, the tech is a little too similar to Mercedes. Aston has added its own graphics to the screen, but I hope it can go further in future.
The basics are this: it’s a new chassis, rear-drive, 2+2, rear-mounted eight-speed automatic, and a newly developed 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 placed behind the front axle. Aston’s more affordable future products will use a version of AMG’s twin-turbo V8, but the DB11 flagship and the more exotic machines will use this new 12.
The headline numbers are 600 horsepower, 516 lb-ft of torque, and zero-to-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds.
Very nice, but what does it feel like? Smooth. Very smooth. The chassis was fettled by an ex-Lotus engineer. The car sucks up big bumps with shocking ease in GT mode.
The compromise appears to be vague steering. The new electric rack initially seems like a weak point. But in Sport mode it’s much better.
In most cars with “modes” you stick with Comfort 90-percent of the time. But in the Aston you’ll use both GT and Sport frequently, flicking between cruising comfort and back-road blitzkrieg. Sport mode won’t send you to the chiropractor, but the DB11 will play the sports car role if you ask it. Such childish things feel beneath it, though.
The motor has all the grunt you could ever hope for. The torque, all of it from barely above idle, can be overwhelming and not quite in keeping with the relaxed vibe. Ferrari limits torque in the first few gears to make the engine feel more linear. Aston’s new 12 would benefit from a similar system.
Overall, I can’t overstate how much I like the chassis tuning. It won’t win any races, but it’s perfect for a GT, perfect for driving in the real world.
When the DB11 arrives in Canada late this year, it’ll start at $254,195. Most customers will spend much more than that, however, by the time all the options are tallied up.
To be honest, the DB11 looks like a good deal compared to the BMW M6 and Porsche 911 Turbo S. Both clock in at over $200,000 and don’t feel nearly as exotic or special. In this price bracket, Aston has the market cornered on desirability—still.
It’s a bargain compared to Ferrari’s F12 Berlinetta. Its closest rival is probably the aging Bentley Continental, which is good, but not this good, and due to be replaced soon anyway.
By the end of a day driving the DB11 it was hard to remain detached. It’s simply an excellent car, a well-judged product thrown into a hyper-demanding market. The DB11 makes Aston’s future look very bright. Now—where were those canapés?
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.