THE PROS & CONS
- What’s hot: Spectacular styling; gorgeous interior; excellent handling; intriguing aerodynamic innovations; exclusivity.
- What’s not: “2+2” designation more than a shade optimistic; shift paddle placement at least debatable; I still need a WAY bigger raise.
DEL MAR, CALIF.-Aston Martin has always been a pretty small outfit.
But their racing successes and clever product placement — you can’t think James Bond without thinking Aston Martin — means reputation-wise, it punches well above its weight.
Aston Martin has had a whole bunch of owners in its long history, including Ford and former Toronto hotelier George Minden.
But only one, former tractor maker David Brown who rescued it in 1947 and ran it until 1972, remains immortalized in the nomenclature.
That’s what ‘DB’ stands for in the new DB11, the first model from the company’s ‘Second Century’ platform, introduced under the leadership of new CEO, former Nissan/Renault 2IC Dr. Andy Palmer.
The DB11 is now available for ordering at your friendly local Aston Martin dealer, starting at $254,195.
The company is now owned by a couple of investment firms, with Daimler also owning a five-per-cent share. This has a disproportionate impact on the company’s now-current and near-future offerings.
The DB11 continues with an aluminum-intensive extruded and bonded structure, but it is all new for this car. The huge square cross-section members of the old are replaced with more formed pieces which provide greater strength with less weight, and allow more interior space and easier access. A 65-millimetre wheelbase increase helps here, as does a repositioned differential.
The undeniably gorgeous bodywork starts with a reimagined iteration of the iconic Aston Martin grille.
The massive hood — er, ‘bonnet’ — is apparently the largest single aluminum pressing in the car industry. The single stamping eliminates the many ‘shut lines’ that mar most front ends.
Aluminum is also used for doors and roof, with composite fenders and trunk lid, and injection-moulded plastic for bumpers, front splitter and rear diffuser.
Aston Martins are no strangers to rear deck spoilers, necessary to keep high-speed cars planted to the pavement. But chief ink-thrower Marek Reichman asked engineering if they could find a way to do this without compromising the profile of his design.
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Darren Coe and his aerodynamics team came up with two innovations — the ‘Curlicue’ vent, which releases high-pressure air from under the front fenders to reduce front-end lift, and the really clever ‘AeroBlade’ (trademarked, dontcha know).
This consists of air intakes in the rear roof pillars which direct air through ducts inside the trunk lid which then exits through a slot at the very back of the trunk lid, creating a ‘virtual’ air dam which intercepts air pouring over the roof to provide the requisite rear downforce.
At speeds which would get you tossed in jail in Canada, a small physical spoiler rises up a couple centimetres to augment this force. It tactfully retracts when speed decreases.
The more spacious interior is beautifully kitted out, with lovely leather everywhere and, in my test car, hard trim in a new, very cool-looking ‘chopped carbon’ material.
Several ‘designer’ interiors are also offered, and you can pretty much ask their ‘bespoke’ division to build you anything you can imagine.
The lovely crystal key fob which you inserted to start the car in previous Astons is gone, replaced with the now-universal push button.
But even here, there’s an innovation — push lightly, and the car roars to life with a loud BLATT from the exhaust system.
Don’t want to wake the neighbours? Hold the start button down and the engine just purrs to life.
The initial Daimler influence is seen in the adoption of Mercedes’s COMAND system for infotainment, with a round knob on the centre console for function selection. Several years of experience with this system in various Mercedes means it is almost intuitive now.
Aston calls the DB11 a “true 2 + 2.” Um, well …
Pulling on the front seatback release lever causes the seat to electric-glide ever so slowly forward. Not that anyone but a Cirque du Soleil acrobat would be in any hurry to climb in the back. I’m 5-foot-10 and sitting there would beat walking home in the rain, but only just.
Two ISOFIX anchor points do allow fitting of child safety seats, and the trunk can handle two golf bags, proof that Aston knows its customers …
The V12 engine can trace its DNA back to its twin-Ford Duratec V6 roots, but it has been so thoroughly re-engineered that barely a couple of bolts remain. It is built in a now-Aston-owned facility in Cologne, Germany.
