Review: 2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8
Combines old-world vibe with modern construction
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Gorgeous inside and out; strong performance which can be tailored to your mood; nice combination of up-to-the-minute technology and old-world values.
- What’s worst: Old-style SatNav system; a few minor controls will take some acclimatizing.
- What’s interesting: Not your run-of-the-mill supercar.
If there is a car company with a longer, more storied and more complicated history but with fewer total sales than Aston Martin, I’m not sure what it would be.
The company was founded in 1913 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. The “Aston” part of the name stems from an English race circuit where the early cars competed; Bamford appears to have lost out in the name game.
Ownership changed about a million times in the intervening century-plus years; for a time in the late-1970s / early-1980s, Toronto hotelier/restaurateur George Minden was among the company’s owners.
And of course, Aston Martins were featured in a number of James Bond films in what has to be the best movie product placement deal of all time.
The details of the company’s current ownership would probably be of interest only to those who read the financial pages. Suffice it to say that a small percentage of the company is owned by Daimler-Benz, and management is headed up by Britain-born former Nissan/Infiniti executive Andy Palmer.
Prominent on the list of Aston Martin saviours is David Brown, a British industrialist who owned the company from 1947 to 1972. His importance is reflected in the fact that most of the company’s cars produced since have retained his initials in their nomenclature.
To wit, today’s subject, the DB11 V8. List price is currently $233,650, but of course you can personalize that up to pretty much the national debt of a small Third World country. Or of the province of Ontario.
The DB11 was launched in 2016 with a Mercedes-AMG twin turbo V12 engine. The DB11 V8 also gets a Mercedes-AMG-originated twin-turbo engine, this one a 90-degree four-cam 32-valve V8 displacing 4.0 litres.
Aston Martin reworks the engine, changing among other things the firing order of the cylinders to get a more charismatic exhaust note.
The engine has cylinder deactivation, shutting off one bank of cylinders to save a few millilitres of fuel. As if you buy a car costing a quarter mill to save on gasoline. But like all car companies, Aston Martin has to be aware of fuel economy regulations.
And rich people didn’t get rich by wasting their money.
More important to Aston owners, it produces 503 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m., and a torque plateau (hardly a “curve”) of 513 lb.-ft. from 2,000 to 5,000 r.p.m.
These numbers are significantly less and slightly less, respectively, than those for the V12 (600 / 516).
The performance differences are slight as well. Acceleration to 100 km/h is nearly a dead heat, both around four seconds, with the V12 having a wee edge.
They say that the numbers never lie, but they can be misleading, because this car feels quite different from the V12.
To get the most from it, you’ll be revving it harder, although it comes about as close to eliminating turbo lag as it gets.
Still, power comes on in a rush above 4 grand, whereas the V12 is a bit more relaxed, if that’s the right word for a car that does 0 — 100 that quickly.
In both cars, the engine is bolted to an eight-speed ZF automatic mounted in the rear axle and connected to the engine by a carbon fibre prop shaft. Rear-wheel drive only.
The reduced weight of the V8 model (by some 162 kilograms) and the more rearward placement of the engine make this version notably more nimble, its slightly rearward weight distribution (49/51 versus 51/49) also assisting here.
Am I trying to say I can tell the difference of 2 per cent in weight distribution in a 500-plus horsepower sports car?
Yeah, I guess I am. But if you are sensitive enough, you will feel the difference.
There are, of course, other differences that may help explain this result.
As Alek Ackerman of Grand Touring Automobiles, who arranged the loan of his baby, put it, “The V12 is a grand tourer; the V8 is more athletic, more of a sports car.”
Toward this end, the V8 gains a retuned suspension with stiffer spring rates and a quicker steering ratio.
You can program the DB11 to respond according to your mood. Buttons on the steering wheel allow you to select from three driving programs — GT (Grand Touring), Sport and Sport+ — to tailor engine and transmission (right button) and suspension response (left button) to your specific desires of the moment.
I left both in Sport+ most of the time, and even on Toronto’s Beirut-by-Night pockmarked streets, ride quality was fine, albeit firm.
Should you manually select a gear, it stays in Manual mode until you hit the Drive button again, or pull back on the upshift paddle for about five seconds.
Ackerman notes that the travel for the paddle shifters is significantly shorter than in the V12, on the assumption that this driver is in more of a hurry and wants those gear ratios changed RIGHT NOW.
Aston stays with the paddle shifters affixed to the steering column; they do not turn with the steering wheel. Collectively, the industry has not decided which way is best; every time I try a car that does it one way, I wish it were the other, so I’m no help. You will get used to it.
Pretty much everything else in the DB11 V8 is the same as in the V12 variant, and that’s all good.
For starters, it’s just gorgeous. Marek Reichman, chief creative officer for Aston Martin, says they took a chance on the DB11, going for a more dramatic look than usual for Aston, one they felt was necessary to reflect the radical aluminum-intensive underbody structure, yet retaining some of the trademark styling cues, like the grille.
My test car was painted in a matte white finish. Normally, I’m not a fan of matte finishes. I mean, we’ve spent over a century trying to make cars shiny; now for an extra several grand, you can make your car look like it was painted with a broom.
But this one is different. Matte yes, but with sparkly things in it that just, well, sparkle.
The interior is beautifully executed in top-quality materials, many of which are owner’s choice. Ackerman himself specified the interior on this car, calling for soft brown leather with white stitching, and matte-finished wood trim.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and rearward visibility is pretty good for such a low car.
The rear seats? Well, there are seatbelts back there, but unless you are a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, best to leave them for carrying a briefcase.
One striking thing about the interior is the central dash screen — striking mainly because it has been lifted directly from older Mercedes-Benzes. It is at least one generation out of date and does not have touch capability — you work it all from controls in the centre console.
Still, after a couple hours, it all started to come back to me and became easier to use. Odd, though, how quickly you get used to the newer technology and how much you miss it when you don’t have it.
The car does have a nice overhead view camera to make reversing less onerous. You really don’t want to bump into anything with this car.
And for those who find opening the glove box just too onerous, it is power-operated here.
Transmission ratios are selected by push buttons on the centre dash, Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive, with a larger starter button in the middle. I’ve come around on these things — they aren’t as handy as a console shifter, but when do you ever shift gears with a lever anymore? Do it with the paddles.
The seat adjuster controls are located on the centre console tunnel, which takes some getting used to — they are usually on the door. On a few occasions in DB11s, I have hit these with my knee while driving — not a good idea when you are booting along, as this car encourages you to do.
The DB11 range combines some of the old-world attributes of Astons — wood, leather, ambience — with ultra-modern construction, up-to-the-minute styling and top-rate powertrain and suspension technology. It will appeal to someone who wants something more exclusive than a Jaguar or Porsche but not perhaps as “show-offy” as a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
The DB11 V8 offers all that in a sportier package that is more different than its sibling than you might guess at first blush. Now, how do I go about getting a raise?
2018 Aston Martin DB11 V8
BODY STYLE: 2 doors, 2 + 2 half-passengers, hatchback coupe. Rear-wheel drive.
Price: $233,650 base.
Engine: 4.0l V8, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct injection, twin-turbochargers.
Power/torque, horsepower / lb.-ft.: 503 @ 6,000 r.p.m. / 513 @ 2,000 — 5,000 r.p.m.
Fuel consumption, Transport Canada City/Highway, l/100 km: n/a. Premium unleaded fuel.
Competition: Audi R8, Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Huracan, Maserati GranTurismo, a small yacht.
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