New Aston CEO Andy Palmer has described the new DB11 as ‘the most important car in Aston Martin’s history’. The DB11 and every other Aston upon which the hopes of a buoyant renaissance and financial future have ever been invested! Aston would not be Martin if it wasn’t selling the world’s most desirable, soulful, quintessentially British, expensively over-engineered and intriguingly-flawed cars at eye-watering prices that nevertheless don’t ever make the marque comfortably profitable. Lionel Martin set the mould in the early 1920s when, on the back of stunning motor-sport success, he went into production making precision-perfect sports cars at such a level of build quality that after car number 50 or so he ran out of money. Act One.
Acts two, three, four, five, six and seven have all played out the same way.
Happily, today’s Aston Martin, supported by a consortium of new owners including Mercedes Benz and with a fresh injection of development cash, is not about to run dry. But even so, there’s a lot riding on the DB11. Set aside for the moment that every red-blooded petrol-head has been droolingly impatient for its appearance, the DB11 is the first in Andy Palmer’s master-plan to revive the marque’s fortune. The changes are cumulative, each one relatively subtle, but overall this is much more revolution than evolution. The DB11 sets the bar. So what’s it like?
First impressions are of the car’s breathtaking beauty. Still unmistakably Aston, the DB11 is more predatory than the DB9, ever so slightly rakish even. The folds are sharper, the haunches leaner. It looks pumped. Not quite Raffles the gentleman thug, but definitely more a Daniel Craig kind of Aston. As well as some great riffs on iconic styling cues, like the aero-inspired strakes coming off the front wheel-arches, I feel there’s also a touch of the DB4GT Zagato about the new DB11, especially those race-horse wheel-arches: and that’s no bad thing at all, the Zagato being one of the most beautiful post-war sports cars.
Inside the story is still good, though not universally great. There’s more space and there’s a feeling of space too, with curving, sculpted surfaces giving an organic, warmly enveloping feel. Everything feels reassuringly solid: the steering-wheel buttons, the door-handles, the gear-shift paddles, which actually ting like a tuned instrument if you tap them! I loved the brogued leather, the sparing use of aluminium to highlight edges. Sadly, I didn’t love the driving position. It was my lower back that let on, after an hour in the saddle, that my legs were canted to one side. Not by much, but when my throttle leg went numb it was enough to spoil the party.
It was a hard one to call this, because the fault, I’m sure, must have been the behind-the-front-axle position of that volcanically sexy, force of nature that was the sublime 5.2 litre, quad-cam, twin-turbo V12: which at 5000 rpm sounded like the Rapture, the birth of the Universe and all God’s celestial choirs hitting the same frenetic crescendo in unison. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to knock the paddle into manual, notch down two gears and ride that rpm curve like a surfboard. Almost as much fun as starting her up on a cool, quiet morning in the countryside. Tsunami warning, north Norfolk. Personally my engine gallery of dreams had never included a V12: it’s just too rococo, too many cylinders. V-twin, flat-four, straight-six, V-8 is all a perfect world really needs. But I’m on the edge of a revision. I am seeing the light.
With 600 bhp ready for service under the right foot, this is the most powerful road-going Aston ever. It is ready to spin the wheels in pretty much any gear at any speed. On the rain-soaked, beet-strewn roads of Norfolk I learnt to be careful with the throttle. It just wasn’t built for these kinds of byways. The DB11 for all its simmering power and ‘did-you-spill-my-pint?’ styling is a Grand Tourer in the grand tradition. I was just aching to try it on the sweeping EU-funded bends and straights of mainland Europe, Astrud Gilberto filling the concert-hall sound-system and that bass-line V12 eating tarmac like a mile-hungry vulcan.
Aston Martin DB11
OTR from £154,900
Annual road fund licence £515 (first-year rate £1,120)
Combined fuel consumption: 25 mpg (18 mpg as tested)
Power 600 bhp
0 – 60: 3.9 secs
Top speed: 200 mph