(The soon-to-come Daimler influence? Future Aston V8 engines will come from AMG.)
With the V12’s displacement reduced to 5.3 litres and now twin-turbocharged, it is the most powerful road-going DB engine ever at 600 horsepower, yet the most fuel efficient. Ian Hartley, chief engineer on the DB11, was rightly proud that his car dodges the U.S. ‘gas guzzler’ tax.
Not that owners in this snack bracket can’t afford it, but generally, these people don’t like paying taxes of any sort, so it’s a nice bragging point.
This efficiency in part stems from automatic stop/start in traffic, and from cylinder deactivation under light load, accomplished by shutting off one entire bank of cylinders at a time. Depending on catalyst temperature, among other things, the banks switch back and forth imperceptibly to even things out.
Ready to roll? Push the “D” button on the centre stack (closer to the driver’s side in the home country, a bit of a stretch for us).
If you launch from rest without preloading the brakes (no launch control function is available), things don’t really get going until you hit about 3,000 r.p.m. Then, hold on.
A strong steady linear push shoves you back in the seat, getting you to 100 km/h in a tick under four seconds.
Accompanied as always by a pure melodic exhaust note — no fake amplified noise fed into the car’s sound system here; everything you hear is real.
The 8-speed ZF automatic transmission, fitted to the rear axle for better front-to-rear weight distribution, shifts beautifully as it does in several other cars which also use it.
If you wish, you can stir the gears via steering wheel shift paddles. Once you do so, the car remains in ‘Manual’ mode until you either hit the “D” button again, or hold the upshift (right) paddle for a few seconds.
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The ‘paddles fixed to the steering wheel’ or ‘paddles fixed to the steering column’ decision came down to ‘steering column’ here. Whichever car I’m in, I always seem to prefer the other choice!
Fitted to the steering wheel, the correct paddle is almost always under the correct set of fingertips, assuming you can negotiate whatever corner you’re in without resorting to a hand-over-hand manoeuvre, which you usually can.
When they are fitted to the steering column, you always know where they are, no matter where the wheel is.
Either way, you’ll eventually get used to it.
As long as you keep those revs above three grand, throttle response is very good — you’ll scarcely note that it is a turbo engine.
A button on the right steering column spoke allows three choices for chassis and engine management — Grand Touring, Sport, and Sport + — governing throttle response, steering effort and response, transmission shift program and ESC intervention level. A similar button on the left spoke gives the same choices for damper settings.
Hartley tried to make the gradations more noticeable than in most such systems. The throttle, damper and transmission settings were indeed so; at the speeds my lack of desire to spend time in a San Diego County jail dictated, I didn’t notice that much difference in the steering.
Still, you can tool along in serene comfort, throw the balls to the wall, or operate somewhere in between, as the road, driving conditions and your mood dictate.
The most remarkable aspect of the handling is the immediate and aggressive turn-in, not always easy to achieve in a front-engined car. The Bridgestone Potenza tires, specifically developed for this car, surely have a lot to do with this, as does the chassis’s torque vectoring function, which can apply momentary brake force to a given wheel to help the car around the bend.
Steering feel is very good for Aston’s first electric power-assisted system.
Assessing ‘value’ in a car costing over a quarter of a mill is pointless. You want it, you can afford it, you buy it. Simple.
With the DB11, you are assured of getting a car which looks sensational, performs brilliantly, is remarkably tractable, is a possible daily driver, and yours will probably be the only one in your country club parking lot.
James Bond, over to you.
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Aston Martin DB11
Body Style: Two-plus-two-seat luxury grand-touring coupé. Rear-wheel drive.
Price: base — $254,195.
Engine: 5.3 litre V12, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, twin turbochargers.
Power/torque (horsepower / lb.-ft.): 600 @ 6,500 r.p.m. / 516 @ 1,500 — 5,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Transport Canada Fuel Consumption City / Highway (L/100 km): n/a. Premium fuel.
Score: 9.0 (if you can afford it); 9.5 (if you can only dream).
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