First Drive: 2017 Aston Martin DB11
– Colle di Val D’Elsa, Italy
Drats. I’m behind the wheel of the 2017 Aston Martin DB11 in the hills of Tuscany, an interesting location to launch the most British of luxury performance cars, and I’m lost. A missed left-hand turn beckons me toward the hamlet of Montalcino, an Etruscan-built town lined with stone drives, stunning arches, and streets just wide enough to accommodate a Fiat Punto and a couple of pedestrians. Most of the streets are one-way, and my understanding of Italian pictographic street signs is meno di niente. No matter: The DB11 makes a subtly stunning entrance, its rumbly exhaust note reverberating quietly against the centuries-old stone. Not a soul in the tucked-in city center seemed to notice the left-hand-drive DB11 with U.K. license plates sauntering by, save for an older, shirtless man who excitedly identified the Aston Martin from a hundred meters away. What gave it away, nonno?
Much of Aston Martin’s future success rests upon getting this product, the DB11, right, as the company modernizes and tries to avoid becoming an ouroboros, in a constant cycle of woe and regeneration. Instead, looking ahead to partnerships with Red Bull Racing and Daimler-Benz, to name a couple, Aston Martin has to ensure that its association with performance and luxury – as well as its reputation for providing transportation for the world’s greatest action hero, James Bond – remain intact as it evolves to becoming a profitable entity.
With the wholesale rethink that led to the existence of the DB11, nearly every detail about the coupe is exquisite and noteworthy.
Which brings us to the DB11, the rolling sculpture that will foment implementation of the plans. There is not a singular pièce de résistance that defines the DB11. Quite the opposite. With the wholesale rethink that led to the existence of the DB11, nearly every detail about the coupe is exquisite and noteworthy.
If you had to start with one talking point, however, it’s the DB11’s look and feel, from the inside out. Whereas the DB11’s exterior styling has the requisite visual cues to connect it to the outgoing DB9, everything about the DB11’s modern but lavish interior makes the DB9’s feel analog and last-century.
To say that the DB11’s interior fits around your body like a full-size glove is a cliched understatement. Its design is more of a custom-tailored, three-piece suit. The aroma is intoxicating. You slide into and settle in the cosseting front seats, which act as exclusive perches in a fully luxuriating experience. These aren’t the stuffed, flat chairs of a Bentley. Attention was paid to the details and frequent touch points. Take the flat-rimmed steering wheel, for example: It’s a chunky, lovely, thick-rimmed token of appreciation to grand touring. The integrated thumb spots are perfectly placed for serious, but not white-knuckle driving. Leather is everywhere. A variety of trim options for embellishments and the door trim embody each DB11 with a distinct personality. You feel rich looking at, let alone riding in, the DB11. All of the test cars were finished in brogue-stitched leather, which translates as a very in-your-face expression of shoe-focused haute couture. The style-shy ought to stick with the standard leather treatment.
You slide into and settle in the cosseting front seats, which act as exclusive perches in a fully luxuriating experience.
Graphics are crisp and clear, and an all-digital display is a futuristic touch. The navigation and infotainment system setup will feel familiar to those upgrading from recent Mercedes-Benz models, as the DB11 shares a version of the Comand software and its touch-sensitive hardware. To better mask the raid of the parts bin, the tacked-on digital screen and the touchpad are also enveloped by supple leather. It’s not even a question that the DB11 is best equipped with the Bang & Olufsen sound system, although two lesser stereos are offered.
Equally as impressive as the craftsmanship and design is the biturbo 5.2-litre V12 under the hood, which is a 600-horsepower powerhouse. It’s not unusual for Aston Martin to produce powerful engines, but something about that horsepower figure implies that the performance game is heating up. Rear-wheel drive is standard – all-wheel drive isn’t totally out of the question for the future – as is a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. According to an engineer close to the DB11 project, 600 hp is just a starting point for future product, and a manual gearbox will someday make its way into a next-generation Aston Martin.
Sitting and admiring the DB11 without driving it is almost criminal. It’s a feast for the senses when you light it up. Multiple drive modes change the DB11’s temperament from inconspicuous to wild, allowing the grand tourer to loosen up a bit at a whim, and I found that Sport was the best way to express the power. The accelerator is familiarly sensitive, and you hardly hear or feel the turbos kicking in. In fact, you’re probably concentrating more deeply on the loud, supposedly unfiltered/unaltered exhaust note and engine sound that fills the cabin.
Approaching a tight, uphill bend, along a hilly road, the DB11’s exhaust note was a sonata of howling, burbling, and slight crackling.
All of my time with the DB11 was spent on public roads, where the Italian public received a first-hand, early impression of the coupe’s capabilities. Approaching a tight, uphill bend, along a hilly road, the DB11’s exhaust note was a sonata of howling, burbling, and slight crackling. I turned in with some gusto. The rear wheels kicked out a bit on the dry, newly paved asphalt. I panic for a second: The limited-slip differential was surely at work, but there was a surprising amount of wheel slip, in any case. The DB11 corrected itself at once, thanks to the light effort of the steering and the quick-reacting chassis. I could imagine myself hitting the redline in every gear, all the way up to the top speed of 320 kilometres per hour (200 miles per hour). Its lightweight, mostly aluminum structure felt solid and trustworthy.
Disappointments? They are few and far between. The steering is a bit light and disconnected for my taste, and the push-button transmission remains a perplexing game of “did I select that gear?” The rear seats are still honorary chairs, at best, with no room for actual adults with legs or necks to sit comfortably.
Multiple hours behind the wheel of the DB11 caused me to reflect on my own opinions of Aston Martin. If it’s true that “you always remember your first,” I’ll forever judge an Aston based on my loan of a crimson DB9 some years ago. It was slightly terrifying to think about sharing the road with motorists who couldn’t possibly appreciate how special it felt, or how heroic it made me feel. If it steered flawlessly through a corner, it was because of the relationship among man, machine, and road.
The Aston will excite you in a way that no Continental GT can, playing the part of a GT car when you want it, and a pure sports car at the press of a button.
The DB11 starts at about $212,000 USD, but will easily exceed 300 grand if you let your imagination and the options sheet run wild. That price tag places the DB11 in rarified territory when it comes to the cadre of the finest performance cars. The price seems a little high for what's offered, but at the same time, it doesn't. I think that the AMG GT S offers almost everything the DB11 does, in terms of power and chassis, but it's not handbuilt and its interior is so cold. The Aston will excite you in a way that no Continental GT can, playing the part of a GT car when you want it, and a pure sports car at the press of a button. It will cosset you more than a McLaren 570S will. It offers a much less raucous experience than a Porsche 911 GT3 RS, with over 100 hp more. Only a Ferrari California T comes close to the nexus of attributes, but the options for customization are far fewer.
The DB11 is a fitting replacement for the DB9, advancing the grand tourer and fulfilling the premise of any supercar: Everyone who sees it will still know what it is, even if they’re unlikely to see another one for a long while. And they’ll know it’s an Aston Martin from the corner of the eye.
Photos: Jeff Jablansky / Motor1.com