“We only have one robot in the factory,” says design boss Marek Reichman. Don’t feel bad for him, when you’re Aston Martin that’s actually a boast. When you’re Porsche on the other hand, you’re busy sniggering and losing count again — for the body shop alone Porsche added 380 new robots to its Leipzig plant.
You see, independence in this business almost doesn’t exist and even giants capitulate — BMW and Toyota need each other to make financial sense of their joint 2018 Supra sportscar. Daimler needs Renault for its city cars, and the Japanese team with Citroën for theirs. Porsche has developed Bentley’s next-generation vehicle architecture and as of next year, things have gone so far that the Mustang and Camaro will soon ease their eternal rivalry and share automatic 10-speed transmissions.
In other words in this business you need friends, and Gaydon just got the biggest guy in the yard watching its back: Daimler, aka, Bubba. That’s nice, because now Aston Martin can pick a fight for whomever’s milk money it wants. Today, for example, the new DB11 is trespassing in Ferrari’s backyard howling around Tuscan hills.
wheels landed here to try the most important Aston Martin’s ever made, and the first result of the British carmaker’s recent partnership with Mercedes. And no, I’m not going to say that in the end all it took for a British sportscar to finally come out right was some Germans… because actually Mercedes has very little to do with the all-new DB11, and nothing at all with its engine.
This is Aston’s latest flagship Grand Tourer so you get a V12 and nothing else. Well, there is something else; two big turbos hanging off it. If it was a Merc-AMG engine the turbos would be inside the cylinder banks as per Affalterbach’s preferred ‘Hot-V’ layout. So this isn’t just a shiny, new Merc engine in an antiquated British barge, but an excellent in-house developed design that’s suddenly my favourite turbo engine on the market. The power is nice and all, but the noise… This sounds like a V12 and it sounds like an Aston, so that’s fine with me.
A good start, but to compete with scarily capable new S-Class Coupés and Bentley Continental GTs, the Aston needs to keep this theme going.
That lonely robot in Gaydon that Reichman was talking about earlier before our drive began, it’s responsible for bonding the DB11’s all-new aluminium platform, which replaces the old VH architecture that’s formed the basis of all road Astons going on 12 years now. The structure is lighter and 25 per cent stiffer than before with lots of attention paid to refinements in ride and handling.
The bulk of that job went to former Lotus chassis boss Matt Becker who was responsible for Hethel’s Evora and its ridiculously fine ride quality. This man knows what he’s doing and the Evora was obviously no fluke because the DB11 too rides great on its Bridgestones. I’d compare it to an S 65 Coupé with everything firmed up.
Perhaps that doesn’t bode well for Tuscany’s twisty roads coming up on the 350km test route but we need to stop and consider who is buying these cars. Namely, Philip…
Now, Philip, Aston’s marketing boss Simon Sproule tells us, is the company’s proxy buyer, literally the target customer amalgamated into one fictional person, the ultimate Aston driver. Like everybody, Philip has likes and dislikes, and fortunately Aston Martin understands that.
“The minute you try to please everybody,” says Sproule, “That’s when you fail, because you try building a car for everybody but you end up building a car for no one.”
Really, in a class of fat, old blobs it’s the only one that can still fit in the university rowing club blazer...
Philip knows what he wants and he just wants a proper GT, a classical GT that he can’t get anywhere else because Bentleys are ordered in pink or gold and Mercs are driven by old people, even though he’s getting on a bit himself, too. They’ve obviously got him sussed out, because Sproule goes on to explain that Philip is in his mid-Fifties, around 55, married, one daughter, and he lives just outside Oxford in the Cotswolds where he has a construction company and also 98 per cent of him owns an SUV…
Philip will enjoy Becker’s meticulously tuned ride in his new DB11. Once you press on it doesn’t get any worse and the body roll is well curbed for a large vehicle such as this. At 1,770kg dry it’s a featherweight surrounded by 2.2-tonne Mercs and 2.3-tonne Bentleys. Really, in a class of fat, old blobs it’s the only one that can still fit in the university rowing club blazer. Philip watches what he eats.
