I’ll admit my first acquaintance with the DB11 wasn’t a particularly happy one. I drove it in the UK, sometime after launch, and, frankly, I was a little bit disappointed. A grand tourer is always going to be something of a compromise, a balancing act, and to me the early DB11 didn’t quite get that mix right. Too big and difficult to place to be climb up towards its more sporting, focussed rivals, and not cosseting or effortless enough to fulfil that of a leggy, indulgent GT car like a Bentley Continental GT or a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso.
That changed with the arrival of the AMR, think of this as DB11 re-booted, Aston Martin’s new team, from top to bottom, taking what they were given and reaffirming it, giving it a clearer, more defined focus, that underlined by the addition of the AMR badge. At its launch in May last year, Matt Becker, the DB11 AMR’s Chief Engineer spoke about how he fought over a half millimetre change in the diameter of the anti-roll bar, underlining the obsessive, driven desire to make the DB11 the car it always should have been.
That half millimetre wasn’t the end of it, either, the comprehensive, if infinitesimal changes adding to a greater collective whole. The DB11 AMR is a sharper, more engaging car, yet one that fulfils its expansive GT brief more adeptly, too, that a hugely difficult bandwidth to cover. It’s more powerful, by 30bhp, the AMR’s 5.2-litre twin turbocharged V12 engine developing some 630bhp and 516lb.ft of twist, but you’ll do well to notice the difference, its immediacy being where the AMR’s changes are more obvious, not outright pace.
Here, now, I’m happy for that, as while the first part of my day has been many miles of Autostrade, that’s Italian for highway, but now the road’s just gotten a lot more interesting. The DB11 AMR excelled on expansive, multiple lanes that make up the arterial automotive lines of communication through the Italian landscape, but we’re headed off them, to Cortina d’Ampezzo.
That’s a ski resort, which means mountains. Which means mountain roads. The DB11 AMR is being tasked with that clichéd mountain pass at the end of a long day on the road. There’s a reason clichés exist though, because they do actually happen. It’s a tough brief for any car, but as a GT car the DB11 AMR should be able to take it in its stride.
The first impressions are positive. Yes, it’s big, the DB11 AMR’s cabin might be beautifully finished, and now, something relatively new to Aston Martin, work with a polished clarity that’s sensible and understandable, that alone making the journey thus far less frustrating. It’s sports car in its dimensions inside, that’s to say tight without being claustrophobic, that rather at odds with its dimensions outside.
If there’s a complaint as the roads get narrower, and the bends tighter, it’s the view out. The scuttle is high on the DB11, which has everything to do with the fact the 5.2-litre twin-turbo V12 is situated so far back in the chassis. Front mid-engined, then, that meaning the occasional craning of your neck to try to see down its expansive bonnet. Placing the DB11 AMR takes a bit of time, then, but the changes the AMR brought bring it the accuracy that makes that possible, or at least significantly improves on it.
That half millimetre thicker anti-roll bar must be doing its thing, in unison with all the other changes that elevate the AMR to another level, and one that’s clear here. As the elevation gains the temperature plummets, snow, apparent earlier at the side of the roads is now in places on it, this AMR differing in one way over the last one I drove. It’s still on Bridgestones, only not the usual S007 tyres, but Bridgestone’s Blizzak LM001, with its compounds and cut designed to cope with the conditions it’s facing.
There’s always a tentative build up to running on wet, snowy and sometimes icy roads on a winter tyre. There’s a disconnect, a feeling of incredulity that you’ve got any grip and traction, let alone enough to allow you to exploit, and enjoy the sort of outputs the AMR delivers.
The transport around here might more usually have a third of the Aston Martin’s power, but it’s typically driving double the axles. You could be forgiven for thinking that the V12 grand tourer would have its wings clipped, denied progress by the paucity of traction, but those tyres work, allowing the DB11 AMR to genuinely take on this, the trickiest facet of its expansive brief.
The sharper, more accurate nose I experienced at the car’s launch is still obvious, the steering weighting fine, there even a touch of feel at your hands. The greater wheel control is obvious, too, thanks in no small part to the loss of some unsprung weight, aiding in the control, while also benefitting the ride quality. The dampers, adjustable to suit via a switch on the steering wheel provide cosseting comfort, the other modes a bit too focussed, and not aiding traction here, it not losing its agility despite the softer setting. It’s surefooted, sharp yet easy at the same time, demonstrating the agility and athleticism you want, yet not being so focussed and demanding to make it tiresome.
It’s to the DB11 AMR’s enormous credit, that after a long day on the road, that here, and now, when we’re nearing our destination and the road’s at its most challenging, that there’s incentive not to lollop, but to push harder, enjoy the big Aston’s fine balance, wring out its magnificent, sonorous engine and trust the combination of its stability control systems and its winter tyres to keep things going the way you want them to. Switch the stability system to Track, with its higher thresholds and you quickly realise how much work the electronics have quietly been doing in the background, but not before grabbing the odd exuberant handful of opposite lock coming out of a bend just for the hell of it.
That the DB11 AMR is so eager to please even here is s surprise, so much so it’s easy to forget that part of the drive is the journey, and the views outside. Astons Martins are always described as beautiful, and that’s undeniable, but even the taut lines and neat detailing that makes up the AMR’s surfaces have some real competition from the mountains that fill the views out of the Aston’s windows.
In AMR guise it’s a fitting flagship to the DB11 range, a car that’s able to dispatch huge distances with ridiculous ease, yet engage and appeal when the road and mood takes you. There’s a whole mountain to explore, and even after a day of driving that’s exactly what we head of to do, after all you just would, wouldn’t you…