It’s astonishing to think that the Aston Martin DB9 existed for more than 14 years. Actually, since it was first shown in 2003, it is still with us in the form of models like the Vanquish S and as the basis for the Rapide.
But times are changing at Aston and in 2016 the company ushered in a new era with what it calls its Second Century plan and with it we saw the debut of the DB11.
The DB11 is far more than just a much-needed new direction in terms of design. Since the turn of the century Aston has had a number of significant shareholders, but it is the 5% investment by Daimler that has provided more than just capital.
That investment is most obvious in the new DB11, which ditches its antiquated Sportshift gearbox in favour of a ZF eight-speed automatic. Gone is the dreadful infotainment and navigation system, replaced again by one from Mercedes. The climate controls, switchgear and various buttons are also Merc. So is the rotary dial for accessing the infotainment system, although the optional trackpad is not one of Merc’s best points.
While Mercedes’ performance AMG division will be providing its expertise under the bonnet of future Astons, the DB11 for now features a hand-built 5.2-litre V12 Aston engine produced at the company’s engine plant in Cologne, Germany.
Purists might be a little alarmed to learn that the traditional days of normally aspirated engines have now given way to turbocharging though.
The purists need not drop their Martinis in shock, however, because the twin-turbos help to make this the most powerful production DB model in the company’s history, with 447kW at 6500rpm and 700Nm between 1500 and 5000rpm. The turbos come in early but it does not mean that the power peak is too early as is often the case with turbocharged engines. You have to push that needle up to 6500 to hit that peak 447kW and by then you will be screaming along at a fair old pace.
The combination of a turbo and gorgeous V12 do translate into some impressive figures though with the DB11 capable of hitting 100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds and heading on to 322km/h. Great figures in themselves but it is the way the whole package has been designed and engineered that makes it different to anything before it.
Gone is the crystal key, replaced by a simple start button in the centre console, but fire it up and the DB11 roars into life with a sound that remains as satisfying as previous Astons. It can be relatively quiet when you are in town, particularly with cylinder deactivation and stop-start functionality but it doesn’t have to be and, honestly, who wants a quiet Aston?
Put it in Drive or flick the paddles and the pull away can be as smooth or brutal as you like. Put it in manual mode and you have to work those paddles as the power comes in and you rip through the gears. On an open stretch of road the rear wheels twitch slightly even with all the nanny controls on but they gather things up without interrupting momentum and allow you to press on. Switch modes and the controls release their grip allowing for some satisfying antics, but be careful: unlike the more progressive power delivery of a normally aspirated motor, the turbos create more kick that can flick the back end if you switch the controls off.
It is a phenomenally controllable machine, willing to let you drop down through the gearbox and get the power down smoothly and effortlessly. However, this is not a snorting Vanquish or a Vantage V12, it is a DB11 and it has to fit the GT bill too. That it does, cruising smoothly until those Joburg roads get a little bumpy. I found it to be a little more susceptible to some of those bumps than the DB9 in fact but this is not a family hatch, it is a sports car.
The sporting element also comes through in the design. It is a revolutionary change but without compromising on the Aston design. It is leaner and meaner in its looks, carrying more of an athletic look than the brutish appeal of its forebear.
The rear in particular features a major departure for the design team, with that narrow window leading into something akin to a speedboat tail. It is slightly more fussy than before but within that are some major design elements. The space between the windows and the C-pillars funnel the air to create additional stability and also push that air towards the air blade.
The air blade is one of the cleverest pieces of engineering. We are not sure about the magic behind it, but essentially it replaces the traditional spoiler, instead turning air into the spoiler. Air is forced through it, reducing lift and adding downforce which understandably increases as you pick up speed. It is a clever piece of technology and one which shows that Aston is moving beyond the realm of simply making luxury hand-built sports cars and instead is aiming to blend all the elements of heritage, performance, design, technology and luxury.
Luxury is a given in the interior but there is one other area in which the designers have perhaps gone a little overboard when it comes to pandering to the needs of the occupants.
Gone are the days when you had to open the centre storage housing yourself. Aston prefers to leave that effort to Mercedes customers. Instead, the armrest opens or closes at the touch of a button. Is this necessary? Of course not, but it emphasises the fact that the DB11 is not simply a regeneration of a former model. Every aspect of it has been thought through.
The DB11 succeeds in bringing all these elements together remarkably well. It leaves behind many of the criticisms of previous Astons and instead brings the brand into conversations once dominated by Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche. It is an athlete, but one that is no longer just based on muscle and hand-crafted leather. The DB11 shows that Aston is now all about being smart too. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Aston Martin DB11
Engine: 5.2-litre V12 turbo
Power: 447kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 700Nm from 1500 to 5000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 3.9-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 322km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 12.4l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 290g/km (claimed)
Price: From R3 950 000