Every once in a while, a moonshot car comes along and defines the future of a brand. Think about the Porsche 959. What was a limited-run hypercar in the mid 1980s was essentially in production two decades later. The same can be said about the 2003 Bentley Continental. Sure, there were Bentleys built before and after, but that Continental was the road map for the brand’s way forward. When I say the Toyota, you think Prius. Certain cars are simply mission statements. With all that in mind, meet the DB11, the machine that will define every Aston Martin from here on out.
Should you peruse the press materials, you’ll see a line from CEO Andy Palmer that states, “We aspire to make the most beautiful cars in the world.” It must be a great work environment for the design team, huh? Anyhow, the DB11 is beautiful. Deeply, willfully, unabashedly beautiful. Admittedly, when I first saw the DB11 in print, I dismissed it as just another good-looking Aston Martin. When I saw one in the flesh at last year’s Geneva show, I thought the DB11 was sporty but not fist-bitingly sexy.
Counter-intuitively, auto shows are among the worst places to get a good look at a car. Tom Gale, the former head of Chrysler design, has said you have to see a car in sunlight before you can fully pass judgment. Not long ago I saw a white DB11 on the road and nearly snapped my neck trying to get a longer look. For those of you who haven’t seen the DB11 in person, I implore you to go hang out in Beverly Hills for the day. For those of you who have seen it and still don’t like it, all I can say is that sometimes people gaze upon the future and blink.
I kept finding new styling details to drool over. The most obvious are the “Curliques,” that pen on paper gesture enveloping the front wheel that makes the DB11 look like it’s rocketing forward at full speed while it’s sitting still. The Curlique first appeared on Aston Martin’s track-only super duper hyper car, the Vulcan—also done under the sharp eye of chief creative officer Marek Reichman—though the flourish looks even better here on the street-legal car.
Part of what allows such a stunning shape is the single-piece aluminum hood—the largest piece of aluminum used in the auto industry. In fact, the aluminum hood is so large that it uses a soft-close mechanism in order to minimize warping. Under that hood you’ll find one of my favorite features of the DB11: vents. These vents look remarkably similar to the vents found on the front fenders of the 991 Porsche GT3 RS. Functionally, vents like these are needed in high-performance cars because they release high-pressure air from the wheelwells, reducing lift. Aesthetically, they look lousy on the Porsche. Thankfully, Aston had the good sense to cover them.
The list of design-led engineering features—like the Curlique—on the Aston Martin DB11 is rather long, but the Aeroblade is noteworthy enough to deserve mentioning. Reichman’s team didn’t want the DB11’s shape to be interrupted by a spoiler or a wing on the back. They wanted to maintain the sloping shape of the back deck, keeping pure the rear end of the machine. Working with the engineering team, the designers discovered that passing air from vents in the C-pillars through and out the trunklid created a virtual spoiler that reduces drag. Pretty nifty, no? Should more downforce be in order, there’s a slender pop-up Gurney flap that rises in front of the Aeroblade’s holes. There’s no “BMW mode” for the Gurney flap, so you can’t pop it up while the car is parked.
Did a DB9 ever drive as good as it looked? Well, not really. You sort of gave that big old beauty a pass because, well, just look at it. As for the DB11, look, it’s not a Miata. It’s not even an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. The DB11 is, however, a big grand touring machine. And I mean big—4,194 pounds of Britishness, a number that I initially found quite shocking, especially considering that the last DB9 we weighed clocked in a relatively light 3,890 pounds. True, the DB11 is longer and wider (but shorter) than the car it replaces, but I’ve got no clue as to where the additional 22 stone come from. (That’s 306 pounds to us Yankee types.) That’s the remarkable thing, however. The DB11 is brilliant to drive. Think of it as a baby Bentley, as the latest DB is easily a half-ton lighter than a 600-horsepower Continental. Viewed through that lens, the DB11’s driving character is suddenly phenomenal. The steering is great, the road holding—even on the preposterously named Bridgestone S007 tires—is stellar, and power is exactly how it should be.
When international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie first drove the DB11, he said the best all-around suspension setting was Sport. For cruising, perhaps, but for beating up back roads, Sport Plus is the way to go. However, I’d suggest putting the powertrain into Sport—Sport Plus makes the engine too twitchy, a nifty achievement in lag reduction—while selecting Track for the traction control. That latter adjustment allows plenty of slippage before the nannies kick in. When the traction control is left in normal, the computer intervention is far too frequent, to the point that it actually slows down your canyon carving. In Track, the nanny’s about as good as these sorts of systems get. The DB11 is sorted on the road. The track, as you’ll see, is a different story.
Before we get to what our resident hot-shoe and 24 Hours of Daytona winner Randy Pobst thinks of the DB11, let’s talk about what our test team was able to coax out of it. Zero to 60 mph takes place in 3.8 seconds. The quarter mile is dispatched in 11.9 seconds at 124.7 mph, the sort of trap speed you’d expect from a 600-hp car. Do you want the DB11 to be quicker? I’d answer with a question: Does it need to be quicker? For whatever it’s worth, road test editor Chris Walton noted that there’s no launch control program, and it’s tricky to put all that power down without breaking loose the rear wheels. Braking happens from 60 mph in a tidy 105 feet. Grip, as mentioned, is great. The DB11 pulls 0.98 g’s. The big Aston can complete our figure-eight handling course in 23.9 seconds, and anything in the 23-second range is excellent.
Randy was able to pilot the DB11 around Big Willow’s 2.42 miles in 1:30.38. That’s quicker than the AWD Jaguar F-Type R or the Nissan GT-R 45th Anniversary, both of which took 1:30.48. Walton, however, was quick to point out that the Chevy Camaro SS 1LE, which can be had for about a fifth of the cost of a DB11, runs Big Willow in 1:28.29. True enough, but if that’s your criteria for buying a car, you probably ought to look elsewhere. (Aston Martin just launched an entirely new sub-brand devoted to track toys called AMR. Although there’s nothing official yet, my sources tell me there will be an AMR DB11 track special. Problem solved.)
For his part, Randy was certain the DB11 would put down a better time. “I started with a bit of a trot, in equestrian terms if you will. The twin-turbo V-12 builds thrust so smoothly it initially felt like less than the massive advertised 600 horsepower. The transmission was satisfyingly quick with the paddles, though it wasn’t smart enough in full auto. The brakes suffered from a long and mushy pedal with very low bite, probably due to abuse in earlier testing. I was sure I’d left a lot of time on the table in warm up because I was saving tires for the real thing. However, when I whipped this thoroughbred up to a full gallop, its luxury mission and heft made it pretty clear that the DB11 was much happier at a canter. Suddenly going out, I only gained a couple seconds, with much greater levels of roll and secondary motions.” As it sits, the DB11 is not an ideal track car.
Like that’s actually a problem. Every once in a while a car comes along and resets my internal metrics. It makes me both rethink and remember why it is I love the automobile so very much, why I devote so much critical thinking and time to mechanized objects with four wheels. The Pagani Huayra is one such car that springs to mind. The Aston Martin DB11 is, too. Color me impressed. Saddened, too, that we’ve reached the end of the review, and I forgot to mention the mind-bendingly gorgeous interior. Brogue all the leather! More reassuringly, the DB11 is the first of seven products to emerge from Aston Martin’s Second Century Plan, a scheme to keep the historically bankruptcy-prone concern afloat for its next 100 years. Here’s to the future.