2017 Aston Martin DB11 First Drive
England’s history is filled with war. The last 70-plus years of peace and prosperity are an anomaly. Aston Martin, the nation’s only independent carmaker, has similarly weathered strife – often of the financial variety – for most of its existence. Now Aston seeks stability. Its plan calls for new vehicles, a crossover even, and some electric propulsion for good measure. This is still a few years away. To get there, Aston will rely on its specialty, the sports car. Enter the 2017 Aston Martin DB11.
While the company transitions, the latest in the DB line is already transformed. It’s the successor to the 13-year-old DB9 (the DB10 was James Bond’s car in Spectre) and has a new V12 with twin turbos cranking out 600 horsepower. The car is based on a new aluminum architecture that’s lighter and stiffer than the DB9’s, so the DB11 handles better. Naturally, the design is striking. That’s not a cliché.
Is all of this enough to sway some Ferrari, Porsche, and Bentley loyalists to Aston’s fold? We’ve come to the gorgeous Italian region of Tuscany to find out. Taking the wheel on a sun-drenched morning, we head for Monte San Savino where a rustic lunch awaits. The V12 immediately grabs our attention. The note is buzzy at first, grows agitated, and then the sound morphs into a growling shout. Naturally aspirated engines are more visceral, but the DB11’s turbo 12 is nothing to scoff at. The car sounds best in Sport Plus mode, which gives the engine and eight-speed transmission their most aggressive character. We lay on the throttle and the DB11 shoots forward, its long hood pointing the way through the countryside. The names of the villages roll off the tongue as the signs blur. Montisi. Montalcino. Trequanda. Florence and Pisa lay tantalizingly just outside of our route. Romantic as they sound, it’s easy to resist Italy’s magic. Its drivers are frickin’ crazy.
The instrument panel has a digital speedometer in the middle. We remain on high alert for speed cameras, so this is an asset. The dashboard is anchored by an infotainment system sourced from Aston partner (and minority shareholder) Daimler. The electronics are like any Mercedes: pretty good, though the navigation takes us on a detour through a small town before randomly demanding a U-turn. Unfazed, we make use of the camera system’s bird’s-eye overhead view to steer out of the tight quarters.
Aston replaced the DB9’s six-speed automatic with a ZF-sourced eight-speed gearbox. The new unit shifts smoothly and has paddles for when you want more engagement. Additionally, the rear-mounted transaxle has a limited-slip differential with active torque vectoring to enhance the car’s handling ability.
Aston didn’t roll out a warmed over DB9. The DB11 is faster and more sophisticated than any DB in history. It has to be. Well-heeled buyers will cross-shop this with the Ferrari California, Porsche 911 Turbo S, and Bentley Continental GT. There must be a reason to buy the Aston beyond the fact that it turns heads at the country club.
No, it needs to be different and better. Not in every way, but in compelling ways. The typical DB11 buyer didn’t see Spectre in the theater. He knows Daniel Craig and they’ve shared martinis. And during that first cold sip tinged with lemon peel, he’s not concerned with the DB11’s precise 0-60 time. Who cares? The DB11 is fast. It stands out, and so it delivers on the promise of Aston’s potential for a successful second century.