First Drive: 2017 Aston Martin DB11

First Drive: 2017 Aston Martin DB11
 

Aston Martin is 103 years old. It has been through good times and bad times — in fact, in those 103 years it has only actually made a profit in two or three years. That is according to Paul Collett, regional manager for UK and SA at the company.

Collett was in SA to reveal a car that by all accounts spearheads a new era for the illustrious British marque. That car is the new DB11.

Two years ago, Andy Palmer joined the company, taking over as its CEO from Ulrich Bez. Immediately, Palmer began securing new finance, most of it through a new partnership with Mercedes-Benz, which now has a stake in Aston. Once the money was in the bank, Palmer embarked on what he refers to as the “Second Century Plan”.

DB11

A big part of that plan has been low-volume options. Models like the Vulcan, GT12 and Zagato have all been oversubscribed with limited production numbers. The AM-RB 001, being jointly developed with Red Bull Racing and its design boss, Adrian Newey, is sold out before it even has an engine. It is perhaps no surprise though — the partnership promises a hypercar that can lap the Silverstone circuit in the same time as a F1 car.

The hypercar is still a couple of years away, but the DB11 has just as much to shout about.

“We’ve been waiting 10 years for this car,” says Justin Divaris, CEO of the Daytona Group, which imports Astons into SA.

It is the first twin-turbo V12 to come from the brand and it pushes out 447kW and 700Nm of torque, enough to propel it to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 330km/h.

DB11

The figures are impressive, but it is the new direction for the company that impresses more. From a design perspective, the DB11 retains a few key design hallmarks ensuring it looks like an Aston, but every element signals radical changes.

Andy Burgess, development driver for Aston, points out that it has the largest aluminium bonnet in the world, a clamshell design that harks back to the DB2. It took a whole year for engineers to find a company that could make it.

Open the bonnet and you will see a vented rear-wheel arch, the same feature you get on Le Mans race cars. It releases pressure from beneath the wheel arch itself. Behind it sits a ribbed aeroflow strip that creates a vortex of air down the side of the car. Further back are ducts in the C-pillar that compress air and then send it through a narrow slit in the top of the boot lid. This creates a unique airstream that Aston calls an “Aeroblade”. This blade of air creates enough downforce to almost eliminate the need for a rear spoiler. There is one though, but it discreetly sits flush to the boot lid, rising to 20mm only at high speed.

DB11

There has never been such a clever and well thought through Aston.

Inside, things are also very different.

“You might recognise some of the controls from a Mercedes, but that’s okay — it’s faultless,” says Burgess. Where Aston’s interiors had become classic but dated, Mercedes has given the interior a new dose of tech and equipment. The indicator/wiper stalk comes straight out of an A-Class, but is that a bad thing? Aston switchgear was never out of the top drawer.

DB11

The infotainment is also Merc, including that track pad thing that we are not great fans of. There is a dial beneath it, which works much better. You also get full voice control functionality, so you can tell your Aston what you want. It’s all a bit James Bond really, although it refused to pop any machines guns out of the number plate.

Ahead of the model’s reveal, we got a brief drive around the streets of Joburg. It was enough to produce an early impression that Aston has truly entered a new era. From the excellent interior to the incredibly responsive engine, the company has finally caught up with its exotic rivals.

It cruised comfortably as I switched between normal, Sport and Sport+ modes, the exhaust note changing its roar and the throttle becoming ever more responsive.

We have longed for the day when Aston finds its mojo again, and in the DB11, it seems that day has finally come. – Mark Smyth