Revolutions rarely come more dignified than this; but before we get too sentimental over the svelte lines and soulful powertrain of the new Aston Martin flagship, allow me to remind you what it is: a car that, after a constant 13-year evolution (that's like an aeon in a car's terms), comes with a new bonded aluminum monocoque, new twin-turbocharged engine, new eight-gear auto, new bits and pieces supplied by its new ally Mercedes-Benz, as well as lots of new technology that affected both exterior and interior. In all likelihood, it's the most revolutionary step in Aston Martin's 103 years of brand history, and the one to define the next 103.
The DB11 is where Andy Palmer's Aston Martin starts. The resolute Brit left his cushy job at Nissan to join the underperforming supercar maker in the fall of 2014. Since then, he has sped up the development of the cars held in the pipeline, laid plans for many more, started building Aston's second production facility, and set up cooperation with Red Bull to create the greatest hypercar in the world. After more than a decade of playing the same tunes with merely minor remixes on the way, Aston Martin is in for 10 new hits to be released before 2021, including the DBX crossover and recently premiered AM-RB 001.
Crucially, for all of this to happen the DB11 must be good, and by good, we mean world class. There are two reasons for this; firstly, most of the future cars will be based on its new, still unnamed chassis, which finally replaces the old VH architecture. Even more importantly, to progress with its model campaign, Aston Martin needs the capital it hopes to earn on DB11 sales. At the company headquarters in Gaydon, this strategy is simply known as the "sh*t or bust" plan.
No pressure for the new car then. For all of the key people involved in the project, the DB11 was probably the greatest challenge of their careers; not only for Andy Palmer, but also for Marek Reichman, author of the recent Aston Martin Vulcan and Rolls-Royce Phantom. Reichman was given a seemingly impossible task of designing a successor to the DB9, by many deemed the most beautiful car in the world. Ian Minards, chief of product development, took the order for the first turbocharged engine in Aston Martin's history. To develop this car, Matt Becker left Lotus after a 26-year stint during which he had elevated the company to its current position of an engineering superpower.
When we saw the DB11 back in March, we knew that at least one of the guys had done his job well. This was designer Marek Reichman. The DB11 styling may take a while to grow on you, but that's only because of the fresh and creative approach to classic Aston Martin motifs. Certainly the bold style at both ends needs some time to get associated with Aston Martin design language, but a glance at the silhouette reassures us this is indeed a thing of balanced beauty. Marek says it all lies in the proportions, based on the classic golden ratio principle. You can find it everywhere, from the body to glass proportions and small details, like the height of the bone line that magnifies the length of the car. Aston Martins have always been recognized for their aesthetic qualities, but this time, the company's design team, more than ever before, had to take into consideration the technology bit. Thanks to some clever air channeling, DB11's body is exceptionally aero efficient. The small black vents that follow the front wheels help to manage the pressure in the wheelhousings more effectively, while the air sucked under the C-pillars is directed to the rear; there it is thrown out diagonally to create downforce without any additional drag or having to add aero features that would clutter the clean, gentle lines of the car.
The styling was never the problem with the DB9; it showed its age inside the cabin. The DB11 makes up for lost time and after years of fiddly ergonomics and outdated Garmin navigation, the new Aston is up to date with the latest infotainment trends courtesy of the Mercedes-sourced Comand system. Together with some glitzy design features, high-quality leather, and some cool carbon-fiber inlays, the Brits have taken a huge step forward without letting the Aston Martin spirit evaporate. The central part of the dashboard follows traditional brand layout with a row of buttons for the gearbox in the middle, and the winged logo reminds us of the DB model line traditions. However, with the TFT instrument cluster and touch-sensitive Comand system panel, the DB11 feels not like one, but at least two generations ahead of the venerable DB9.
For all the challenges the DB11 creators were faced with, they were given one substantial advantage. Starting with a clean sheet design allowed the team total flexibility with dimensions. It was used to great effect on the body design, but even better is what's happening inside the cabin. From this perspective, the DB11 is finally a full-grown GT with ample room for four and luggage for a week's continental trip. In this way, the new car goes back to the roots of the DB lineage, where the DB4 and DB5 were true grand tourers. This effectively positions the new car further apart from the new Vantage and Vanquish model lines, which will come in the next two or three years. The DB11 will be the most versatile and relaxed of the lineup, which is aptly reflected by the way it drives. Don't expect it to be a Porsche 911 or BMW M6 beater; it's telling that the new DB is said to be the softest sprung Aston Martin to date, the four-door Rapide included. Subjectively, it also feels like the lightest steering of any Aston I can remember. No sign of carbon-ceramic brakes here, either, and the steel discs installed are probably the weakest point in DB11's dynamic repertoire: The left pedal lacks feel or decisiveness. Also, bear in mind that the brilliant ZF eight-gear auto was chosen here for the fluidity of shifting, as engineers accepted its drawbacks over a faster, but sometimes abruptly operating, double-clutch gearbox.
No doubt, the torque vectoring system and stiff chassis make DB11 a very capable and agile performer when it is driven fast, but for the last word in driver involvement, you have to wait for the more focused Aston Martins, which will come later. What we get in return, though, is just as good: The DB11 is the most pliant and cosseting Aston Martin to date. Our test route wound through the beautiful surroundings of Tuscany and was packed with poor quality surfaces and tight hairpins. Even here, the Aston couldn't care less; it just covered miles in undisturbed poise and style. It'd all have felt almost too balanced and predictable but for the engine, which brought back much of the supercar ferocity. Aston Martin's first take on the turbocharged technology turns out to be one of the best efforts in the whole of the supercar industry. Despite forced induction, the new 5.2L V-12 is everything you'd want it to be: powerful, reactive, playful, and, most importantly, still able to make your hair stand on end just from the sounds. It's one of the best things about the new DB11 and, arguably, also one of the brightest points in the whole $ 200k+ performance segment.
The DB11 is what it says on the tin: a true DB car turned up to 11. It's a car that, compared to its predecessor, made huge progress on all fronts, the most important of which is that it'll take you over great distances in comfort and style, unseen even in Aston Martins of the past. It's a car that Andy Palmer needed, both for what it stands for and for the commercial success it's bound to achieve.