The marginal weight saving of 15kg over the predecessor (which was the DB9 by the way — the DB10 went straight to James Bond…) is in the new structure to an extent and lots of composite body panels — stuff like the bonnet, roof and doors are aluminium but the rest is CFRP and injection-moulded plastic. It looks like a lot of car and compared to most things it is, but it’s actually shorter and significantly lower than its bloated rivals. The wheelbase dimension strikes a balance in the segment but it doesn’t do much for interior space because the rear seats in here are still useless. Beautifully trimmed in the hide of Alpine bulls who roam free of barbed-wire borders that scar the skin, and detailed with brogue stitching, but useless.
As you can see, the DB11 isn’t ugly either. Its proportions are perfect and as it should, the bonnet goes on forever — from behind the wheel you have wonderful satin chrome engine vents in your view as reference points. Or you can ruin them and order them in black.
Speaking of which, colour is actually very important with the new DB11 — I’ve never laid eyes on a car that metamorphoses as this does under the influence of colour. In light hues like our tester’s Lightning Silver it looks graceful and lithe, and in darker tones it’s solid and more luxurious, fuller. Choose carefully even though in the end you’ll just get it in Khaleeji white.
The big deal is under the front-hinged clamshell. That’s a fantastic thing in itself, harking back to old E-Types and such proper GTs, and the entire bonnet is the largest single-piece aluminium pressed panel in the industry. Reichman was adamant he didn’t want unsightly shut lines up front, and the engineers delivered. But the engine is the DB11’s heart and it’s all Aston — AMG will only start supplying Gaydon with V8s and V12s from 2018. This one’s a 5.2-litre making 600 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 700Nm of torque from 1,500rpm. It’s creamy and flexible and you hardly need to use two or three of the ZF’s eight gears. There’s another big deal — there are no rubbish, Aston robotised manuals here.
From rest it’s stupendously quick for a plush GT — zero to 100kph quoted in less than four seconds — and the V12 picks up enormous pace at any revs in any gear. Following caravans the ’box looks for seventh immediately and you don’t even need a downshift to overtake. And despite the muffling of two turbochargers, the engine note seems natural, which is refreshing in today’s era, when automotive engineers suddenly seem to have discovered Kanye West and Auto-Tune.
The universal ZF — in everything from Ram pick-up trucks to Rolls-Royces — lends itself nicely to any manufacturer to fiddle with and map as it pleases, and here it’s tuned great with just enough shove when you’re yanking on the long-travel, fixed paddles behind the wheel and lengthy spokes. Perfect. Beats me how everyone else in the industry apart from Aston and the Italians get this bit so wrong.
The squared-off steering wheel is immediately sharper than anything on a VH platform, with a 13:1 steering ratio that’s way quicker than the old DB9. Crucially, it is an electric steering system rather than a hydraulic one, because Philip wanted less effort, not more feel.
It’s clear Aston Martin painstakingly sweated the small stuff because even the foot pedals are so lush and meaty...
Aston Martin still gave him the best of both with one of the best electric systems on the market — it is sharp without the Ferrari F12’s nervousness, and constant without the Merc’s or Bentley’s artificial weighting. It’s clear Aston Martin painstakingly sweated the small stuff because even the foot pedals are so lush and meaty and just perfectly weighted, like piano pedals, you can really feed in the braking and modulate it. That instils a lot of confidence in the driver, especially in a large, 1.8-tonne vehicle, to always know exactly what’s under your right foot.
If you shuffle through the Daimler-sourced driver’s display you can switch the electronics off, and driving modes include GT, Sport and Sport Plus. Brake-actuated torque vectoring (a first for Aston) culls some understeer in slow corners and the rear end features a mechanical limited slip differential — the DB11 is balanced and feels unrushed even when it’s going some. The V12 has more than enough in it to overpower the 295/35 tyres, and even 400mm and 360mm front and rear brakes can be caught out by this car’s surge.
Problems? The boot opening is too small, a bunch of stuff comes from a C-Class, and there is way too much wind noise inside at high speeds. You know, true Astonisms. And anyway, something as simple as the beautiful, satin-polished sun visor hinge in this car makes you go ooh and aah. The V12, you just want to close your eyes and listen — oh, for autonomous mode… The grained wood makes you run your fingertips all over it, and you walk slowly all along the car and do the same with the brushed aluminium roof strake. Yeah, not even Bubba can get you that.